Office coworkers using vr eye masks

How is technology contributing to equity in the workplace?

Saemoon Yoon
Lead, Innovator Communities, World Economic Forum Geneva
Amara Amadiegwu
Community Specialist, Innovator Communities, World Economic Forum

  • Technology plays a crucial role in dismantling barriers and creating opportunities to empower individuals with their unique needs.
  • As the World Economic Forum launches the 2023 cohort of Technology Pioneers, we asked selectees the following question:
  • How is technology contributing to equity in the workplace?

Technology has emerged as a powerful tool in shaping the modern workplace, driving significant advancements in promoting equity and inclusivity. In an era where diversity and fairness are ever more important, technology plays a crucial role in dismantling barriers and creating opportunities to empower individuals with their unique needs. From enabling inclusive hiring practices to empowering the underrepresented with proper tools, technology has the power to transform the workplace by bridging gaps and levelling the playing field.

In this article, the new cohort of the World Economic Forum’s Technology share their thoughts on how technology is contributing to equity in the workplace.

‘Many visually impaired individuals face challenges accessing visual digital content’

Kim Ju-Yoon, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Dot

Research suggests that approximately 15% of the world’s population faces disabilities, with around 3.4% of individuals specifically dealing with visual impairment. Breaking down barriers is crucial for improving the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. The issue of accessibility strongly aligns with the Sustainable Development Goal 10, which aims to reduce inequality. In today’s highly digitized world, many visually impaired individuals face challenges accessing visual digital content.

Recognizing this pressing issue, Dot Inc. has taken on the mission of providing comprehensive services tailored to the needs of individuals with disabilities. As a social venture specifically dedicated to assisting individuals who are visually impaired or blind, Dot is dedicated to securing accessibility by developing an affordable, compact and efficient tactile display. By embracing additional assistive technologies, Dot has introduced the most inclusive kiosk that addresses diverse aspects of people’s lives. This endeavour aligns with the ultimate goal of establishing a smart city that embraces the entirety of society, harnessing Dot’s technology for the benefit of all.

‘You can’t build an equitable future without addressing the equality of future builders’

Esther O’Callaghan OBE, Founder, Hundo

There are 1.1 billion new tech roles needed by 2030. Frontier tech represents a $3.2-trillion market, most recently demonstrated by Nvidia reaching (temporarily) a trillion-dollar valuation as AI continues to dominate the headlines, as well as the corresponding funding and regulatory landscape. The exponential rise in mainstream awareness, and usage, of the technologies that are fundamentally reshaping and disrupting the way we live, work, learn, earn (and play) is palpable – and heady. It belies one single truth; you cannot build an equitable future, without addressing the equality of future builders.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, young people lost their jobs at 3-5x the rate of every other age group. The chronic rise in some industries of a critical skills shortage is not going away. As with the Industrial Revolution and so many other historical and seismic markers and moments, this challenge offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the key stakeholders – educators, employers, government and parents – to mobilise a comprehensive systemic and structural response to reimagine learning and hiring.

The purpose of this essential exercise is to ensure that the first ever digital native generation is equipped with the experience and skills they need, in real time, for the future of work. It is only by doubling down on a commitment to upskill next-gen workers with dynamic and equitable access to skills-based, work-ready learning that we can open the door to the possibility that diverse next-gen talent can not only work in, but shape the workplaces that require an equitable bottom line. Not because it is simply the right thing to do, but because it is essential to every company invested in the future of society and humanity, and their own legitimacy.

‘Entrepreneurs and global leaders are empowering teams using generative AI tools’

Iglá Generoso, Chief Executive Officer, DIO

While the world is advancing in discussions about the regulation of artificial intelligence (AI), entrepreneurs and global leaders are beginning to empower teams using generative AI tools to bring competitiveness to business, generate equity in the workplace and provide opportunities for people’s growth.

At its core, generative AI refers to the ability of AI systems to create original and meaningful content, such as images, text, music or even videos, by learning patterns and generating new instances based on that knowledge. New tools using generative AI are being launched every day and changing the patterns of digital careers.

While software developers are using tools like Co-pilot that allow beginners to write lines of code with the same productivity as people with two to five years of experience, people that are in the first professional years being creative designers and copywriters are boosting their creativity using Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools with generative AI, such as ChatGPT or Midjourney, to create characters, whole stories, scripts, graphics, arts, pictures and so on.

An appropriate empowerment of people with the use of technology in the workplace that goes beyond productivity and facilitates the transition to the new era of digital careers will reduce the learning friction and help build a more equal, open workforce.

‘Remote work has opened up new horizons, allowing us to hire talent beyond borders’

Taha Bawa, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Goodwall

I have personally experienced the pivotal role of technology in fostering workplace equity. It has revolutionized how we work, enhancing collaboration, communication and access to information. One notable consequence is the rise of remote work, having become increasingly prevalent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 48% of workers worldwide continue to work remotely post-pandemic, our team included.

