Driving Technological Innovation through Diverse Perspectives
To celebrate the legacy of Alan Turing, experts at a recent Booth event explored how building inclusive technology—and technology teams—can benefit business and society.
- September 17, 2021
Things No One Can Imagine
The group emphasized that for diversity to truly work, companies have to do more than simply hire employees from diverse backgrounds. Their cultures have to be such that often-marginalized people’s voices are respected and considered in ways that they haven’t been for many decades.
“A wonderful quotation that is attributed to Alan Turing is, ‘Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine,’” Kroszner said. “That’s a really beautiful and wonderful way to try to get at the themes that we want to try to address.”
Brodnock echoed this sentiment, noting that some people might have underestimated her based on where she came from. “I agree wholeheartedly with Alan Turing that talent comes from anywhere and everywhere and, actually, sometimes it can be in the places that you may well least look for it,” she said. Brodnock developed her hugely successful digital game before earning an MBA at the top of her class. She’s now pursuing a PhD in psychological behavioral science at the London School of Economics.
Maier said that disclosing his sexual orientation made him a much better asset for Siemens because he was able to bring his whole self to work—and champion others to do the same.
“There is another part of me, which is my difference, and my difference was growing up as a gay man,” Maier said. “We started quite a big movement in the company around inclusion. I found that we can raise performance, we can raise innovation through a much more inclusive and, quite frankly, more fun working environment.”
“We started quite a big movement in the company around inclusion. I found that we can raise performance, we can raise innovation through a much more inclusive and, quite frankly, more fun working environment.”
Technically Sound Diversity
The field of A.I. that Turing himself pioneered offers avenues by which technology can improve diversity across fields, the panelists noted. For example, A.I. can help ensure fair hiring practices for all candidates and improve medical diagnoses for patients of all backgrounds. But in order to do so, A.I. mustn’t contain the biases of its creators.
“A.I. is based on data. If the data that you train an A.I. with is skewed—i.e., it’s data that’s been collected only from males, and particularly white males, as is most medical data—then you’re going to create algorithms that learn the bias that already exists,” Brodnock said. “I think it’s imperative that we have ethnically- and gender-balanced data sets that are being used to train A.I., and that usually comes when there is someone on the team that remembers to think about that.”
In other words, having a more diverse team can help increase awareness of the kinds of data a company uses so it can pivot to more representative datasets when needed.
Maier added that the government will need to play a stronger role to ensure fairness as technology advances.
“I do think there is going to be a strong requirement for regulation here. This is such a critically important point. There is going to have to be some regulation about companies’ responsibility in this space. Regulators will, for example need to test some code before it comes to market,” Maier explained.
“I think it’s imperative that we have ethnically- and gender-balanced data sets that are being used to train A.I., and that usually comes when there is someone on the team that remembers to think about that.”
The Diversity Dividend
In addition to opening doors for historically underrepresented people, embracing diversity can also benefit a company’s bottom line, the panelists argued.
“It’s very important to have inputs that are diverse, so you’re not leaving someone out, you’re not leaving important groups out, and you’re actually satisfying the broad set of customers or population that you are trying to satisfy,” Kroszner said.
Brodnock pointed to statistics that suggest the significant gains companies can make by diversifying their leadership and employee teams. “Double-dividend diversity produces results,” she said. “The yields are anything up to 35 percent if you are able to make teams more gender-balanced and ethnically diverse.”
Maier argues that these gains not only benefit the company, but also consumers and the economy as a whole.
“Diversity and inclusion means you create better innovation, and you create products that broader communities will buy into and purchase,” Maier said. “There is no question—better inclusion means better outcomes, enables organizations to sell more, and ultimately must increase GDP.”