Diversity and Inclusion in AI Development Teams

Maria Mac Andrew's blog on diversity and inclusion in the workplace

According to McKinsey, companies that are gender diverse are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Companies with ethnically diverse workforces experienced 35% higher returns than other companies in their respective industries. And according to researchers at Bain & Company, Fortune 100 companies with three or more women on their board had a 21 percent higher return on equity than other corporations.

It is essential to recognize that artificial intelligence will have an increasingly important role in global business. As AI systems grow more sophisticated, they can handle increasingly complex tasks—everything from basic data collection and pattern analysis to more advanced processes like market forecasting. However, there are some things computers just can’t do as well as humans yet. And one of those things is to deal with ethics. While we might hope our machines would operate ethically at all times, we know full well they don’t – and so does everyone else.

AI can potentially change the face of business as we know it, and those changes will occur in our top leadership positions first. That’s why diversity and inclusion should be at the forefront of every company’s strategic plan for AI adoption and implementation moving forward. AI ethics discussions need to include diverse leadership perspectives and voices to ensure that diverse and inclusive voices are heard and considered in forming ethical AI guidelines and best practices. So if you want your business to stay ahead of AI as its capabilities expand, start by ensuring you have diverse leaders at every level.

It’s no surprise that investors are seeking diversity in leadership roles. But why? What is it about diverse leadership teams that correlate to better company performance? The reasons may be surprising. It turns out there’s more to diversity than meets the eye.

First, creating an inclusive culture where everyone feels comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work each day allows employees to bring different perspectives on problem-solving. While perspectives are often regarded as something positive, it’s also important not to mistake multiple perspectives for differing viewpoints. Multiple perspectives are valuable because they mean people share different experiences based on variables like age, education level, social class background, etc. In contrast, differing viewpoints suggest that people genuinely think differently. Different backgrounds give people an informed take when brainstorming solutions.

Diversity is a risk-mitigation strategy. By cultivating unique perspectives from different groups, companies can improve decision-making across their business at large.

 Additionally, socialization into varying cultures makes room for understanding and appreciation of different ways to do things. Because we interact primarily with those who look like us or hold similar opinions (for good reason), we tend to approach tasks and experiences very similarly. This can negatively impact our ability to achieve goals because we fail to identify alternate paths toward solutions – ultimately limiting our innovation potential. We often become blinded by our own behaviors — even when they inhibit progress — before we even realize what’s happening.

For example, a woman may steer away from innovation suggestions simply because she didn’t recognize her male peers’ ideas were innovative. She’ll question whether she’s being too critical of their ideas without realizing that feedback plays a crucial role in developing new concepts. Or someone who grew up thinking women shouldn’t lead will struggle to find any value-add he receives from female leaders, regardless of what he says publicly. Such biases are hard to overcome unless all types of people are present within any given organization. That way, individual characteristics can provide benefits rather than hindrances, leading organizations to greater success over time.

Finally, with AI systems making decisions that impact our lives—such as who to hire, who to detain, who gets insurance benefits—we need diverse people creating them. This isn’t because there is a bias against minorities or women in algorithms, but rather because we have limited data on minority populations. Put another way: When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And if AI development follows its current path, society will end up with only one tool at its disposal for complex problems. Even if AI does learn from diversity, it can take several years for AI technologies to mature from concept to implementation across an organization. In other words, change will not happen overnight—but now is definitely the time to think about it.

 Fostering an open, forward-thinking environment that embraces diversity and inclusion begins with looking critically at your hiring process. If it’s culturally biased, your entire team is going to skew in one direction. Part of promoting diversity and inclusion involves making sure that hiring managers are aware of their own biases. It’s easy to say this person has a great attitude or they would really fit in here, but it may reflect different cultural attributes that actually make them ill-suited for success.

You need to separate perception from reality – not just how others see you but also how you see yourself. It sounds simple, but it takes work to get past these assumptions. And once hires are made, research shows that failing to acknowledge different viewpoints hinders progress. It’s not enough to hire a diverse group of people. Real progress requires accepting diversity and actively encouraging it through socialization opportunities, sponsorships, and executive-level commitment.

Diversity isn’t a goal or an end in itself. It’s simply an avenue to innovation and success that we ignore at our own peril. Not only that, but it’s the right thing to do.

Hiring diverse teams is one of the steps we can take to recognize and eliminate AI bias. According to a study done by researchers at Stanford University, Google, and New York University, commercial datasets used for machine learning often reflect the prejudices and preferences of their designers. These biases come from language and accents: if a person is not American or speaks with an accent, then their voice will likely be left out. Even search algorithms discriminate against women because they tend to ask questions that require shorter answers, favoring white men who have more spare time on their hands to do research. In addition, women’s queries tend to contain superlatives such as best and greatest, which also feed into these algorithms.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has already changed how we live, work, and play. But AI can also be used to drive diversity efforts, helping make room for more women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals—and other historically underrepresented groups—in top leadership positions.

