Breaking down barriers to inclusivity with technology

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Supporting and encouraging social diversity and inclusion in the workplace is essential, not only for creating positive working environments but also for contributing significantly towards businesses’ bottom lines. However, a lack of inclusivity and diversity measures across UK business has dominated the headlines in recent years. While UK legislation – covering age, disability, race, religion, gender and sexual orientation – sets minimum standards, there is much more that business leaders can do to support employee-wellbeing and engagement.

Over recent years, technology has played an important role in creating more open and inclusive workplaces. From providing essential transparency across companies, teams and projects, to being a source of information on inclusion policies, the aim of technology in business is to make as many aspects of work easier, compliant, more efficient and ultimately more inclusive. There are a number of new technologies such as AI software, instant messaging (IM), webinars and Cloud PBX solutions that are significantly contributing towards breaking down the historical barriers to inclusivity that still exist in global enterprise today.

Amplifying communication

Business has never been more global than it is today. With companies and teams often spread across countries and even continents, travel constraints, time zones and simple geography make meeting in person to discuss key business decisions at times nigh on impossible. However, with the advent of super-fast broadband and faster computing power than ever before, there are an increasing number of technology tools that are removing many of the barriers to inclusivity and communication that have existed.

The need to clarify details, resolve issues, share integral plans, and make decisions that will impact the overall success of a project in real-time is essential. Teams must have open and flowing channels of communication at all times in order to maximise on the expertise of everyone, regardless of mobility or background, involved with the project.

Tools such as webinars or webcasts have enabled businesses that span cities and countries to ensure their staff are all connected and on the same page when it comes to company strategy, performance updates and success stories from around the business. As staff can join both webinars and webcasts from anywhere – their desk in the office, while travelling on their tablets, or from home – the traditional barrier of not being able to be physically present is removed.

Often one of the biggest barriers to successful inclusivity measures is a slow response – whether that be due to email backlog or phones that always ring to voicemail. Rapid-response communication applications and platforms like Slack, IM, and iMeet enable rapid response to queries and issues no matter where either party are located. Using specific tools, such as GlobalMeet, that support multiple devices and video conferencing, everyone involved in the conversation can have a visual of the person they are talking to, which further breaks down barriers and amplifies communication.

For questions that need instant responses, being able to send an instant, often informal message, such as “do you have a quick 5 mins?” instantly creates a more approachable atmosphere between employees and management. The invisible, yet pervasive, barrier of “I need to step into your threshold” is removed by being able to contact anyone in the organisation in a neutral forum.

With the advent of secure and reliable cloud solutions over the last few years, we have started to see Cloud PBX solutions enter business, enabling more inclusive and flexible communication. Integrated fully with mobile devices, Cloud PBX is able to route calls to wherever you may be and will take messages and convert to text or email via sophisticated software if urgent messages come through that you’re unable to answer. More advanced versions of this system, known as Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), go further than just voice calls and include the ability to integrate full online meeting facilities. From simple two-way calls, to multi-party video, screen and file share, UCaaS enables faster decision making.

Eliminating unconscious bias in business

Workplace diversity has made the headlines for a number of years now, and not for the right reasons. The gender pay gap and lack of female representation on boards of directors is a common topic of conversation, as historically there has been a significant level of unconscious bias in business. Stereotypes, both negative and positive, that exist subliminally in our subconscious have affected the behaviour and decision-making processes in organisations for decades, resulting in an unequal and non-inclusive business environment.

However, artificial intelligence (AI) is being harnessed by many companies to combat this unconscious bias in the workplace. Fundamentally driven by data, and specifically trained to ignore traditional prejudices, these AI software platforms are helping to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce. While it would be wrong to not highlight that such AI algorithms need careful monitoring to ensure they don’t learn and reproduce historical patterns of underrepresentation, using AI in this way is having a direct positive impact on removing unconscious bias in the workplace.

Originally, AI was brought into the workplace to help reduce the burden of administrative tasks such as booking meeting rooms. The likes of zoom.ai’s AI assistant has now developed to be able to do not just that but also to book taxis, flights, hotels for international meetings and make restaurant reservations autonomously and automatically.

While meeting minute taking is still in its infancy, AI assistants are growing in intelligence and can further reduce the level of unconscious bias in business with this tool. Through providing factual documentation of conversations, key decisions and actions from meetings can be emailed to participants and those who weren’t able to join the meeting. Not simply an efficient way of distributing meeting minutes, harnessing AI in this way eliminates the possibility of actions or important information being deliberately removed or left out due to human bias.

Inclusivity and diversity in the workplace has been a serious issue for decades, however, through harnessing the latest technology such as AI and communication tools, we can start to take real steps forward to creating a truly inclusive workplace. Business will only succeed when all of the talent available is tapped into and everyone has equal access to opportunity.

Chris Martin, CTO, Powwownow
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa