It can write your presentation, develop your business strategy, analyze your data—it’s harder to list what AI can’t do. But as companies continue to adopt the technology at breakneck speed, there is concern that we might be asleep at the wheel regarding its effect on diversity and inclusion.

Does bias exist in AI today?

Past precedent is partly to blame. A 2019 Harvard Business review study found that AI-supported recruiting displayed anti-Black bias, and in 2018 a major online retailer’s hiring algorithm was found to discriminate against women.

It’s too early to know exactly how the current batch of AI models will fare, but experts say the cause for previous misalignments has been that the data upon which the AI was trained contained the spectrum of our own human prejudice. “If you have bias in the system, it leads to biased results,” says JT Saunders, Korn Ferry’s Chief Diversity Officer.

Saunders says part of the issue stems from the persistent lack of diversity among the engineers who develop AI. “We reinforce biases in the system based on those who built them,” he says. Indeed, last year women reportedly accounted for only two in 10 software engineers in the US, with less than one in 10 developers being Black or Latinx.

Aside from advising more inclusive hiring, Saunders joins a recent list of intellectuals and business leaders who have called for a slowdown in AI development in order to properly assess what the risks are. As the character Malcolm in Jurassic Park famously warned, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

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Using AI to further diversity efforts

But is anyone asking AI what it thinks? AI’s potential wealth of information could go to waste if not properly integrated into your workflow, notes Andrés Tapia, Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner and Global Diversity and Inclusion Strategist. “The bot is listening, watching our emails, seeing who's dominating the conversation, and who’s being overlooked,” he says.

For example, he says, in a strategy conversation between four co-workers where AI was listening in, it would be incredibly useful afterwards if AI notified the group that one of the members only spoke 2% of the time. “That’s how AI can actually help us be more inclusive,” he says. However, he adds, the onus is on us to change our behavior and proactively ask AI for its insights.

AI can also support inclusive promotions within an organization, say experts. “It can look across the workforce and identify talent that may not otherwise apply or be considered,” says David Marzo, Korn Ferry’s Global Vice President of Solution Design.

In 2022, a reported seven out of 10 senior business leaders were men and six out of 10 were white. Experts suggest AI can help diversify a firm’s upper ranks better than humans, who might tend to select individuals for certain roles from within their personal networks—which is often reflective of only one demographic.

But AI can only be helpful to the extent that we elevate our own thinking, says Chris Cantarella, Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner in its Global Technology Market. “People have to change first,” he says. “I don't think the machine can make them change.”

To speak further about the impact of AI and inclusivity, please contact us or explore our DE&I services.

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