Some AI tools make it possible for organizations to vet candidates based on set criteria such as age, education level, professional experience, skills, etc. Using these tools leaves less room for unconscious bias or discrimination against candidates based on factors like gender or ethnicity. Hiring managers can review AI-vetted candidates side by side with traditional resumes so they can base hiring decisions on fit and skills rather than name or looks. Employers looking to improve diversity and inclusion in hiring—or promote diverse employees within existing teams—can integrate such tools into existing HR systems and processes so everyone benefits from AI technology right away.

Diversity is not just a feel-good talking point; it’s proven to improve businesses by making them smarter, more innovative, better run—and more profitable. This means any company that wants to succeed should embrace diversity and inclusion as core values: The winners will be those who find ways to maximize their talent and truly reflect their customers.

It is critical that organizations define their vision for how AI fits into their long-term strategy. But more importantly, they must also explicitly state how they want their AI ethics to guide them today.

Maria Mac Andrew is the head of Diversity and Communities at AI Ethics world and the Co-Founder of a Global Ethical AI Foundation.

At AI ethics World, we help businesses and communities tackle these big questions by introducing our expertise in diversity leadership strategies and training our clients to apply AI ethics into practice.

Centuries Long Systematic Oppression on Minorities

Maria Mac Andrew's blog on diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Most people are aware of the overt forms of discrimination, such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, but few are aware of the less obvious forms that have been around since the 1800s. These ways in which minorities are treated differently have been occurring since before you were born! Here are just a few examples of how discrimination against minorities has been going on for over 100 years!

Our education system still bears much blame for systematic oppression against minorities. For decades now, there have been debates surrounding whether children should learn about slavery in schools—as if it happened so long ago that we couldn’t learn anything about how things are shaping up today.

Our colonial history has left its mark on all areas of society today. One historical example demonstrating how damaging our past behavior can be on present systems is New York’s redlining law established in 1933. Redlining laws served as rules restricting banks’ lending activities mainly to white customers with houses inside red lines drawn around certain areas where new housing construction was actively discouraged or prohibited by state or local governments through zoning laws or other regulations designed to keep neighborhoods segregated according to race. The practice began in earnest in 1933 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation drew up new residential security maps for cities and metropolitan areas across America that delineated urban risk zones based on neighborhood racial composition. That meant even if a black family managed to buy a home outside these newly-drawn boundaries, they could not get a mortgage or business loan from any bank within them because many financial institutions adopted these practices. People of color were systematically excluded from many federal housing programs in favor of white households.

Redlining persisted until President Lyndon B. Johnson passed his Fair Housing Act in 1968, banning discrimination based on race or national origin. However, these discriminatory practices didn’t stop at federal level. They went beyond homeownership too. Some states had an explicit policy of excluding non-white people from living with whites. These policies persist today in some cities through zoning laws that permit only low-density neighborhoods to be built in certain areas. And some suburbs still practice exclusionary zoning by not permitting multi-family dwellings to be built outside designated zones.

Centuries of displacement have destabilized black communities and undermined their access to opportunities. A study by Stanford University found that growing up in a poor neighborhood costs children one month of learning in reading and math skills per year. The impact on students who grow up in poor neighborhoods is not an isolated event; but instead, it is often replicated across generations. When one generation of black Americans is pushed out of areas with better schools, they cannot ensure their children have access to good education. As a result, there’s evidence showing how kids from low-income families also tend to struggle academically. It’s why some academics describe how prejudice against blacks over centuries has led to marginalization and systemic deprivation that persists despite dramatic improvements for blacks as individuals.

Poor treatment toward members of other religions is another example of systematic discrimination. Jews were excluded from many European countries until the 18th century because authorities claimed they didn’t share Christian values or beliefs, which led to discrimination against them well into modern times—one commonly cited example being quotas limiting Jewish people entering universities during WWII.

This issue stems beyond just race.  Women were also subject to exclusion for centuries. As most of us know, women have faced a significant amount of systematic and cultural discrimination throughout history. From having only specific jobs and responsibilities based on their gender (such as teaching or childcare) to not being allowed to vote or work outside of their home during certain times in history, it’s no surprise that women took such a long time to obtain rights like we do today. Until relatively recently, women weren’t granted any political rights—let alone provided opportunities at school or work. Their representation in parliament remains very small compared to men.

And while young girls now outperform boys at school, gaps still exist between genders when it comes to educational attainment later on. An OECD report found that women represent about 43% of people with bachelor degrees, even though they’re typically younger than their male counterparts – showing how existing gender inequalities could affect future generations’ experiences.

