Featured in today's briefing:
- Bias review committees for artificial intelligence.
- How minimum-wage hikes affect job growth.
- Meet the “meeting greeter.”
The Macro Context
- As large-scale events make a strong rebound from the Covid pandemic, US cities including Seattle and Dallas are investing in new development to draw the conference industry, and its tourism dollars, to their local economies.
- Cooling inflation and a still-robust labor market have pushed back the timing on recession predictions, with most economists now forecasting that one will begin toward the end of this year, later than previously thought (and others maintaining their hopes of a soft landing).
- Still, a growing number of US consumers fell behind in paying off their credit-card bills, mortgages, and other debts last quarter: Some 1.08% of loans were 90 days delinquent, compared to 0.71% in the first quarter of 2022.
Focus on How to Make Workplaces’ AI Adoption Equitable
Underrepresented groups can get left behind when there’s a shift in work and economic opportunity like the one that artificial intelligence is bringing. In the vein, research suggests that women and workers of color could be disproportionately disadvantaged by the broader use of AI and automation.
But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.
For insight into how workplaces can approach AI adoption with diversity, equity, and inclusion in mind, we spoke with Sandra Quince, CEO of Paradigm for Parity, which counsels organizations on how to eliminate racial and gender gaps in their leadership. Here are excerpts from our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:
Research suggests that women and Black employees are disproportionately vulnerable to AI automation. What’s your advice to companies for how to navigate the current rise of AI tools in a way that supports DEI efforts?
Time is the enemy of diversity. If you wait until you need to make the decision to put the right processes in place, then you will lose ground. We know that AI is coming. We know that it's here. And so we’re encouraging our organizations to put the right processes in place now, so that you're able to better deal with any of the challenges that we're going to face in the future and the ones we have coming now nonstop.
What would those right processes be?
Number one, you have to know who works for you. So what is your data telling you about your talent? Number two, you have to be able to upskill your leaders so that they understand how to properly assess talent in the organization—not on presence, but on success, ability to get the job done. When you arm your leaders with the ability to properly understand who has the future trajectory within this company, understand the goals and aspirations of the people who work for you, you're able to make the critical decisions around talent in a way that keeps your diverse talent intact.
The other thing that companies can do is create review committees to ensure before decisions are made that there is not a disproportionate impact on diverse talent. Those committees should be a diverse cross-section of business functions, and they should be diverse.
Review committees similar to bias calibration committees for performance reviews?
Yes—you can think about this at every moment in the employee life cycle. You can think about it for hiring, onboarding, developing. Before you go tapping people for roles, which we often do for those that we're comfortable with, which means we tend to tap the same people—a review committee could be useful there.
AI is another opportunity for companies to leverage a review committee to ensure they’re being appropriately responsible in decision-making. Who will this benefit? Who won't it benefit? We know that AI will impact roles and the types of jobs that we have in our organization, so are you helping your leaders be thoughtful about how to mitigate bias in those decisions and moments that matter?
What would be an example of a ‘moment that matters’ with regard to AI?
Let's say I'm getting ready to assess my talent to understand where we might need to make some cuts, because roles might be diminished or roles will not be needed because of AI. In order to mitigate bias in that moment, I would pause before decisions are made to ask, why am I thinking about cutting employee X, versus the reasons why we would keep employee X? Have I really been fair to this individual, and what else do I need to do to really see them in the right light?
Or let's talk about building talent. As you're thinking future-forward about your organization, should you be buying talent in this moment, or should you be upskilling and building your current talent, and using attrition as a way to help soften the employee numbers so that you're ready to receive AI in the right way? By the way, to upskill your leaders, you're going to have to put some dollars behind it. And so are you prepared to do that in the right way to ensure that it’s sustainable and responsible?
When you think about who you give developmental opportunities to, who you give projects to, who you see as your up-and-coming leaders in the organization—AI plays a role in that, because AI could be a tool that companies are using to help spit that information out to the leader. That leader then has to be able to understand how to mitigate bias there.
It's a matter of crafting a few questions that managers can ask themselves before they go into the decision-making process, to really train the brain to really think differently about talent. This is something managers and companies can put in place for very little resources to help their leaders be thinking about, how do I mitigate?
What Else You Need to Know
Generative AI will impact an estimated 40% of working hours through a combination of automating some tasks, altering the way other tasks are done, and creating new tasks related to the management of AI, according to a recent Accenture report.
- Some 74% of US employers expect to automate some of their work within the next three years, compared to 65% who do so currently, according to a new Willis Towers Watson global survey of 720 global employers encompassing 8.5 million employees. The report also found that just over one-fifth of US employers are currently preparing for increased adoption of emerging technologies, with around 40% of employers in that group actively redesigning roles to account for automation and new digital tools.
