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Be careful: the robots are listening.

At a recent industry event, Jodi Kovitz, chief executive and founder of #MovetheDial, emphasized the urgency of making progress on the diversity agenda: The bots are not just listening but, through machine learning, they are putting into practice everything we are teaching them, literally, without judgment.

This is troubling, since the industries and functions that are teaching robots the ropes have the most dismal diversity statistics. According to Where’s The Dial Now?, a report co-authored by #MovetheDial, PwC Canada and MaRS, women comprise 13 per cent of the average tech company’s executive team, with 53 per cent having no women at that level at all.

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So if we don’t solve the diversity puzzle quickly, we will have major bias built into some of our most business-critical processes (think chat bots as your front-line customer service reps). Our customers are more diverse than ever – and so, too, must be our work force.

Here are a few things to consider to move the needle.

1) Think outside the box about your talent and leadership pipeline:

Many specialized or high-tech skills sought out by organizations today are in shortage, simply because they are so new or very niche. As organizations need to hire the best candidates and quickly, diversity can be de-prioritized. Be open-minded about who can be trained in these skills and also who can lead a group of technical workers. It’s not always your top developer who would be the best leader of developers. Often, technical skills are easier to be trained up on over time than fundamental leadership skills. Being more strategic about who has potential to learn and grow into technical roles will give you more flexibility in your candidate pool and improve the probability of hiring a more diverse team.

2) Create an environment that not just attracts but retains diverse groups:

Hiring a mandated number of women so that you can check a box is not a recipe for long-term success; however, it is critical to ensure diverse candidate slates are considered for every role being filled. First, if there are no women in a pool of candidates, or if the top candidate always fits the same mold, it’s likely not because there are no women with the requisite skills – consider whether you are casting a wide enough net and whether there is bias in your sourcing strategy. Next, to retain a diverse work force, you need to build and nurture a culture that encourages equal consideration of ideas and contributions across levels, races, genders. You also need to have an environment that supports workers working where, when and how they are most productive. This kind of flexibility mitigates the “opt-out” phenomenon when new moms, for example, leave the work force entirely because they can’t find a way to make employment work for them.

3) See the forest, but implement one tree at a time:

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A high-level vision and commitment to diversity is the foundation – and a first step in the journey. But the next step – inclusion – is what makes diversity stick, and it happens at the micro-level. Sure, inclusion programs at an enterprise level can be effective in setting the tone and to communicate the desired culture and behaviours; however, inclusion happens through many micro-interactions that are sustained over time. One note on bias: We all have them and it is important to be self-aware about them. Instead of trying to fix our brains, it’s more productive to acknowledge our biases and pro-actively mitigate them. A few simple tactics can make a big difference.

· Engage trusted “thought partners” at all levels and with all backgrounds. Ask for their ideas and feedback before, during (if they are present) and after key decisions and meetings.

· Invite a colleague to lunch outside of your “regulars” – even better if they are from a different department or background.

· Spotlight diversity champions and diverse role models in your team or organization at your next meeting or team communication. Encourage them to tell their stories and to mentor and sponsor others.

· Take a risk and hire that high-potential “outside the box” candidate.

Inclusion is everyone’s responsibility – remember, next generations, both human and robotic, are listening.

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