Remote work offers greater flexibility, breaks down geographic barriers, and provides opportunities for marginalized groups who may face difficulties accessing traditional office environments. It accommodates personal circumstances, like caregiving responsibilities or health conditions, and has opened up new horizons, allowing us to hire talent beyond borders. Today, our team spans five continents. Considering 85% of people live in emerging economies, this is helping level the playing field. Platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Google Workspace have been instrumental in facilitating seamless communication and promoting collaboration within our organization. These tools empower workplace equity, ensuring everyone, regardless of their role or location, has the opportunity to contribute and be heard.

To promote transparency and inclusivity, we use “All hands” meetings – virtual gatherings that bring together our entire organization. These meetings cultivate a sense of belonging and ensure everyone can access information and decision-making processes.

‘Technology contributes to equity through flexible work arrangements’

Jarah Euston, Chief Executive Officer, WorkWhile

In today’s rapidly evolving world, technology is transforming the way we work and redefining the modern workplace. At WorkWhile, an hourly labour technology platform, we recognize the immense potential of technology in promoting equity and inclusivity within organizations.

We firmly believe that technology contributes to equity through flexible work arrangements, particularly for deskless workers. WorkWhile has first-hand experience witnessing how technology enables individuals to find jobs that provide them with the freedom to choose when, where and how they work. This newfound flexibility helps break down barriers, allowing individuals from diverse backgrounds to participate meaningfully in the workforce.

Furthermore, technology-driven solutions are revolutionizing the power dynamics between workers and employers, benefiting individuals, businesses and society as a whole. The emergence of an elastic workforce fosters fairness and equality by granting hourly workers the same level of flexibility enjoyed by salaried workers, thereby creating a more equitable labour market.

As we navigate this transformative era, let’s seize the potential of technology to build workplaces that prioritize fairness, embrace inclusivity and inspire a future of work that leaves no one behind. Together, we can harness the power of technology to create lasting change and shape a more equitable and prosperous world.

‘Leaders must be humble enough to surround themselves with the talents they might lack’

Tiffany Pham, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Mogul

In a world that is changing so rapidly, every leader must believe vehemently in their mission. It is only through true determination that one can succeed in changing the status quo.

On our side, it is thanks to this that we continue to grow. We have already seen some real change between advancing regulations and changing mentalities. In 10 years, we have already overcome many obstacles for businesses: we have enabled the insect industry to address new markets and enter the human food market, all because we are convinced of the legitimacy of our mission.

Leaders must also be humble enough to surround themselves with the talents they might lack. It’s only through a diverse set of determined, agile experts that a leader can possess enough know-how to succeed and keep on succeeding.

‘Technology acts as an enabler, removing barriers and ensuring equal access’

Anna Marie Benzon, Chief Executive Officer, Stock Knowledge

Technology plays a pivotal role in fostering workplace equity – and at Stock Knowledge we actively leverage its transformative power to promote inclusivity and diversity. Our hiring practices reflect this commitment, prioritizing digital skills and embracing individuals from diverse backgrounds.

We emphasize meritocracy and a positive attitude when onboarding team members, ensuring that talented individuals, irrespective of personal characteristics, have equal opportunities to join us. We value the creativity and potential of candidates without college degrees, as long as they demonstrate their expertise through online portfolios on platforms like GitHub.

Our team comprises scientists, engineers, educators and entrepreneurs, bringing diverse perspectives to deliver seamless learning experiences. While many possess impressive academic and corporate backgrounds, including advanced degrees from renowned universities, we recognize the value of unconventional qualifications and skills.

Technology acts as an enabler, removing barriers and ensuring equal access to opportunities. It empowers individuals with diverse abilities, like our deaf and mute graphic design interns, allowing them to showcase their talents and make meaningful contributions.

At Stock Knowledge, we harness technology’s power to foster inclusivity and diversity, recognizing and valuing talent above all else.

‘Generative AI’s potential to customize curriculum at scale is unlike anything’

On Freund, Chief Executive Officer, Wilco

Ensuring equity throughout the employee life cycle is challenging, but we shouldn’t look only at the life cycle itself to improve the situation. Modern technology such as interview anonymization and inclusive onboarding enter the picture too late.

Before the technology designed to level the playing field even comes into play, unequal access to education and networking leaves underrepresented groups behind. That is because even the most talented employees need to rely on someone for a chance to translate theoretical knowledge into marketable skills at the beginning of their careers. And while apprenticeships are common in some professions, many others need to fight for their initial experience.

To close the skills gap, we should focus on helping everyone who wants to learn marketable skills, using learning systems that adapt to the student’s level and pace of learning. This is part of what makes generative AI systems so exciting for educational projects. Their potential to customize curriculum at scale is unlike anything we’ve seen. With the power of educative AI, we might be able to train the next generation of highly skilled workers anywhere in the world. At Wilco, we’ve already begun experimenting with educative AI for software engineers, and the results are promising.

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