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UK Parliament report: Sexual harassment in the workplace

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House of Commons, United Kingdom – Sexual Harassment in the Workplace – Fifth Report of Session 2017-2019 – July 2018

This comprehensive report provides a broad and incisive perspective of the current state of sexual harassment in UK workplaces and sets out in great detail the failures of the existing system and why the present legal framework is inadequate to address the problem.

These inadequacies have been repeatedly highlighted across many developed countries since the emergence of the # MeToo movement. The comments and conclusions in the report are relevant to Australia where many surveys on the topic of sexual harassment have revealed that the same issues rear their heads in both countries.

The rates of workplace sexual harassment incidents are high in the UK, as is the case in Australia. In the UK 40 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men have experienced it. In Australia the figures appear to be even higher. An analysis by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016 reported that 53 per cent of women and 2 per cent of men had been sexually harassed in their lifetime.

The Report criticises the UK Government for failing to carry out its responsibility to tackle sexual harassment by implementing systemic protections against it. This failure is in contrast to the stringent legal and regulatory responses to other workplace malpractices such as theft of data and money laundering. Once again, the parallels with Australia are clear.

There is a lack of appropriate support for victims of sexual harassment and internal grievance procedures do not work well. Thus the burden falls squarely on the victim to take complaints forward. In many cases, victims are reluctant to take any steps for fear of reprisals and victimisation.

The Report also lambasts the “improper” use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) which are often forced upon traumatised victims to ensure their continued silence.

This Report is well worth reading and digesting for us in Australia as it provides many important signposts about what can work and what does not in the battle against sexual harassment in the workplace.

 

Original report: House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee – Sexual Harassment in the Workplace 

How Artificial Intelligence will Stimulate Cognitive Diversity in the Workplace

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Artificial Intelligence (AI): a branch of computer science which enables a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour and which through artificial neural networks is capable of learning through experience.

The arrival of the technological wave created by artificial intelligence has elicited a huge number of assessments and predictions as to what this means for the future of work. Some people embrace AI unreservedly as embodying huge potential for good, while others see a dismal future for a large part of humanity, predicting dire consequences as machines surpass humans in overall intelligence and render much of humanity redundant.

A widely held perception is that the changes likely to be wrought to our societies and workplaces by the advent of AI will be nothing less than revolutionary-destroying or replacing in a short space of time much of what is familiar and creating entirely new systems and ways of solving problems.

This has given rise to a great debate as to whether to welcome the great opportunities afforded by AI or to fear it as representing a force which we will be unable to control.

In a speech given in November 2017, the late Steven Hawking, while emphasising that embracing AI may be initiating or even inviting unforeseen perils, said the following:

“I am an optimist and believe that we can create AI for the good of the world. That it can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management and prepare for its consequences well in advance “

Since AI is already a presence in many workplaces, we need to understand the long-term consequences on our workforces as tasks pass from workers to machines. More particularly, how will increasing implementation of AI systems affect the drive to make our workplaces, demographically and cognitively more diverse?

Many progressive organisations and businesses have recognised and embraced the notion that establishing teams composed of people who possess diverse thinking styles enhances the capacity for innovative ideas and creates material benefits for the organisation. Will the power of AI render workforce demography irrelevant and eliminate the need to diverse thinkers who collectively generate the bulk of innovative ideas?

This is not a hypothetical question or an issue to be reserved for future deliberation.  The influence of intelligent technology is changing the commercial landscape at a bewildering pace. Entrepreneurs are seizing upon the powerful learning ability of algorithms to look for ways of disrupting entire industries. A notable example here is driverless cars in the transport industry. At the same time, companies are seeking opportunities to radically remodel all aspects of their operations so as to gain competitive advantage while labour experts have concluded that many job categories will simply disappear as their functions are superseded by computers applying algorithms which do the job much more efficiently.  

On the jobs front, a McKinsey report found that 30% of work activities could be automated by 2030 and up to 375 million workers worldwide could be affected by emerging technologies. The OECD has taken a different approach focusing. on “tasks “rather than jobs”. It estimated that 14% of jobs are highly automatable and another 32% have a significant risk of automation.