- As the rise of generative AI coincides with the current wave of knowledge-worker layoffs and a push in many organizations toward flatter structures, some experts believe the jobs lost will not be recovered. “We may be at the peak of the need for knowledge workers,” Atif Rafiq, former chief digital officer at McDonald’s and Volvo, told The Wall Street Journal. “We just need fewer people to do the same thing.”
- In the short term, however, employees are using automation to their personal advantage: As AI tools continue to help workers improve their productivity, some are reportedly using their newly freed-up bandwidth to take on additional jobs without their employers’ knowledge.
New research finds that minimum wage increases led to job growth. In a working paper out of the University of California, Berkeley, researchers analyzed wages and employment figures for 37 counties in New York and California after state-level minimum-wage hikes went into effect, and observed greater job growth than in similar counties where the minimum wage did not increase during the same period.
- The researchers also found that raising the minimum wage did not reduce wages for workers at the middle of the income distribution, countering a common critique of minimum-wage hikes.
Office usage rates have remained at about half of pre-pandemic levels for much of 2023. In January, card-swipe data showed that office attendance had reached 50% of pre-pandemic levels for the first time, but attendance levels have not budged much since, according to Kastle Systems.
- To boost long-term office usage in New York City, mayor Eric Adams announced new tax incentives to support office-building upgrades.
- Just 1.6% of workers relocated for a new job in the first quarter of 2023, according to a quarterly survey from Challenger, Gray, & Christmas, the lowest level ever captured by the survey.
Some 56% of workers believe that focusing on increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion at work is a good thing, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Just 14% of workers reported that they thought their organization pays too much attention to DEI, while 54% said they believe that their organization pays the right amount of attention and 15% said too little.
- Among all racial and ethnic groups, Black workers were most likely to say that a focus on DEI is a good thing at 78%, while white workers were the least likely to agree, at 47%. Similarly, women were more likely to support a DEI focus, at 61%, compared to just half of men.
- A majority of workers reported that having diversity in race and ethnicity, age, and gender in their workplace was somewhat or extremely/very important to them.
Attitudes about gender and work are changing, with working fathers now more concerned about a parenthood penalty associated with flexible work than working mothers. Some 43% of working dads worry that remote work would negatively impact their careers, compared to just 27% of mothers, according to a Bright Horizons survey of hybrid working parents.
- Similarly, 44% of fathers surveyed said they were afraid to take full advantage of work-life balance benefits because it might negatively affect their performance evaluations, compared to 36% of mothers.
- The share of female primary breadwinners among all dual-income, opposite-sex marriages is now 16%, having tripled in the past 50 years, according to Pew Research Center data. While marriages with female breadwinners used to be 70% more likely to divorce than male-breadwinner marriages, that’s also changing. The divorce rate for female-breadwinner couples married in 1990s is now just slightly than that of male-breadwinner relationships.
- Continued access to remote and hybrid work is essential for gender equality at work and at home, argues Charter COO and co-founder Erin Grau in an op-ed for Fortune. “Flexible work will continue to be a win for women as long as it doesn’t come with penalties, like slower paths to promotions or relegating women to pink-colar fields,” she writes. “And like parental leave, men need to take it without consequence, too, in order to support gender equity and make a powerful statement about the value of caregiving.”
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Appoint a designated meeting greeter. Workplace strategist Erica Keswin suggests putting one person in charge of hellos and chitchat, to avoid the awkwardness that can accompany the first few minutes of a virtual meeting, as attendees trickle in.
- Allow employees to reserve their desks ahead of time. To tap into the flexibility of hot-desking—in which employees take any available seat rather than having a designated workspace—without the friction, adopt a “hoteling” system, which allows workers to sign up for a specific spot and come into the office confident they’ll have the space and equipment they need.
- Try a cross-team perspective swap. Set up a time for members of different teams or functions that often work together to switch places, whether in a simulated exercise or by taking on each other’s responsibilities for a day. The change in perspective can help each person gain greater empathy for and understanding of the challenges the other faces in their work.
- Make microvalidations a habit. The opposite of microaggressions, microvalidations are shows of encouragement and respect that can convey to workers from underrepresented groups especially that they’re heard and valued. These gestures can be as small as actively greeting someone when they enter a room, not multitasking when someone is speaking, or using someone’s preferred title (such as Dr. or Rev.) in introductions.
- Use 1:1 meetings to go behind the scenes. Research has shown that men tend to receive more recognition for supporting their colleagues than women do. To get a fuller sense of work that may otherwise go unseen, managers can ask their reports about members of the team who have helped them lately, such as in regular check-ins or team-wide retrospectives.
Say cheese—or don’t. The National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint on behalf of student athletes at the University of Southern California, claiming that their rights as workers were violated by the university’s rule requiring them to smile and “be positive” in media interviews.
The wrong kind of peer learning. A new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper highlights an unexpected upside to flexible work: Financial traders are less likely to commit financial crimes while working from home—possibly, the authors note, because they have less exposure to unethical behavior by their colleagues that might wind up encouraging them.