To remain vital and relevant to their customers, most businesses today realize that driving diversity and inclusion throughout their organizations is an imperative. The reasons are clear. Diverse and inclusive teams are able to apply a broader range of knowledge and skills. They’re better at recognizing and solving problems that others may overlook. They’re more likely to understand the real, often unarticulated needs of the people they design products and services for. What’s more, inclusive teams tend to produce better results faster because they operate with higher levels of organizational self-awareness, performance and innovation.
I believe the business case for inclusion is commonsense — if not yet common practice. And this case is especially strong in technology, an industry whose thinking, practices, products and services are permeating all aspects of our lives and reshaping most industries.
Preventing Algorithmic Bias
What brought this home for me is the world’s growing reliance on algorithms for decision making. The way these algorithms operate and make decisions tends to reflect the preferences and priorities of those who train these systems. And despite best intentions, this can result in the embedding of unfair or harmful biases, which is known as algorithmic bias.
For example, I read about a senior MIT researcher by the name of Joy Buolamwini who has studied the bias in facial recognition programs, especially those used in law enforcement, border control, surveillance and hiring. These programs have been known to produce results that are biased against people of color. Her point is that it really matters who does the coding. And that speaks to the need for more diverse and inclusive teams of programmers and others who work with AI systems who can point out each others’ blind spots and prevent bias from creeping in.
The encompassing perspective of inclusive teams is helpful in many other ways, as well. Let’s say you’re developing your organization’s long-term strategy. Who do you want to be involved in the conversation? Should you default to the same half dozen people who’ve led the discussion year after year? Or, would it be far more productive to bring in new voices, new perspectives and new connections to the external environment that come from a diversity of thinking?
Inclusive teams are simply in a better position to more deeply explore the worlds of their diverse customers and potential customers and offer a reality check on what is meaningful to them. As Christian Madsbjerg, a founder of ReD Associates, a social sciences firm that is a Cognizant partner, has observed: “The greatest challenges — and opportunities — of the 21st century are cultural, not algorithmic.”
Bringing Diversity Home
At Cognizant, we’re striving to create an environment where everyone matters and everyone knows they matter. We know it’s up to us to be alert for people who are being excluded for one reason or another. It’s also up to us to pursue inclusion as systematically as we pursue innovation. Therefore, we’ve made it an organizational imperative to drive greater diversity and inclusion throughout our culture. To do so, we’ve woven diversity and inclusion into our growth agenda and into our annual operating plan measures, which are tracked and discussed monthly by the company’s executive leadership.
We recognize that the work of fully unleashing the power of a diverse and inclusive workforce is never done. At the same time, we’re gratified by the recent recognition we’ve received for our efforts. For example, Forbes named Cognizant to its “Best Employers for Women” 2018 rankings, the magazine’s first top 300 ranking based on an independent survey of 40,000 Americans that included 25,000 women. We are proud to be in the top quartile.
It’s clearly time for inclusion to have a more prominent role in technology, and for the technology industry as a whole to step up in advancing and valuing inclusion.
We’ve assembled some of Cognizant’s keenest minds to share their thoughts on how businesses can improve diversity and inclusion, both in an e-book, “Making Room: Reflections on Diversity & Inclusion in the Future of Work,” and a blog series.
In addition to our kick-off article on D&I in the tech industry, our upcoming blogs will cover an array of topics, grouped in four categories:
- The future of work (including blogs on moving beyond the D&I buzzword and why the future of work hinges on D&I).
- What makes us uniquely human in a machine age (including lessons from Beyoncé on authenticity, what global businesses can learn from small businesses and ensuring human centricity in a data-driven culture).
- Addressing bias (including overcoming ageism, dispelling working-mom myths, embracing adaptive technologies and using technology to tackle hiring bias).
- Working with community partners (including renovating youth development with the Lower Eastside Girls Club, empowering women through sponsorship, upskilling underrepresented talent and some bright lights of innovative D&I efforts that are actually making headway).
We invite you to read and welcome your comments to continue this vital discussion.