The rise of AI technology, including ChatGPT, has ignited both excitement and fear in workplaces nationwide.
While many employers anticipate that automation tools will increase workplace efficiency, workers have expressed concerns that the technology will replace them. A recent Goldman Sachs study found that two-thirds of U.S. jobs are at risk of being replaced by generative AI in the future.
Some workplace experts also say automation could stifle diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts. The Biden administration is considering putting restrictions on AI tools amid growing concerns that the technology could discriminate against job applicants
Megan Smith-Branch, deputy lead for the responsible AI team at consulting firm Booz Allen in Washington, D.C., spoke with SHRM Online about how AI tools, if used effectively, can actually improve DE&I, foster allyship and boost retention, as well as how employers can reduce workplace disruption caused by automation.
SHRM Online: The emergence of ChatGPT and other automation tools in the workplace has led to many people worrying about AI taking their jobs. Are their worries warranted?
Smith-Branch: AI in the near term is a tool to aid the workforce in increasing productivity. It is expected that labor disruption will accompany the introduction of any innovative technology, so worry may be justified but can also be transitioned to motivation.
While this disruption is not unique, the rapid progression of generative AI, exemplified by ChatGPT, introduces a distinctive characteristic: the expeditious automation of tasks within various roles, even in the absence of a robust business infrastructure to facilitate this transformation. Organizations have a remarkable opportunity to embrace and seamlessly integrate this technology into their daily operations, thereby yielding exponential gains in productivity and creativity.
A popular meme that our team references lately is, "AI will not replace your job; someone who knows how to use AI will replace your job." AI cannot replace or mimic domain expertise, but those that understand how to effectively adopt AI will maintain job security over those that don't. The traditional notion of relying on a single educational foundation to sustain an entire career is no longer tenable.
Consequently, cultivating a culture that fosters and nurtures continuous learning represents a pivotal paradigm shift for organizations seeking to navigate this disruption successfully. Individuals who express concerns regarding potential job displacement should proactively advocate for reskilling and the establishment of such a culture within their respective organizations.
SHRM Online: The recent layoffs, particularly in the tech industry, have led to the erosion of many DE&I programs and a reduction in the hiring of DE&I officers. But could the rise of AI technology actually support DE&I efforts at work?
Smith-Branch: The impact of AI supporting DE&I efforts has already become evident. The data analytics arising from the COVID-19 pandemic have shed light on profound inequities prevailing within the workplace. The current emphasis on responsible AI places a spotlight on the need for equitability and fairness within AI systems, augmenting the efforts of smaller, more agile DE&I teams.
This expanded focus on the "E" and "I" addresses a persistent challenge that many organizations faced prior to or in the aftermath of layoffs. For example, AI can be used to scan job requests for more inclusive language or for early detection of reduced engagement.
Such early intervention measures can be particularly impactful for groups that have historically been overlooked in the areas of selection and retention. Moreover, AI tools can be effectively deployed to foster allyship, a proven approach for increasing inclusion and retention within organizations.
The utilization of AI to enhance engagement has become a prevalent practice. However, I firmly believe that there is a significant opportunity for AI to facilitate a transition from mere engagement to belonging within organizations with personalization of engagement tools and activities.
It is crucial, though, to approach this transition with caution. As AI disrupts conventional organizational frameworks, it becomes imperative to carefully address employees' perceptions of organizational justice in navigating this disruption. Simultaneously, it is essential to strike a delicate balance in managing the potential overreliance on technology for engagement purposes.
Recognizing situations where human interaction is indispensable for upholding cultural norms, ensuring organizational justice and preserving employees' psychological safety will enable us to prioritize and determine the appropriate employment of AI technologies.
SHRM Online: While you mentioned benefits of leveraging AI to support DE&I, is it possible for this technology to stifle these efforts? What should HR professionals keep in mind?
Smith-Branch: In the realm of AI's influence on DE&I initiatives, it possesses the potential to either support or impede progress. The critical factor in determining the direction an organization takes lies in the evaluation of inputs.
Hence, the presence of a robust responsible AI governance framework becomes paramount. This framework serves as a guiding force in assessing the ethical impact of both inputs and outputs, enabling organizations to make informed decisions.
When addressing barriers to DE&I initiatives, it is crucial for organizations to look beyond technological considerations and delve into the core principles that AI can expose and perpetuate. HR professionals possess a wealth of expertise in navigating organizational policies concerning ethics and can therefore play a pivotal role within a responsible AI team.
By leveraging their insights and guidance, organizations can ensure that their AI initiatives align with ethical standards and contribute positively to DE&I objectives.
Gaining a comprehensive understanding of your organization's historical approach to managing disruptions can serve as a valuable compass when navigating the opportunities and challenges posed by the ongoing disruption caused by AI in your workforce and work processes.
Similarly, an organization's historical approach to DE&I initiatives also informs the impact technology will have on your programs. The beauty of technology is that it magnifies human fault objectively. We are living in a time when technology is providing us a playbook on how to address systemic issues.
HR expertise in facilitating the harmonious coexistence of individuals, policies and ethical considerations is at the heart of effectively managing the impact of AI, particularly in the context of generative AI's transformative influence on our work practices. By leveraging your core competencies, you can play a pivotal role in ensuring that the implementation of AI remains compliant, ethically sound and beneficial to the overall organizational ecosystem.