More recently, a somewhat more optimistic view has been taken of the way that AI will be integrated in our workplaces. Experts who spoke at the MIT Sloan Summit (2018) indicated that while machines can undoubtedly perform some tasks better than humans, they cannot generally perform all tasks needed for a job. A similar view is to be found in a comprehensive analysis from McKinsey Global Institute (May 2018), where the following assertion appears:

“Accompanying the adoption of advanced technologies into the workplace will be an increase in the need for workers with finely tuned social skills-skills that machines are a long way from mastering”

Thus instead of an outright contest to see whether humans can resist an invasion by AI there will very likely be partnerships or collaboration on a broad scale in the workplace between AI machines and humans.

An insightful and cogent appraisal of how AI could be leveraged to be married with soft skills possessed by humans comes from a report published by TATA communications (2018). This report also adopts and endorses the premise that humans and AI systems can, and most probably will, interact in ever increasing ways in the workplace.

It bases its theoretical approach on the highly regarded work of Professor Scott Page , especially in his latest publication, The Diversity Bonus which postulates that the more diverse the participants, the more opportunities to discover insights and novel approaches. Accordingly, the authors of the TATA study set out to ascertain how this principle might work when one or more of the participants is an AI machine.

The study surveyed more than 120 business leaders across a range of industries to gauge current interest in and understanding of, AI with particular regard to the impact of positive trends within their organisations.

 

Four themes about the future role of AI emerged from the study and each one has implications for optimising cognitive diversity within the organisation:

  • The structure of work will change and require greater agility and flexibility

Today candidates are hired for a specific role. In future candidates might be hired on the assumption that they will fill multiple roles over their career. Roles will move from being task-based to strategic, requiring more expansive cognitive skills. Since roles will be changing multiple times over the course of  careers, each candidate will have to employ diverse cognitive skills to manage the different roles and AI can be used to map the diverse talent opportunities available within a company .

  • AI has the potential to help individuals become more agile, curious and nimble.

As time is freed up through the use of AI, workers’ time will be available for more creative tasks and more opportunities to think in non-linear ways. Team members will have  time to debate and seek fresh ways of approaching and solving problems. The more diverse the totality of contributors, the greater the likelihood of coming up with innovative solutions.

  • AI has the potential to enhance human collaboration

AI could facilitate team composition, organisation and communications such as offering new and alternate ways of approaching a team session,( especially those where various members are dispersed across diverse global locations) and utilising its ability to translate multiple languages used by participants. This means that diverse thinking from many sources across the globe could be merged and cross-pollinated in real time more efficiently

  • AI has the potential to enhance cognitive diversity within groups

Leaders often make judgements on their own about strategic and operational matters. AI systems could help to source expert advice from other areas in the organisation  efficiently, breaking down silos and bringing together a diverse set of viewpoints.

 

Most crucially, the overarching conclusion is expressed thus:

With autonomous processes becoming more scalable, original and diverse ideas will create competitive advantages. By building diverse teams through a combination of workers and machines, the number of new cognitive skills will be multiplied, increasing the ability to turn a problem around, look at it from different directions and deploy different skills to find creative solutions.”

Having said that, it will be up to organisations and their leaderships to lay the groundwork by pushing ever harder to employ and promote employees whose thinking styles differ from the conventional. Companies and organisations will reap the benefits of AI to the maximum if the workers who interact with it possess the diversity of cognitive skills  to discover the myriad ways in which AI can be used to the advantage of the organisation. If this is done, workers will be able to employ to the maximum the humanistic skills which still distinguish them from machines and to get the best outcomes from the diverse thinking when humans and AI machines work in concert.

 

 

Reference: Skill Shift-Automation and the Future of the Workforce

Delivering Through Diversity

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V Hunt, S Prince, S Dixon-Fyle, L Yee – McKinsey & Company Report – January 2018 

This new research report by McKinsey is a follow-up to their 2015 report “Why Diversity Matters” and extends the mounting body of evidence supporting diversity as a means to better organisational performance. Significantly it is an attempt to determine whether the perceived benefits of diversity are simply localised phenomena or whether they are more generalised benefits which apply regardless of where an organisation is situated. The 2018 report expanded in scope and numbers on the 2015 report and while the earlier report had found statistical evidence showing that diversity had financially beneficial effects the later report shows that the benefits are even larger.

The report is divided into two distinct parts. The first is to assess whether diversity in organisations can be shown to be of benefit regardless of a country’s ethnic makeup, its geographical situation and its state of economic development. Data was drawn from more than 1000 companies in 12 countries.  

The report first measured both profitability and value creation in relation to the degree of gender diversity. It found a positive correlation between gender diversity at executive level and both profitability as well as value creation; a 21% difference in profitability between most diverse and least and 27% when it comes to value creation.
 
The difference is even more emphatic when ethnic diversity is considered. When executive teams are more ethnically diverse organisations are 33% more likely to outperform their peers( no figures are given with respect to value creation).

 

The noteworthy conclusion is that both gender diversity and ethnic diversity are correlated with better financial performance across geographic regions, although there are some variations between different countries. However, the report also notes that in all the countries surveyed there remain substantial challenges to achieving meaningful diversity goals with regard to both gender and ethnicity.

The second part of the Report focuses on the now widely accepted proposition that both inclusion and diversity are necessary and complementary ingredients for businesses to achieve long-term benefits.

It sets out 4 imperatives for a coherent and successful inclusion policy.

  • Articulate and cascade CEO commitment
  • Define inclusion and diversity priorities
  • Craft a portfolio of D&I initiatives
  • Tailor the strategy to maximise local impact

The authors of the report conclude that there is ample evidence to show strong correlations across the globe between gender, ethnic and cultural diversity and better financial outcomes. They concede that it is a hard road to achieving sustained diversity and inclusion but for those companies and their leadership willing to undertake the task, benefits will undoubtedly accrue.

 

Read the full report: Delivering Through Diversity

Why the Typical Performance Review is Overwhelmingly Biased

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B Jones and D Rock – Psychology Today – May 2018

This article offers an interesting new perspective on how to mitigate the biases which creep into performance appraisals.

Biases infiltrate themselves into many of the decisions we make daily. Recognising this means we need to guard against the harmful results flowing to ourselves and others in the course of making consequential judgements and decisions.

Performance reviews have garnered a good deal of attention over recent years. Much criticism has been levelled at the traditional way performance reviews are conducted, which often do not constitute an objective appraisal of an employee’s performance.

Well-known biases that impede proper assessments in traditional performance reviews are: the “halo effect” which bases the entire review on one criterion to the exclusion of others; the “crony effect” which distorts the review process because of the closeness of the relationship between appraiser and appraised; and the “recency effect” where the person reviewed is appraised simply with regard to the most recent action or behaviour.

The authors note that despite the well-known difficulties with performance reviews, some 57% of companies they surveyed in the USA were not doing anything to remove biases in these processes.

Many observers who have written about the biases which come into play in performance reviews have suggested simply that the appraisers alert themselves to the difficulties and do their best to overcome their impact. But since many of these biases, by definition, operate at an unconscious level it is almost impossible for a decision-maker to address them on their own in real time.

The solution suggested in this article is for managers to solicit the views of others in the organisation. Collective opinions are much more likely to get closer to an objective assessment which may turn out either more favourable or less favourable than that which the manager alone would have given.

This is a useful approach to performance reviews because it introduces an element of systematic checks and balances against unconscious biases rather than leaving it to the individual to ward them off.

 

Original article: Why the Typical Performance Review is Overwhelmingly Biased

The Other Diversity Dividend

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P Gompers and S Kovvali – Harvard Business Review – July/August 2018

Statistical data in a number of areas gives support to the view that harnessing the benefits of diverse thinking brings about positive real world results

While there are good grounds for believing that diverse organisations tend to generate a broader range of ideas, more innovative thinking and ultimately better outcomes, it is not always easy to find specific examples where increasing diversity in and of itself generates greater profits.

The authors of this article have fixed upon the venture capital (VC) industry for their field study assessment of the impact of diversity in decision-making teams on financial outcomes. Their reasoning is that small tightly-knit teams of venture capitalists work together in a non-hierarchical structure sharing the decision-making. It is relatively easy to track the results of decisions taken and to compare them to competing organisations.

Most VC teams are white-male dominated, but where diverse group members have found their way into such organisations their impact has been noticeable. The authors derived their data from publicly available information to determine the extent to which certain VCs were not homogeneous but included members with diverse traits based on gender and ethnicity as well as “acquired traits” such as schooling and work history.

The authors assert that a clear causal relationship was established: the higher the level of diversity in the team, the better the investment performance. Where all team members came from a similar school background the success rate of acquisitions was 11.5% lower and where all members were ethnically homogeneous the success rate was reduced by up to 32%.

