Technology is colour blind, right?
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Technology is colour blind, right?

One of my short assignments the past month brought me to the Karel de Grote graduate school. There I talked to HR Business students about the strategic value of diversity and inclusion. Hans Mangelschots of HRTechValley was there as well, to talk about digitalisation in the HR sector. Just before he left, I had a chat with him and when I told him the subject I would be speaking on, he enthusiastically replied: Talent knows no colour, right? That’s why I started HR Tech in the first place. It’s all about your skills, not about your appearance..” I had to tell him he wasn’t completely right however. Let me elaborate, because it’ll show you how diversity and inclusion are also essential to technological advances (in HR).

Of course I would have preferred to just fully agree with Hans’ enthusiastic response. After all, it should be self-evident that it’s all about someone’s skills, not his or her appearance. But the practice differs from the theory. In reality women are still paid less than men for the same job. In reality Ahmed still has to send three times as many application letters than Adam to get invited for a job interview, even if they have the exact same skills and degrees. And in reality disabled or elderly jobhunters still have to overcome harsh stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. This proves that unfortunately talent is not (yet) colour blind in our society, as much as it isn’t gender blind or age blind. Not even when you use technology to support or guide human decisions.

Why isn’t technology unbiased or unprejudiced in recognising talent in diversity? It’s quite simple: they are developed by people and organisations who are free of bias or prejudice. Input controls output. A work floor or artificial system that is hardly ever exposed to people with different skin colour (or age, gender, disability, …) will not develop the capacity to handle that difference in the right way. This was made painfully obvious a few years ago by Google whose photo app identified two black people as gorillas. In the Netherlands Neuro-informaticus Sennay Ghebreab wasn’t recognised as a human being by the revolving door of his office building. Quite ironic for someone who – as the head of the social sciences department of Amsterdam University College – routinely does machine bias research.

As Teamspeler coach I solve these kinds of problems by assisting companies and organisations in their growth towards diversity and inclusion. I always check with clients if the top level is willing to hit sustainable targets. That willingness to invest is of the essence when it comes to diversity and inclusion, just as it is when you develop a new product, service or consuming market. To help organisation achieve this, I offer a service catered to their needs. But I also stress that an integral approach offers the most opportunities to produce sustainable results in the long run, to the organisation’s benefit. That’s why I’ll continue to inspire the HR and company officers of the future, like the KDG students, to put inclusion and diversity high on their agenda when they hit the job market.

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