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Analysis

How HR can use tech to build more inclusive workplaces

HR can leverage a wide range of technologies to build an inclusive workplace quickly and easily.

Nicholas Fearn

HR office diversity technology

Unleash Your Curiosity There isn’t a silver-bullet approach for improving inclusion and diversity — but HR can leverage a wide range of technologies to build an inclusive workplace quickly and easily.

  • The pandemic has presented new and unanticipated challenges impacting leaders’ ability to connect with and support their teams.
  • Although technology is enabling organizations to build more inclusive workplaces, organizations don’t have reliable data about diversity and inclusion.
  • Employees must have confidence that their leadership is equipped to use that data effectively and make meaningful decisions.

According to a study by US software firm VMware, the vast majority of businesses, HR, and IT leaders believe remote working increases the recruitment and retainment of working parents (81%), minorities (63%), disabled people (79%), and those who don’t live in major economic hubs (77%).

Along with implementing remote working policies, businesses are using a wide variety of technologies to understand different employee needs, support every member of staff, and ultimately drive inclusion organization-wide.

From data analytics to modern HR platforms, we discuss some of them below. 

Leveraging technology

To retain staff, attract new recruits, improve employee productivity, and enhance staff engagement, businesses must build inclusive workplaces. While that’s not a simple task, modern technology can help. 

Nazir Ul-Ghani, head of Workplace from Facebook, EMEA, says: “It’s clear that building more inclusive workplaces is no longer just a task for HR, but a conversation for all leaders. Employees tend to feel happier at work when they are engaged, empowered, and connected to their organization. 

“If leadership teams want to build a truly inclusive workplace, they need to put the tools and structures in place to help all staff play an active role in the organization, not just those who have access to a company computer or sit near the CEO’s office.”

He says communication tools, in particular, enable organizations to connect their entire teams and foster a sense of community. “These tools help employees connect with colleagues across the organization and ensure everyone has the same access to colleagues, leaders, and company information regardless of their location, job role, or tech set-up. 

“This will be especially important as many companies move to a more hybrid way of working, helping level the playing field for everyone regardless of how they work. These tools are also powerful in helping leaders communicate and share company values and encourage two-way conversation and feedback, to make sure they can hear and take on board the views of their employees.”

Through data analysis, businesses can gain further insight into their employees and improve workplace inclusion based on this data. Melanie Eusebe, inclusion and diversity lead for talent and organization at professional services giant Accenture UK, says: “The key to understanding the different lived employee experiences is technology and data, which should underpin any inclusion and diversity strategy. 

“From quantitative data that measures employee demographic against targets or analyzes fair performance and rewards metrics, to qualitative data such as engagement surveys or interviews to understand the lived experience of employees. Harnessing technology to collect, analyze and understand this data is fundamental in allowing an organization to build a more inclusive culture.”

Other key technologies

Collaborative and virtual working platforms are contributing to a more inclusive workplace, too. Eusebe says: “From a collaboration and virtual working perspective, we’re seeing loads of new technology platforms come to market that focus specifically on the employee experience, allowing teams to collaborate and communicate more effectively whilst promoting inclusion.”

But she believes technology is also playing a critical role in learning and education. “AI and technology platforms and tools give employees exposure to different lived experiences and provide the psychological safety for people to explore their own unconscious bias and take ownership of their inclusion and diversity learning journey,” says Eusebe.

Watch Morgan Stanley’s Carla Harris and Torin Ellis discuss diversity and inclusion.

Jill Morris, senior HR business partner at US IT firm Hitachi Vantara, says emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning can help develop equitable hiring systems.

She tells UNLEASH: “By removing the human element of bias, businesses can enable automated hiring systems which are inclusive by design. The challenge for businesses, however, is to train these systems in ways which flag and remove bias within data sets in the first place.”

[Read more: Can blockchain remove unconscious bias in recruitment?]

Melinda Lee Ferguson, vice president of UK and Ireland at software giant VMware, says the rise of remote and distributed working has allowed companies to improve diversity in the recruitment process. 

“However, to ensure that true equity is achieved between this distributed workforce, it’s critical that the experience for those workers in the office is equal to that at home. This has to start with technology, as it underpins our ability to communicate, collaborate and work productively.”

“Establishing digital workspaces with a desktop and application experience that works seamlessly wherever you are, at home or in the office, is critical for ensuring that those that do take advantage of a more flexible working environment have an equal professional opportunity.”

