How Technology can be Society’s Force Multiplier and Equalizer for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

DEITechnology
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Art Hopkins
十月 21, 2021
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DEITechnology
Executive Summary
During the pandemic, technology led to a new sense of self-awareness and empathy for our colleagues.
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There are countless business lessons that can be applied from our experiences over the last year – and not just from the pandemic. The social issues that continue to divide the country have helped raise awareness about the inequities that hold some people back while providing a catalyst for others to get ahead.

But before we can start implementing any new business practices from these experiences, we need to take a step back and really assess the nuances of them. Technology, for example, is both a great unknown equalizer and a great force multiplier, especially as it relates to addressing some – but not all – of society’s issues.

Lessons from 2020

Let’s start with the impact of the pandemic. When the office-based workforce set up shop from their home kitchen tables more than a year ago, there was an initial awkwardness about it. In that moment, the technology became an equalizer. For once, everyone - from the interns to the senior executives – was facing a challenge of some sort that came with these overnight shifts in working conditions. In short order, much of the workforce adjusted and productivity barely took a hit. But in that moment, technology became an equalizer that allowed us to literally “see” how we were all adjusting. And that led to a new sense of self-awareness and empathy for our colleagues.

And then there were the social conflicts of the year, a culmination of a divide that had been brewing long before the violent summer protests or the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. While the message wasn’t always obvious, protesters across the political and socioeconomic spectra were essentially saying the same thing to business and government leaders: We don’t want to be marginalized and deprived of opportunities to prosper.

In that instance, technology magnified the disparities of society by enabling the messages to be amplified and broadcast for a vast online audience and broadening awareness. But it also exacerbated some issues because it enabled selective editing and audience distribution to reflect and further stoke existing ideological divisions over what people were seeing.

Consider, for example, how some saw the Jan. 6 event as being no different than the summer protests while others drew deep lines between the intentions of the participants on both sides.  

The Opportunity to Impact Business

In a perfect world, exposure to different viewpoints would allow us to learn from and empathize with one other, providing us an opportunity to see the world through different lenses, moving forward. That’s why, from a business perspective, an understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is so important.

One element of my role when I work with technology leaders is illustrating how DEI inititaives are positives for workforces, business objectives, and economic growth while also injecting an understanding that diversity goes beyond the rank-and-file workforce and a hiring checklist of different ages, ethnicities, or genders.

The real impact comes when there’s a mixed portfolio of leaders who can be both credible and authentic across diverse constituencies. Certainly, a Board of Directors or C-Suite comprised of a single demographic might still bring diverse opinions, experiences and backgrounds. The issue isn’t just whether they truly represent the interests of those who are part of different demographics. It’s just as much, if not more, about whether those same people truly feel represented by their leaders.  

One of the takeaways from the shift to remote work is that office workers in big cities could be productive from any location where broadband service was readily available - whether it was their homes in the suburbs or their parents’ homes in rural America. And that same lesson applied to learning – whether grade school or trade school. There was an initial awkwardness but eventually, students and teachers found a way to make it work.

Diversity’s Other Branches

Why does that matter? For years, technology business leaders have struggled with a  continuous need for people with basic coding skills – and that’s promoted a massive outsourcing of IT work to other parts of the world where skilled labor was made available. Now, what we recognize is that if someone prefers living in a town that has no stoplights over a bustling city, they can still be fully engaged in the gig economy. Remote learning allows them to enroll in a coding bootcamp to learn full stack Java development while remote working allows them to obtain full-time work that utilizes those skills – and they still never encounter a stoplight.

By applying the lessons we learned from remote learning, we know that the technology allows a coding bootcamp that teaches full stack Java development to come directly to the student. They don't have to take a class at a local community college. They can sit right where they are to learn how to write code - and that becomes the on-ramp. A lot of people just don't even realize that that’s an option.

In the end, diversity, inclusion and, frankly, some empathy for each of our unique situations allows us to learn from each other and apply the collective experiences from the entire team, not just a group of people whose primary commonality is where they live. Pausing to recognize the lessons of the last year and collaborating – with a diverse group, of course – on how to apply them is a smart first step.

If the benefits of a growing, lucrative industry – technology – can be sprinkled across the land to reach people of different backgrounds, the social and economic benefits can be more evenly dispersed. And when we all benefit and grow, it provides a glimmer of hope that someday we may achieve true equality and finally address the larger, deeper social issues that plague society.