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Q&A: DEIB in 2024 with Patricia Souza | Can AI Really Push the Needle?

AI is poised for incredible growth and advancement. However, the key will be starting with a clean, ethical foundation to ensure that these tools develop in a way that promotes inclusivity and fairness.

Before we dive into the Q&A, let’s get to know Patricia Souza, and her impressive professional journey.


As I interviewed Patricia, it became clear that her path in HR has been anything but conventional. Originally from Brazil, she moved to Europe in 2016, after 5 years of working in Brazil, as an assignee of the Tax department of EY (Ernst & Young), working with the mobility field and, managing expat-related HR tax issues, such as compliance, immigration and social security.

Experiencing expatriation herself as a Brazilian in Europe was eye-opening. Initially, Patricia wasn’t aware of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a topic and the science behind it. Being part of a global organization exposed her to different cultures and gave her her first true understanding of inclusion. This experience made her realize the biases and discrimination minorities face at work, pushing her to work harder for the recognition and advancement of DEI in the workplace.


Q: Can you elaborate on the importance of diversity from the early stages of AI development and how it can prevent bias?

AI can be a powerful tool for improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), particularly in recruitment, promotions, retention, and addressing attrition issues. AI has the potential to mitigate inherent human biases by creating blind profiles for promotions and providing objective data-driven insights.

However, while using AI tools has immense potential for both good and bad, its efficacy in enhancing DEI depends on how these tools are built. 

For example –

  • Data Source Awareness: You have to be conscious of where the data comes from. For instance, tools specialized for specific regions should consider the unique language and representation aspects of those areas. Cultural diversity within the data sets is vital to ensure the AI models are representative and fair.
  • Representative Testing: Involving people from various backgrounds in testing AI products. This helps identify biases or issues that the development team may not notice. Ensuring the testing pool is diverse can provide a broader perspective on the AI’s impact.
  • Ongoing Education and Training: Continuously educating and training the team on the importance of DEI and on recognizing and mitigating bias in AI development. Ongoing education ensures that the team remains aware of and sensitive to DEI issues.

Real-Life Example: Companies like Microsoft have incorporated numerous features to support accessibility and inclusivity in their products, such as Microsoft Teams. These features include inclusive language tools (the “Speaker coach”), contrast adjustments for color blindness, closed captions for non-native speakers and the deaf individuals, and spatial features for the blind.

Having a diverse team, including neurodivergent leaders, has contributed to these inclusive advancements.

Q: On that note, let’s switch gears a bit. Suppose I’m an HR leader tasked with developing a DEI program or implementing DEI initiatives. What steps should HR leaders take when starting with DEI, and how can AI be leveraged to support these efforts?

1. Clarify Your Organization’s DEI Approach

It’s crucial to differentiate how diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are handled within HR across different organizations. Many corporations place DEI under the HR umbrella, but this can vary greatly. DEI can either be part of HR or exist as a separate entity, depending on the organizational structure and where the company is on its DEI journey.

Some organizations are just beginning their DEI efforts, while others have advanced initiatives, such as special rooms for young mothers to breastfeed or prayer rooms for diverse religions. It’s essential to assess where your organization stands on this continuum.

2. Start with Recruitment

Starting with recruitment is an easy win, where AI can provide significant benefits. For example –

1.Inclusive Job Advertisements: Reviewing and adjusting job ads to use inclusive language can help attract a more diverse pool of candidates. This is crucial because many companies struggle to attract diverse candidates due to the language used in job postings. Words like “competitive” or “aggressive” tend to attract more male candidates, unintentionally discouraging women from applying. For example, Witty uses an AI tool to review written content, such as job ads, and suggest improvements to make the language more inclusive. Through creative analytics, AI can also analyze past recruitment data to identify patterns of bias in language and recommend adjustments that will attract a wider range of qualified candidates.

2. Mitigating Biases while Sourcing Candidates: Using AI in the recruitment process can also help mitigate biases. For instance, blind recruitment tools remove names and pictures from applications, focusing solely on qualifications. This practice, to keep pictures in profiles, more common in Europe, can increase biases related to candidates’ appearances or names. A correspondence testing involving 1,500 fake profiles with white, Arabian, black and Latin names found that profiles with white-sounding names had significantly higher chances of getting interview calls.

3. Employee Growth and Retention

Additionally, AI can track and measure where talent losses occur within teams, helping to identify and address biases in promotions and retention. Unfortunately, GDPR restrictions in Europe make it challenging to collect detailed demographic data, which can hinder efforts to pinpoint specific issues. However, in the US, where data collection is more robust, it becomes evident where biases exist and what needs to be addressed.

4. Commitment Beyond AI

Finally, setting KPIs for C-level positions is crucial. While AI can aid in this process, strong policies and genuine commitment are also essential. AI provides tools and insights, but it is up to the leaders to drive the change and ensure that DEI initiatives are effectively implemented and sustained.

