How technology is hurting diversity

Female Digital Leaders

Technology is exacerbating the gender diversity divide in the workplace, since it works to increase employee churn and the shrink demographics. This was the argument put forward by a group of digital experts at a Female Digital Leaders event, with futurist Tracey Follows suggesting this disparity will only widen as technology advances if it isn't solved soon.

Where women and ethnic minorities fall behind in tech careers is in education. Deidre McGlashan, chief digital officer at Mediacom, explained: “In order to be in technology you have to be educated, and in order to be educated you have to be of a certain income class. That is hurting diversity in a lot of ways.”

“If you look at minorities who code, women who code, there just are not as many of them as there are men. Technology has to be prioritised in schools, it has to be taught, that’s why you are seeing the creation of a lot of toys that allow young children to code.

McGlashan added that Silicon Valley exacerbates the challenges of making technology a more diverse business, since “it is run by young white men and they hang out with young white men, so when they are hiring they will ask their peer group”.

What is alarming is how this gender inequality is predicted to worsen as technology advances. By 2020 an estimated 35 per cent of the workforce is going to be replaced by robots, it was claimed at the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF), with most of these roles currently held by women. For every job that is taken by a man, two jobs will be lost to machines. For every job taken by a woman, five will be lost to machines, according to the researchers at the WEF.

This includes telesales, secretarial, and administrative jobs. There are even experiments being held in US right now on recruitment by algorithm. Follows, who is the chief strategy and innovation officer at Future Laboratory, said: “We are sleepwalking into a world where we will take some of worst attitudes into a world where machines will take over jobs.”

She added: “The biggest concern for me is not the pay gap between humans its the pay gap between humans and machines.”

Follows challenged attendees at the event to “think about what the future is going to be like in 30 years and work backwards”, in order to create a workforce that is future-proof. Individuals should hone their skills in adaptability, efficiency and effective decision making as jobs become increasingly multidisciplinary, Follows suggested.

“If you look at what is coming with Gen Z - it is not so much about sociability it is about creativity. Increasingly we are going to be working in a quantified workplace where everyone knows how profitable you are as a person. They will be always on and always being analysed,” Follows said.

This means upskilling staff in areas where human beings have an advantage. This includes “anything that requires huge amounts of emotion”, although Follows added “2016 is the first year where machines are starting to understand emotion”. Careers marked as safe by Follows include life sciences and biology, and education.

The concerns come at a time when diversity is being hotly debated across the industry, with Saatchi & Saatchi chairman Kevin Roberts' recent remarks claiming the gender debate was "done" spotlighting just how deep rooted a problem diversity is in the advertising industry.

McGlashan thinks the advertising industry has a responsibility to promote diversity, pointing to Mediacom chairwoman Karen Blackett's internship programme as a way to encourage diverse representation in the company.

"The industry can do a lot because we all need interns and apprentices. If you can't find diversity at a higher level then start at a lower level. If you start at a lower level where the knowledge gap isn’t as great, then you are going to get a lot of parity," McGlashan said.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.