But systemic racism isn’t ancient history; it’s happening right now. Thankfully, though there is still progress to be made in countries such as Saudi Arabia—where women were just recently granted permission to drive—things are starting to look up for women across much of the world. However, there is one area that continues to be a persistent problem: gender-based workplace discrimination.

Though many would assume that the recent rise of more feminine men taking leadership roles means that there’s less room for bias towards women in career fields, evidence suggests otherwise. Studies show anywhere from 2% to 9% of all female employees report experiencing gender-related hostility at work, while more than 20% of working females report experiencing some sort of pay inequality compared to their male counterparts!

According to studies done by The Council For Women, women earn about 80 cents per dollar earned by white males, which accounts for differences in occupation, industry, educational attainment, job tenure, and hours worked per week. That difference also increases over time, where new grads start around 95 cents per dollar, but after ten years of experience, they earn approximately 74 cents.

Women are subject to gender-based workplace discrimination that marginalizes them in high-paying careers, prevents their advancement, and creates a system of male dominance. One example is hiring practices. Often times employers will hire men over women simply because they are men. Studies have shown that job candidates with masculine names are more likely to be employed than candidates with feminine names.

Systematic Oppression Against BAME People

It’s no secret that work and workplace discrimination still go hand in hand. Just last year, it was revealed that Britain’s NHS had an alarming number of discriminatory practices against ethnic minority employees – most notably by unfairly firing BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) people from their jobs. The statistics were astonishing. Almost half of British Asians and 36% of black workers reported experiencing workplace discrimination in 2016 alone. On top of all that, research shows that ethnicity-based bias is very much ingrained in employers themselves. A 2012 study conducted by City University London found that a huge percentage of bosses deemed black job applicants less suitable for a managerial position than non-BAME candidates. Additionally, due to structural inequality, BAME workers, in some cases, earn less money than their non-BAME counterparts for doing exactly similar jobs, which leads directly to another major issue: wage equality for ethnic minorities hasn’t existed yet.

 Although numerous studies have been conducted to assess racial biases at work, none have achieved concrete results to solve systematic racism issues. Though many companies swear they only hire based on ability and qualifications—not race—the truth is these problems aren’t hard to fix if you acknowledge there’s a problem first. So how do we resolve them? How can we make sure more BAME people are hired? More importantly, how can we stop them from being undervalued once they are hired?

Systematic Oppression Towards LGBTQ+ People

All across America, LGBTQ+ people face discriminatory hiring practices that often lead to them earning less than straight people. According to a study conducted by professor Frank Dobbin of Harvard University, about 14% of gay men and lesbians were passed over for jobs because of their sexual orientation. This kind of behavior is nothing new. On record, there is evidence that shows discriminatory behavior towards transgender people back in 1945. For example, at one point, female-to-male transgender individuals would have to leave military service if they asked to be called he instead of she or vice versa. It also became illegal for these soldiers to get sex reassignment surgery while enlisted. Fortunately, these policies have changed over time, but it seems like some attitudes haven’t. Many people still hold views against gender identity even though it shouldn’t matter what someone looks like or who they are attracted to.

Systematic Oppression in Schools

A study conducted at Columbia University found that African American students are three times more likely to be suspended than their white peers – despite facing zero evidence that they commit crimes more often than anyone else. Moreover, because students of color tend to lack access to educational resources compared with their white counterparts, unfair discipline disproportionately impacts youth of color. When teachers and administrators notice a trend among minority students being referred for disciplinary action, they respond by issuing harsher punishments or policies that further perpetuate inequality. Furthermore, black men are 21% less likely to go to college compared with white men even though research shows college graduates make twice as much money as those without degrees over time—meaning black people stand to lose out on an enormous sum each year by not getting into college or dropping out early enough.

University of New Hampshire sociology professor Paul G. Solman recently wrote an interesting column for The Washington Post about how minority students are often targets of systematic oppression in universities. As it turns out, even at elite institutions, blacks and Latinos are considerably less likely to study with faculty than whites or Asians. Moreover, even within departments that hire black professors, fewer opportunities arise for contact between minority students and faculty (Solman). When minority students are marginalized by systematic oppression in universities, they cannot reach their full potential.

It is time for us to realize that systematic oppression is still taking place today. Without proper education of citizens about these issues, little progress will be made towards ending systematic oppression throughout all levels of our society.  I am sure something can be done before another generation gets lost.

The more systematic oppression towards any group continues, the more opportunities are lost for everyone involved. To think that our society can move forward when groups of different identities are being discriminated against every day is scary because there will always be differences between us. We may see an end to racism soon, with many people accepting others regardless of skin color, but other forms of systematic oppression towards specific groups might not disappear for hundreds of years unless something drastic happens soon. Hopefully, things change soon before history repeats itself yet again. Until then, we should learn from past mistakes, so we don’t repeat them ever again.