Q: We’ve discussed what HR professionals can do without tools, but let’s focus on the AI tools and technologies available. Which AI tools or technologies have you found particularly effective in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in your experience?

There are already several tools in the market. I can name a few and their applications:

For Talent Acquisition:

  1. Hirevue: AI tool to support in the recruitment and onboarding stages.
  2. Pymetrics: Uses AI to help in the recruitment, talent acquisition and learning process.
  3. Eightfold: AI-platform for hiring and retention
  4. HireEZ: AI Sourcing platform
  5. X0pa AI: Offers an AI solution for recruitment and employee training

For Performance review and inclusive language:

  1. Textio: Helps reviewing job ads and performance reviews for more inclusive language/content. Take a look at the interview of the founder in their main website and the biases on performance reviews:
  2. Witty Works: They developed a tool that through AI reviews all written language and suggests improvements for a more inclusive language

For Workforce management & Analytics:

  1. Planday: Tool to help with workforce management and planning.
  2. HRForecast

HRIS:

  1. Personio: Complete suite of HRIS (talent and HR management, payroll and data management)

FYI: I have not tested nor used most of the tools, but this is simply to show what is available in the market.

Q: How do you envision the role of AI in advancing DEIB in the next 5 – 10 years? What trends do you predict? 

Market Differences and AI Adoption Rates: First and foremost, we need to understand that there are significant differences between markets like India, the US, and Europe. In the US, for example, there’s a tendency to embrace change quickly, sometimes without extensive regulation, which can lead to rapid implementation of new technologies. Europe, on the other hand, tends to be more cautious and regulatory, which can sometimes hinder the pace of change.

Investments by Tech Giants: From my observations, the big players in the tech industry, such as GPT or Google, have been investing heavily in AI advancements. Initially, there was a rush to implement these technologies quickly. However, now there’s a shift towards being more thoughtful and strategic about these changes.

Finding a Balance with AI: I believe that in the next 5-10 years, we’ll find a middle ground between rapid implementation and thoughtful regulation. We’re on the brink of a significant boom in AI. Although AI has been around for decades, the advent of technologies like ChatGPT has transformed the sector dramatically.

In summary, AI is poised for incredible growth and advancement. However, the key will be starting with a clean, ethical foundation to ensure that these tools develop in a way that promotes inclusivity and fairness.

Q: There was a survey by Fortune and Deloitte, which found that 95% of CEOs regard diversity, equity, and inclusion as a personal strategic priority. Do you truly believe that CEOs and leaders are genuinely committed to DEI initiatives, or is it just a trend?

In my opinion, there is a genuine interest in DEI from everyone because it’s become unavoidable. However, there’s a significant difference between interest and commitment. Commitment means creating KPIs and moving the dial at an aggressive speed, and this is not happening at the level it should. This isn’t just my opinion; there’s plenty of data supporting this.

For instance, it took us until last year to have more female CEOs than male CEOs named John. Think about how many years it took to achieve this tiny win! In the financial sector, gender equality is still a major issue, and tech is even worse. Those are only two industries in the whole market. If there was real commitment, would the progress be that slow?

However, there are some positive examples too. EY was the first of the Big Fours to name a global female CEO late last year, which is a significant milestone. Despite the progress, DEI became a trend, especially during COVID-19, and I had hoped this momentum would continue. Unfortunately,

as the immediate crisis of the pandemic has subsided, many companies have reduced their focus on DEI. We’ve seen massive layoffs of DEI leaders in the US, illustrating the difference between genuine interest and real commitment.

The bottom line is that while interest in DEI is widespread, the level of commitment needed to drive substantial change is still lacking in many areas.

Q: So, there’s interest but not necessarily commitment from leaders and organizations. Do you think AI is something that can push the needle on DEI? 

Well, it always comes back to the human element. AI has the potential to push the needle on DEI, but it depends on how it’s used and who is using it. That’s why I say don’t be afraid of AI taking your job; we still need people to train and guide AI. The question is, who is training the AI, and how is it being used?

And secondly, AI can indeed push the needle on DEI, but leaders need to allow it to happen. AI won’t solve these issues by itself. Leaders need to recognize the potential of AI and commit to using it for DEI initiatives. This commitment must come from the top. If AI is the train, we still need someone to pilot it. Who is piloting this train, and who is on board? Is it a diverse group, or does everyone look the same.

My advice to any leader, not just HR leaders, is this:

Don’t try to stop the progress of AI. The train is already on the track. The real question is how you’re going to board this train and take the best possible seats. Embrace AI, use it to your advantage, but always remain aware of the ethical implications and the need for human oversight.

Mariam Mushtaq

I'm a Content Writer at Springworks. Drawing from my early career experience in HR, I bring a unique, insider's perspective. Driven by a passion for the People and HR function, I research and write about topics such as employee engagement and the future of work.

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