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Analysis

The week in HR tech: People, work, and technology

Editor Yessi Bello Perez takes a look at the intersection between people, work, and technology.

Yessi Bello-Perez

Technologist

Unleash Your Curiosity Welcome to ‘The Week in HR tech,’ a new weekly column where our editor Yessi Bello Perez takes a look at the intersection between people, work, and technology.

  • If work is becoming more human, why are trans and non-binary individuals still suffering discrimination in the workplace?
  • The gender equality gap has widened, again!
  • Oh, and trust in tech is waning, but that’s OK.

Work is becoming more human — or so we keep saying. Personally, I’m so excited about the conversations being had in the world of work. It’s great to see HR leaders take center stage and run the show. You all certainly deserve it!

This is all great, but I sometimes worry that it’ll distract us from other things that matter, too. Earlier in the week, we celebrated International Transgender Day of Visibility.

The annual celebration highlights the successes of the transgender and gender non-conforming communities and helps raise awareness about the need to push for a world where every person — no matter their gender identity — is respected, protected, and safe.

Trans and non-binary individuals are discriminated against in every area of their lives and, unfortunately, the workplace is no exception. You certainly don’t have to take my word for it because the stats truly speak for themselves:

A 2015 survey of 27,715 trans individuals living in the United States revealed that a staggering 77% of those who held a job in the year prior took active steps to avoid mistreatment and discrimination at work, including hiding their gender identity, delaying their gender transition (or living as their true selves only outside of work), refraining from asking their employers to use their correct pronouns, or ultimately, quitting their jobs.

The pandemic has caused a seismic change across the entire HR industry and while technology will allow us to do great and necessary things going forward I almost feel like we need to go back to basics.

There’s never been a time to stop, take stock, and re-build — and quite frankly, we’ve let ourselves and others down for so long. We need to make sure people feel included and safe at work. We owe it to ourselves and the people we manage and employ.

Being people-first goes beyond the usual perks we offer employees, it’s about having empathy, learning from each other, being vulnerable, and ensuring there’s a culture of trust and respect. People are a huge part of what makes work great. Let’s not forget that.

Gender equality

While I have you, I also wanted to touch on a recent report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which left me reeling and somewhat depressed. I’m a bit of a drama queen, but you’ll learn that as we go.

We know the pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on women at work and if that wasn’t enough, the WEF says the global gender gap has risen from 99 to 135 years.

Let me put this into perspective: women around the world lost their jobs at a higher rate than men, 5% vs 3.9% among men, and sectors where job opportunities are growing are significantly underrepresented by women.

In cloud computing, women make up just 14% of the workforce and in engineering, they comprise 20% of workers. Is it a pipeline problem? I don’t think so.

For so long I’ve heard people say that there aren’t enough women in technology when in actual fact, I get the sense that employers are missing a trick: overlooking talent pools filled with female workers.

Losing trust in tech

Moving on. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in the technology sector dropped by 6 points globally last year. This represents all-time lows in 17 markets, including the US, UK, China, and Mexico.

Axios reports the “high public esteem” that has long protected the tech sector from critics and regulators is waning amid a rise in misinformation, privacy concerns, and increased awareness of bias in artificial intelligence.

I actually think this is really positive. Technology is a great enabler, we know that, but there’s an education piece missing. AI has the potential to transform entire industries — including HR — and even increase trust between employers and employees. And while that’s largely positive, it’s important to understand how the technology works and why.

In my opinion, there has been a huge rise in awareness about AI-induced bias and that’s great. It means people are finally understanding that every tech has associated risks — now we just have to figure out how we clean up the data, prevent bias from creeping into the AI, and use the technology to solve actual problems. It’s about making tech work for us and not the other way round.

In my years as a technology journalist, I’ve witnessed all the hype — I may have even contributed to it inadvertently. Technologies such as blockchain promised to wipe out entire legacy systems, empowering organizations and individuals with greater efficiency. I’ll let you be the judge of whether blockchain is still a solution looking for a problem to solve, but what I will say is that holding big tech to account is never a bad thing.

We have technology at our fingertips, it’s seeping into every aspect of our lives, we use it, and yet, we don’t always understand it. That’s dangerous.

For HR to truly go from legacy to digital, it needs to embrace technology, but it needs to do so in a way that works for the function, every business department, and the people within the organization.

Trust may be waning, but I believe tech’s true potential is yet to be unlocked.

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