Diversity & Inclusion: why it matters

DE&I

The workforce is changing every day, and with that change comes the need for awareness. This awareness is about people, who they are, and what their stories tell. So why does that matter in the workplace?

At the AITP Atlanta November Chapter meeting, the topic of diversity & inclusion was covered. Featuring Eric Schrock, an Atlanta-based CTO who is passionate about DE&I, he tackled some of the most common problems in today’s workplace and offered a variety of solutions. Here are the highlights from that conversation.

Artificial Intelligence plays a part

As Eric put it, “One of the most pernicious things about AI is this view of neutrality. It’s an algorithm – how can an algorithm be biased? It’s not a person, it’s just code. The reality is, the creators of those algorithms, whether they want to intentionally or not, are baking into those systems biases that then come out and affect real people.”

He continues, “That AI that’s been trained and learning around how our society operates is amplifying the biases that exist in that environment.” These biases he speaks of are assumptions that are based on a variety of factors such as race, geographical location, access to goods & services, etc.

The problem with AI is that it doesn’t know it’s assuming a bias. As a result, our job is to program AI to avoid these biases. And he deals with this issue regularly as a provider of healthcare and clinical AI applications.

If you look at the problem of social determinants and how they impact somebody’s health risk, he used the example of living in a food desert, an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food. He said, “I can happily live in a food desert because I have the privilege of having access to Instacart and Amazon Fresh and a car where I can drive to a grocery store. Someone who doesn’t have that socio-economic access, who has to rely on public transport or has to walk to the local grocery store, if that store closes, that food desert has a much bigger impact on them.”

And how do these factors interplay? They are ultimately guiding the care of where mobile health units are dispersed, where food delivery services from a local food pantry are located, where to invest in health education and health training sessions, and many other health-related programs. If the AI isn’t done correctly for this purpose, you may perpetuate biases that exist, and ultimately not meet the needs of everyone.

Biases start with the individual

The best place to start is with yourself. What kind of biases are you bringing into the workplace? For starters, you could have an unconscious bias towards someone you work with. Unconscious bias is simply a bias that is natural to us but can lead to a negative result. But it’s about more than being aware of your unconscious bias.

Eric said, “I found that DE&I training and programs did not work. But the key thing that kept sticking with me is that people didn’t intrinsically understand the perspectives. It’s not the same as listening to someone articulate their lived experiences of racial trauma as a youth.”

Instead, he’s tried to approach it two different ways. One, he asked, how do we bring those stories to each other? And then how do we intentionally incorporate that into everything we do?

Intentionality can come in a variety of ways, but for Eric, he practices it through an open forum. He said, it’s so foundational to get people to understand, for example, how a gender-neutral job description impacts people. It needs to start there.

Creating an inviting atmosphere for all

The power of Eric’s leadership is displayed through his use of an open forum. This platform brings about stories from people of a variety of backgrounds that come to light in a safe space and welcoming environment. “I don’t make it required, but it’s something that allows others to listen and discuss differences,” Eric added. “It’s foundational to myself and as a company to bring in stories than to teach.”

The importance of these forums starts by not making them required. Forcing people to go will not make a change, rather making it optional makes it more inviting. For Eric, “people open up about their personal experiences when people want to hear it. How you set it up, inviting the right people, and your willingness to tackle tough conversations is how change comes about.”

His open forums cover many topics that are typically viewed as taboo in the workplace, but that’s how he creates an atmosphere where people are comfortable talking about these topics. Experiencing trauma becomes a part of who people are. And, since it’s engrained in the person, that can translate to their workspace as well.

Implementing into the workplace

All of this sounds nice, but how can you implement these conversations into your work environment? For starters, it all begins with leadership. Conversations cannot simply come about unless leadership steps up to the plate. But be prepared for pushback.

To avoid this, begin with conversations. Learn about your co-workers and get to know a bit about their background. From there, small conversations can turn into small groups, and eventually, an Employee Resource Group (ERG). This builds more meaningful conversations and groups that can grow on a larger scale. Eric quoted Author and Activist, Verna Myers, saying, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”

By implementing these conversations into your workplace, you’re not just bringing about diversity & inclusion, but positive change for the future. These conversations lead to better accommodations for the interview process and beyond. This is done through the creation of a more welcoming environment, a sense of belonging, and the realization that people are not inseparable things. At its core, we work with people who bring about their own stories, ideas and backgrounds.

Eric said, “At the end of the day, it’s about creating a great space for employees.”

In Summary

The ideas and practices brought forth by Eric Schrock showcase the importance of having a diverse workforce. When the focus is turned towards intentionality, the conversations & inclusion become more apparent. And most importantly, allow for positive change in your current and future workforce.

 

About the author

As Executive Vice President, Strategy, Tracey Klein is responsible for the overall growth strategy of the company and planning for the future of its workforce solutions. She has 25+ years of experience creating strategic roadmaps for talent acquisition, innovating for next-generation service and product development, managing global partnerships and implementing workforce management process improvement strategies. Her distinguished career also includes being named to the Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) 2017 Global Power 100 Women in Staffing list. In her spare time, Tracey enjoys attending her son’s Lacrosse games, traveling, book club and, of course, spending time with her husband and teenage son.