Organizations leading the way

With HR technologies constantly evolving, many organizations are leveraging them for enhancing inclusion in the workplace. Ul-Ghani explains that online travel agency Lastminute.com uses Facebook Workplace as part of its inclusion and diversity drive. 

He says: “At the beginning of the pandemic, lastminute.com made the decision to be transparent with its people in the face of uncertainty, sharing information and status updates with its people in real-time. To do this they held #AskMarco Live video streams with their CEO on Workplace, where no topic was off-limits. lastminute.com also ran a #TakeCare learning and development project on the platform, sharing content and how-tos around remote work to help staff come together and develop soft skills for remote working.” 

Outsourced communications firm Moneypenny is another large business that utilizes Facebook Workplace to create an inclusive company culture. Group CEO Joanna Swash says: “We have 100% of our 1,000 staff using it monthly and 97% using it weekly, with lots of weekend usage as a social tool, which is great to see, leading to greater efficiency and better communication of our distinctive and award-winning culture.

“It [Facebook Workplace] has also helped maintain our very low staff attrition rates and drive our return to work maternity leave stat to 99% from 85%. It enables people to still feel very connected to work, even if they are not physically present, so will be hugely useful to help ease the transition back to work.”

Accenture uses virtual reality technology to influence and enable its employees to behave inclusively by activating the desire to change, evoking empathy, and providing relevant and practical actions, says Eusebe. 

She explains: “Through a variety of three-minute scenarios, designed to present stereotyped ‘bias’ exchanges on topics such as gender, LGBT, and disability, the user is exposed to what it feels like to be excluded. The end goal is to ultimately help our people discover and be mindful of their own biases, ensuring future conversations about performance are focused squarely on professional skills and achievements—and not influenced by unconscious bias.”

Angela Todisco, regional HR director of EMEA North at software giant SAP, says the firm is leveraging technology from US experience management company Qualtrics to increase staff engagement and better understand the experience of different employees.

She explains: “By creating a continuous feedback culture through the use of this technology, we can ensure that we champion a feeling of inclusivity throughout the organization and can react quickly at a macro and manager level to address issues or amplify role model behaviors.”

Challenges and opportunities 

Although technology is enabling organizations to build more inclusive workplaces, there are often challenges along the way. Eusebe warns that a common issue is the quality and reliability of diversity and inclusion data.

She tells UNLEASH: “It’s all well and good having the intention to capture data, but employees must have confidence that their leadership is equipped to use that data effectively and make meaningful decisions. Before technology comes into it, the right engagement and conversations need to take place to overcome cultural, legal, and data privacy requirements. 

“This is crucial in ensuring organizations are capturing the right data, seeing beyond just diversity declarations and how people identify themselves. Organizations must gain the trust of their employees before they disclose this personal information and their experiences. Employees need to be able to trust that by sharing their data, their organization will have the capability to draw meaningful insights and have the strategic intent to take real action.”

In the last past year, the coronavirus pandemic has also impacted employee inclusion and engagement. Todisco says:

“It is without doubt that the pandemic has presented new and unanticipated challenges impacting leaders’ ability to connect with and support their teams.”

But there have been some positives for companies and employees during the pandemic, according to Todisco. She says this period has shown businesses can thrive in a flexible working environment. “Undoubtedly, we will encounter new challenges once a hybrid working model starts to develop but, by embracing flexibility, opportunities can be opened up,” adds Todisco. 

“This could simply be by bringing the personal and professional boundaries closer so that people interact more as people, not just as job titles, to breaking down barriers for disabled people who may struggle to physically travel to a workplace or those with caring responsibilities that require flexibility, and simply those who thrive with a little more control over how and where they work.”

Alex Arundale, chief people officer at UK software and services company Advanced, explains that building inclusive companies provides an opportunity to widen the talent pool. She says: “Everybody’s life journey is different and each and every event contributes to the person we are and the things we are able to achieve. 

“Businesses that actively promote a diversity and inclusion policy, and have a clear strategy about how to implement it, are giving themselves a competitive edge. They recognize that employees who feel genuinely valued for who they are – and are properly rewarded for their work – demonstrate greater loyalty, are more likely to stay with the business, and are more effective and productive within their roles.”

Regardless of industry, every business has a responsibility to ensure the workplace is inclusive for all employees. While there isn’t a silver-bullet approach for improving workplace inclusion and diversity, organizations can leverage a wide range of technologies to build an inclusive workplace quickly and easily.

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