Diversity & Inclusion in Digital Age

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My travels keep me on the run continuously and recently at an airport I was very happy to see a colleague’s close friend just across the coffee counter. A smile and a wave didn’t create the impact that I was expecting. I walked across to her hoping she would have a recollection of me, but alas she looked through me.

Little did I realize that the person that pops up on my facebook page everyday sharing her life moments did not necessarily know me or recognize me in person. The swiftness of communication has given way to larger networks, but unfortunately still leaves you feeling excluded rather than included.

The opening of social media over the last 10 years has blurred the divide between immediate groups towards a larger identity, connections and network spanning geographies and people. This has had an immediate impact on our social skills. We can be on twitter or LinkedIn very comfortable chatting with strangers but can get awkward interacting in person.

We are diverse as a society and we do have tendency to include people who are more like us. Family groups, school groups, office groups, yoga groups, mountaineering groups etc., bonded by a common passion or identity.

A senior mentor recently narrated an incident where she was a panelist in a technological conference in Europe. What hit her the most was the moderator who was a humanoid robot and was able to peruse and connect to a lot more feeling questions, like humans.

The general perception of a robots currently is very stereotypical of being very robotic and without expression and only answering what is fed in (by humans). Fortunately, or unfortunately, those lines are blurring too with the latest sophisticated humanoids who are able to understand, perceive, sense and feel too.

So now, diversity will have an added filter of robots who can look and feel like us.

The impact of technology is even more evident in the workplace. In a recent poll, 65% of respondent believed that computers and robots will take over work executed by people in the next half century (Research BD Foundation 2017). Some futurists see the planet at a technology driven tipping point where people will struggle in “a world without work” (Yuval Harari – Homo Deus).

In a scenario where artificial intelligence is going to take over routine jobs and transactions and leaving a lot of people ‘useless’, how can we stay relevant?

What will happen?

We will be living in a world where skillsets may not be there for a lifetime. People who are able to build up skills which are current and contemporary with being able to pull off the art of aggregation will have a greater demand.

People will be taking up more than one job; therefore contracting, doing an assignment and moving out will be the norm. People will be paid and hired based on the value they bring and not based on position. There will be provisions for a lot more temporary additions and removals form the workforce.

So, many people probably will work for multiple companies than a single company. The power of networks will supersede hierarchy and the current perception of things.

Contracting would lead to different work structures and opening of non-traditional jobs and roles, and people shifting to alternative careers. A number of jobs in the formal sector will reduce and acceptance for people to work in alternative sectors will grow. This would also diversify the workforce and kindle innovative thoughts. This would mean organizations will be non-linear and would resemble a network of jobs.

What do we need to do?

Focus on a Diverse workforce: In a scenario where the basic tenets of organization foundation are getting shaky, the need to keep a diverse workforce on an equal footing will be the clincher. There would not be time for man or a woman being discriminated on disability or orientation. The individual who is more confident, well informed, bolder with a global outlook to challenge the status quo will be the winner.

Facilitate Agile work environment:  Agility will lead to a global outlook and openness to change. This will drive innovation and set the future tone of new ways of doing things. Agility requires decision making to be more data driven and to shift towards “analytics/insights”. Computers will be able to analyse and compare reams of data to make financial decisions or medical ones. There will be less of a chance of fraud or misdiagnosis, and the process will be more efficient.

Making way for Inclusive leadership style: The language of communication needs to change both in terms of infrastructure and character. Hence ‘managers’ will need to be exceptionally good at people skills in a virtual scenario by embracing the needs that will come with working in a contractual/freelancer world. Management of virtual workplace will become a crucial skill to be developed by all generations. In this scenario, we will require to be socially intelligent which computers are unlikely to take over.

Condition to manage Ambiguity: Many functions will be more automated in the future, including professional services, but people will still find creative ways of using their skills and talents to make a living. Managing ambiguity will be done in the following three ways:

  1. Redefining: Adding new skills to existing jobs.
  2. Collaborating: Combining skills and functions from different jobs or industries to create new specialties.
  3. Problem solving: Newer ways will have their own sets of bottlenecks and anyone who can proactively know how to manage them with solutions will be a winner

In Conclusion

The basic tenets of Inclusion from a work perspective implies in having a purpose and a sense of alignment at work. While a majority of the youth today are worried about jobs that don’t match their personality, the older generations are worried about job security and fear of getting stuck with no developmental opportunities.

When computers were introduced in the 90’s en mass, there was this general perception of jobs and people becoming redundant. But it was interesting to see the way human kind adapted moving away from paperwork to computers.

Life has moved on even more efficiently and at a faster pace. We are at a similar inflection point where we need to be looking at how data and artificial intelligence takes us forward.

A recent McKenzie report does talk about adding 1.3X jobs to every 1X job lost. Content and skill will be king and managing people in an ambiguous world will lead to a diverse world without barriers. It will be upon us to make it Utopian.

Summing up, Diversity and Inclusion in the Digital Age via this quote of Alfred Chandler which says – “You cannot do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and still be in business tomorrow.”

Author- Rashmi Mandloi leads diversity & inclusion for BD Foundation globally. She is recognized as a thought leader and expert on diversity matters, unconscious bias and inclusive leadership. She looks through the world with an eye on understanding the nuances of bias, beliefs and thoughts to enable change and Inclusion. She has been recognized as the 100 Top Global Diversity & Inclusion Leaders in 2017-18.

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