This year, the World Economic Forum 2018 discussions returned to familiar themes: economic inequality, diversity and inclusion. While there was plenty of emphasis on AI throughout the week, it became abundantly clear that diversity and inclusion is just as important of a topic. It was the focus of several sessions and presentations given by political leaders and top government officials. And threading through each session was the question: Does technology enhance or limit diversity and inclusion?
There’s no simple answer since technology can cause both equality and inequality. Those who lack access have more difficulty participating in society. Those who have it, reap economic benefits. Take for instance the mobile banking infrastructure created in Africa’s developing nations. It provides citizens with access to financial services, which removes barriers to everyday activities such depositing wages directly into a checking account or wiring money to family members.
Educate to increase participation
Several sessions looked to education to make technology more inclusive and diverse. One thing we all seemed to agree on: There needs to be greater participation of women and other marginalized groups in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) — and the global economy.
This added diversity lessens the likelihood that the same biases that plague us today will be applied to current and future technologies. As I mentioned yesterday, having more diversity in the people who program and interpret data will, over time, lead to less bias. It will equally provide a different viewpoint around design and user experience — one that better represents all of society.
While we know that there is a positive correlation between a society’s education and economic growth, organizations are spending less on employee training and development. And, government spending on education has flattened. This creates a large gap between the technology training needed and available resources. More importantly, it creates a gap between who has and who does not have access to the latest technological tools and thinking. Closing that gap benefits everyone and positively impacts the digital strategies of businesses and governments.
Unlock the power of diversity and inclusion
Pushing for more diversity and inclusion is not just a responsibility, it makes good business sense. For example, companies with greater gender diversity in senior leadership roles enjoy 27% higher return on equity (ROE) and 42% higher ratio of dividend payments. When it comes to performance, Fortune 1000 companies with female CEOs outperformed S&P 500 companies over the course of their respective tenures. The average return was 103.4% for companies with female CEOs, and the average return for the S&P 500 over the same time period was 69.5%, according to CEB, now Gartner research.
These successes have been proven time and time again. Yet, we still lack the diversity and inclusion required for the new digital era, which is expected to be more female and more ethnically and racially diverse.
It’s fitting that diversity and inclusion was a major topic of WEF conversation because we all bear the responsibility of ensuring technology is used to enhance, not limit human potential. If we keep that in mind, we will undoubtedly come up with the solutions to propel us forward. Until then, let the conversations continue.
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