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Last week, Lenovo and Intel Corporation published the first chapter from a global study, titled “Diversity and Inclusion in the Global Workplace,” on how people across the globe view Diversity and Inclusion both in their private and professional life. This first dataset sheds some light on how 5000 respondents across the US, UK, Germany, Brazil and China perceive the role that technology plays in addressing systematic inequities, creating more access, and enabling growth.
Yolanda Lee Conyers, Chief Diversity Officer and President, Lenovo Foundation, Lenovo
It is not often that we see two big tech brands partner on research, but Yolanda Lee Conyers, Chief Diversity Officer and President, Lenovo Foundation, Lenovo, points out: “Intel stands out to us not only as a familiar partner in the industry but as an organization we can learn from to fully achieve representation goals across our own employee base. Barbara Whye, Vice President, Human Resources, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Intel and myself have long been collaborating as D&I leaders and learn from one another, and we really view D&I as a topic where companies that ordinarily would compete in the market can all benefit and grow together by sharing insights and best practices.”
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I have had the opportunity to talk to both leaders over the past few months and their approach to D&I is centered on an engineering mindset where data drives informed decisions and strategies that are often shared transparently to encourage more accountability across the industry. Before getting into the part of the study that addresses the role, technology has to play in fostering D&I, the results help us quantify how important a diverse and inclusive workplace is to employees. Often, the discussions we have on D&I tend to focus on the US, mostly because diversity data is only shared for the US due to disclosure limitations allowed about other countries. This leads to a conversation on Diversity that is often limited to race and gender. When it comes to Inclusion, however, the conversation is much broader and impact workplaces across markets quite differently.
Barbara Whye, chief diversity & inclusion officer and human resources vice president for Intel … [+]
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“The data confirmed that no matter where someone is in the world, we all expect an inclusive workplace. It underscores that Diversity and Inclusion is not a program or a campaign—it’s how we must do business. It is a business strategy that drives growth and success and it is critical to creating the right environment for employees to boldly engage in teams and bring their full experiences to work. When employees experience a sense of belonging, they are better able to drive business value,” said Barbara Whye.
The D&I Journey
Inclusion in the workplace has been a journey, and most employees acknowledge that some progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go. In the US, 57% of respondents think D&I in the workplace is getting better. China and Brazil are the two countries with the most positive move, with 78 and 71 percent, respectively.
The extent of the work that remains to be done when we look at Diversity and Inclusion has been particularly obvious over the past few months when brands across sectors, from tech to fashion, have been under increased scrutiny. As many offered support to the Black Lives Matter movement speaking up for a more equitable society, they were called on the lack of Diversity their own companies displayed, especially in leadership roles. Despite respondents across geographies acknowledging improvements, only 34% of US respondents felt that their employer is a leader in D&I.
Both Lee Conyers and Whye point out the need for D&I to be a business imperative. Even though some might think that the current push is just a trend that will die out or at most a marketing effort, it is clear to me that D&I is not only good for business but more importantly, it matters to employees. Especially as Gen Z enters the workplace, D&I will matter alongside salary and benefits to determine the attractiveness of a job. More than half of employees across all markets say that a company’s D&I policies are “extremely” or “very” important when deciding where to apply for a job and whether to accept an offer. This is even higher in the US (75%), China (89%), and Brazil (88%). Diversity goes hand in hand with representation and employees want to know that people like them can thrive and succeed in the workplace. Once you have Diversity, though, it is Inclusion that turns a diverse environment into a thriving workplace for everyone. Seventy-four percent of US respondents believe that D&I at work has a positive impact on them personally, naming a greater sense of belonging as the top benefit. This is followed by a greater sense of engagement and satisfaction.
The Role of Technology
Now more than ever, we appreciate the huge role technology plays in our day to day work. As we all learn to work amidst a pandemic with new work practices like remote work, we see how technology can help get work done. Ninety-five percent of US respondents feel that technological advances have allowed people to work in more dynamic and flexible ways. How employees feel most empowered varies from country to country with US and UK respondents mentioning that technology makes it easier to complete work assignments or responsibilities while employees in Brazil and China pointed to technology as an enabler of collaboration with coworkers in different office locations.
When it comes to technologies that are still at the cusp of adoption, like Artificial Intelligence (AI), respondents shared both optimism and apprehension. A consistent worry across markets was that AI could be harmful to people from marginalized or underrepresented communities: US (57%), UK (45%), Germany (41%), Brazil (54%), China (64%). Companies working on AI have been recently spending more effort and resources in explainable and ethical AI. That said, more needs to be done to make sure our current biases are eradicated so that the potential for algorithms used in machine learning and AI to carry those biases is reduced.
On the positive side, there was consensus across the respondents that tech developed by diverse and inclusive teams will be more appropriate for a broader group of people: US (52%), UK (45%), Germany (48%), Brazil (51%), China (60%) as well as more inclusive: US (50%), UK (45%), Germany (36%), Brazil (51%), China (63%).
Diversity and Inclusion are often distilled down to numbers. What is the percentage of group A vs. group B? How has that changed over time? What it takes to get to those numbers is very complex and remains a trial and error system that is attempting to address a lifetime of biased work practices that impacted hiring, career growth and broader societal issues like access to equal access to quality education.
Data helps to get a clearer picture as well as a more tailored approach to the issue at hand. When I asked Whye how the data from this study will guide her D&I strategy at Intel, she said: “This research reinforced the need for digital readiness across the world. Technology can only help those that have access to it. That’s why I’m encouraged by our recently announced 2030 goals and global challenge to make technology fully inclusive and expand digital readiness. To create shared value from an industry perspective, we are working to convene companies to accelerate the adoption of inclusive business practices across industries by creating and implementing a Global Inclusion Index. This consortium between tech and other industries will focus on 3-5 priorities that will support a collective impact on driving Inclusion across the sector.”
For Lee Conyers, the takeaway from this first set of data on the role that technology plays in fostering D&I is not too far off. It really confirmed the urgency to address the growing digital divide. For her, this data provides clear alarm bells. When participants were asked questions about the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), women were more likely than men to provide a response of “I don’t know” or “Not sure” – in some markets, the margins between men and women were as significant as 12-13 percentage points. The same was true for respondents from low-income brackets compared to respondents from high-income brackets. “We’re at the dawn of a fourth industrial revolution with the emergence of technologies like AI, and we have an opportunity to make this the most inclusive revolution ever, but only if we take these insights to heart and take the steps necessary to bridge the divide in access and education – something we’ve been committed to addressing through our philanthropic arm with the Lenovo Foundation” Lee Conyers stated.
The circumstances that lead us to talk about Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace might differ from country to country, often driven by the historical, economic and cultural context. Yet, as this Lenovo and Intel study clearly confirms, the premise that employees not only prefer but expect a diverse and inclusive workplace is a reality that transcends companies and countries and the same is true about how employees count on technology to help them achieve it. So much has changed from when the study was fielded back in December that I hope Lenovo and Intel will soon do a follow up digging deeper, asking the harder questions and continuing to uncover answers and solutions to the uncomfortable truths of the inequities faced in the workplace.
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.