An interesting observation is made by the authors as to the stage in the development of a new corporate acquisition when diverse thinking is most advantageous. The advantage becomes evident not when the choice of investment is made, but later when investors are called upon to shape strategy, recruitment and other efforts. In a highly competitive and uncertain commercial environment, diverse thinking comes into its own.

Despite all this, the authors note that the VC industry is still remarkably homogeneous with overwhelming numbers being white males coming from the same university – Harvard. As with other industries, they suggest that a concerted effort is required to break the mould of the typical venture capitalist.

 

Original article: The Other Diversity Dividend

6 Neuroscientific Principles to Make Inclusion Training Better

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Recently, we have seen many criticisms of inclusion and diversity training programs, which sadly may not be a surprise to many who have had to sit through such programs with too much “fluffy” content and telling people what to do – little of which is absorbed or acted upon by the participants.  

There is good news however, because research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology are providing new insights as to how workplace training should be presented to maximise impact. Training goals today go beyond simply passing on information, refreshing technical knowledge or upskilling – they include a range of objectives from instilling corporate culture to addressing teamwork, leadership and workplace behaviour. Content and process must work seamlessly to be compelling and engaging for participants and must be effective in ensuring not only that people remember what they learn, but more importantly, that this translates into changed behaviour and adopting new habits.  

Essentially, the voluntary decision to engage in puposive learning involves the generation of  increased levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate reward, pleasure and emotion.  The perceived reward of having new knowledge stimulates dopamine production while at the same time emotionally locking attention on the item, task or concept under attention. Stimulating the brain appropriately while not overloading it will activate a number of functions which are essential to learning: motivation and curiosity, creativity, mental agility, attention to goals and memory. 

Building on this fundamental principle of effective learning, we’ve integrated 6 further insights from brain science into our inclusion programs to ensure they achieve long term results: 

  • Minds tend to wander about 30% of the time – Mind wandering can be useful if you harness it to have people imagine certain situations, or engage in creative, lateral thinking tasks. But if you need people to focus, then you have to engage them in an interactive and dynamic way, constantly shifting activities, to prevent this wandering from occurring and thus improving recall.  
  • Focusing on a single point at any given time significantly improves retention – This makes it more likely that the information will pass from immediate cognition to long-term memory. Neuroscientists have discovered that repeated stimuli with timed gaps are amongst the most reliable ways to convince neurons that an event is memory-worthy.  
  • People love games, chance & reward – Dopamine levels in the mid-brain region increase as we anticipate a reward, leading to a heightened emotional response – and an emotional response increases memory retention. Gamification has become all the rage lately, as it is shown to increase internal motivation and voluntary participation in learning programs.  
  • People learn better from stories – we’ve evolved to pass down information in the form of stories around the campfire. Research has shown that people process information best in narrative form, not just because they have emotional resonance but also because they almost always follow a chronological line which assists the listener to identify and internalise cause-and-effect relationships.  
  • Sight is the predominant sense – Research shows that much more information is taken in through sight than through any other sense. This doesn’t mean you have to have a thousand slides, but it does mean that effective design and visual communication is crucial.  
  • People forget – Humans cannot retain more than a small amount of incoming data, no matter how smart. We have to learn/see something (or actively recall the issue) repeatedly before it is retained for the long term. 3 to 4 times seems to be the magic number of repetitions before something is retained more or less indefinitely.  

E-Challenge by Symmetra is a great example of how we have applied these principles in a practical way: 

  • Content is divided into succinct 10-minute Learning Bytes, short enough to keep people’s focus, but still highly interactive with a range of mixed interactions and content types (including time-bound questions) to avoid mind wandering.  
  • Learning Bytes focus on one inclusion issue, e.g. Techniques to Leverage Diversity of Thought, ensuring learners are able to absorb a single key new insight and set of behaviours. 
  • Gamified learning challenges players using light competition to reinforce the pleasure of learning and give them a feeling of mastery and accomplishment. 
  • Information is presented through stories and interactive scenarios, in both written and video form.  
  • Dynamic visual design, and fun whiteboard animated videos engage the visual senses 
  • Content library is designed around clusters of 2 to 4 Learning Bytes, so learning about a particular area is spaced over time and key issues are reinforced.  

Applying these principles, in conjunction of course with human centred instructional design, means you can teach people how to behave more inclusively in a sustained way.