Technology and society are changing so fast that it’s hard to imagine what the world might look like in 10 or 20 years. In the midst of the doom-and-gloom predictions about workplace disruption and jobs lost to automation, there is solid research that predicts AI will actually create more jobs than it eliminates — including some that don’t exist today.

To prepare for the new opportunities, we need to ask: Who will be the worker of tomorrow? Will the future workplace reflect the rich diversity of the world? As some jobs are eliminated and others are created, how can we bring everyone along on our journey to the future? And what role will technology play?

It’s no secret that several high-profile companies have struggled with inclusion and diversity. Uber and Google are the most high-profile tech examples from the last year, but these companies are certainly not alone. Even with the best of intentions, companies continue to perpetuate conscious and unconscious biases based on age, gender, race, religion, nationality and ability.

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

In looking at new technologies that will help us shape the future of work, a theme that has come up again and again: How disruptive will these innovations be in helping to solve the problem of diversity and inclusion? Here are some starting points for combining technology innovation with work-practices innovation.

Eliminate bias in screening, hiring and promotion. In a Yale University study, participants evaluating scientists for research positions consistently rated male candidates as more qualified than female applicants. But what happens if gender or race or age are removed from the screening process? A Stanford study showed that the percentage of women musicians in symphony orchestras rose from 5% to 25% when they started auditioning behind privacy screens.

Of course, you can’t always conduct a job interview from behind a visual barrier. But there are many things you can do to eliminate unconscious bias from the screening process. Talent Sonar, for example, offers a cloud-based platform that embeds AI, machine learning and analytics directly into a company’s hiring workflow to assess characteristics of potential candidates. The program separates out non-relevant resume information such as a candidate’s name, educational background, and hobbies — all of which can contribute to unconscious bias.

When considering automating the hiring process, however, we need to be aware that the programmer’s unconscious bias can be built right into the algorithms. So, it’s important to start with a diverse programming team, as well as consciously correcting for bias.

Open up the pipeline. Tech leaders have said they would like to hire a more diverse workforce, but felt hindered by a lack of qualified candidates. Perhaps they aren’t looking in the right places. Many of the workers who will fill the jobs of the future won't come through the traditional route of four-year colleges and universities. To widen the talent pool and seek out diverse voices, forward-thinking companies are broadening their search for qualified workers, and finding them in community colleges, apprenticeships and other non-traditional training programs. Some tech companies are now partnering with community colleges to combine classroom learning with real-world experience in areas where the companies need more skilled workers.

Organizations are looking to broaden the pool of qualified workers by broadening the ways young people engage in education. LRNG connects community organizations, public institutions, and businesses with programming that turns entire cities into learning landscapes for underserved youth. Using a computer, smartphone, or tablet, young people can access both online and real-world learning experiences, connect with mentors and peers, build new skills — and prepare for 21st century jobs.

We must remember that a huge pool of potential workers is coming online as ubiquitous broadband and assistive technology provide opportunities for disabled workers who could not have participated before.

The pipeline of qualified candidates is there. You just have to be creative to find them.

Believe it and act on it. Integrate diversity and inclusion into your corporate values and culture, from top to bottom. As a leader of “extreme innovation,” I’ve seen first-hand how creativity thrives in the presence of different perspectives, talents, and points of view.

“Massive inclusion” is one of the principles we use in Cisco CHILL — a radical innovation model that condenses a several-months-long innovation cycle down to a few days. It simply means that we bring together into the same room at the same time everyone who would need to love an idea in order to take it to market.

Last year, for example, we conducted a Living Lab on Transforming the Patient Experience of Cancer Care. We assumed the solutions we developed would be for patients. But because of the principle of massive inclusion, caregivers were also in the room — and the result was the birth of CircleOf, a startup focused on help and support for the caregiver as well as the patient.

The principle of massive inclusion holds true across industries and at every organizational level — if we don’t include everyone, we’re likely to miss valuable opportunities.

Why should people be working so hard to create diverse workplaces? It’s the right thing to do but it’s also profitable. We’ve all seen statistics showing how diversity coincides with better financial performance. With new research from Cloverpop, we’re beginning to understand why: decision-making drives 95% of business performance, and diverse teams make better, faster decisions. In fact, teams that are age, gender and geographically diverse make better decisions 87% of the time.

Simply by broadening inclusion, we spur innovation, make better decisions, and drive financial performance. We create a future where everyone is invited to participate in shared success. No one expects the culture in tech to change overnight. But the quicker we get on with it, the better off we’ll all be.

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