Laura Malcolm, the General Manager (CEO), Avanade Australia, writes for Women Love Tech about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the age of AI.
Now that we finally seem able to put the pandemic behind us, a wave of other priorities and issues are dominating headlines, social media feeds, and our minds. Our new context is one of economic uncertainty, living cost pressures and climate change, with mental health and wellbeing continuing to challenge so many people. There is a lot to consume, consider and navigate in both business and our everyday lives, but some things remain constant – continuous change, finite resources like time and energy, and the importance of human connections.
In this challenging context, there has never been a greater need for us to harness our technology and human ingenuity together, with artificial intelligence (AI) presenting some of the greatest opportunities and challenges for us to address. The question then becomes – how do we make the most of our limited time each day to do what matters for the people and communities we care about?
Doing what matters to build a more sustainable, inclusive, and equitable world
Technology is a powerful enabler for productivity, a catalyst for change in businesses and industries, and a tool for connectivity and collaboration. It is helping us to advance the world in so many ways – and is critical in addressing the biggest environmental and social issues. However, it now becomes clear that responsibility, integrity, and inclusion are just as important as the technology itself. With the rapid advancements we’re seeing in AI, it is not just a benefit we are missing, but also a threat to us as we risk propagating existing bias and inequity.
There is no better time than now for the technology industry to step up and act as one – in addition to collaborating with other sectors – to accelerate the progress that we all urgently need.
What role does diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) play?
It is increasingly well-appreciated that diversity drives innovation, improved performance, and better outcomes for everyone. To make equality a reality that is not too far from our future, it is our responsibility to build an environment where everyone – regardless of who they are or where they come from – can participate and achieve equal outcomes.
Diverse talent and skills are key to unlocking the potential benefits that AI can deliver. Equally, technology has made the workplace more accessible and inclusive, opening up many new opportunities and pathways – especially for women and underrepresented groups. However, the technology industry is still not attracting, engaging, inspiring, and empowering a diverse talent pool.
In fact, the Tech Council of Australia has identified diversity as a key area of improvement for the tech sector as a part of its plan to employ 1.2 million tech workers by 2030. A recent report by the World Economic Forum also found that 79 per cent of businesses will be prioritising women in their workforce development. This will create more opportunities for women especially when we consider the fact that only 21 per cent of data and AI-related positions are held by women.
The technology industry is recognisably at the forefront of creating new skills, defining jobs of the future, and innovating solutions that make a genuine human impact. To create solutions that are beneficial to different communities, our industry needs to be representative of our communities and the world that we live in. A diverse workforce with unique perspectives is critical in the building of technologies like AI, so that we can also address barriers like data bias. By harnessing AI ethically and responsibly, businesses would be opening doors to new levels of productivity and innovation.
To accelerate progress, equity matters, and collaboration is key
To build a more diverse workforce, we need workplaces, environments, and cultures where women are supported and empowered, especially in the technology industry. If there’s anything we learned from the pandemic, it is the need for flexibility and new ways of working. A 2022 ABS report found that 1 in 7 families in Australia were single-parent families – with four out of five single mothers.
This is where we need to drive more accountability and responsibility on organisations and leadership to ensure the support, practices, and resources that women need in the workforce. Policies and programs need to be put in place to better support primary carers and single, working mothers. When policies are more inclusive and supportive of women re-joining the workforce after extended time off, it sends a strong signal that they do not have to choose between raising a family and having a successful career. We face a critical skills shortage in the country, yet we are excluding a potentially large and talented workforce from the narrative.
But let’s be clear about one thing too – today’s reality is that even in two-parent families, challenges with balancing carer and work responsibilities illustrate that we are far from having a sustainable solution to allow equitable participation in work for both carers. There is a lot of work we still need to do – some of which will require strong public-private partnerships, with unilateral leadership commitment required. Isn’t it time that we unlock the true power of people and technology before it’s too late?