The future of work transcript
Daniel Ridge: The future of work is naturally an ongoing conversation, and the past 12 months have seen major changes to how people are working. Because of the pandemic and lockdowns, not only are we were forced to rethink where we work, but also how to balance our personal life with our professional life. Additionally, more than ever, consumers and employees are demanding companies take action on huge issues like climate change and racial justice.
To discuss these challenges and opportunities we're joined by leading experts Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Betsy Reed. Tomas is a psychologist, author and entrepreneur who specializes in personality profiling, talent identification and the interface between human and artificial intelligence. Betsy is a stainability communications expert who specializes in public affairs programs, sustainability communications programs and behaviour change campaigns.
Thank you both so much for joining me today.
Betsy Reed: Thank you. Nice to be here.
DR: Great. So, this year has been rough, hasn’t it? We’ve had the Covid-19 lockdowns across the globe, we've had racial injustice in the United States and then actually throughout Europe, climate change, particularly in the West Coast of the United States, and then it's election season so politics are getting really ugly from the United States particularly. How are companies responding to these crises and using them to their advantage?
BR: I'm definitely going to bring an international perspective here as an American who's lived in the UK and now lives in Spain, but I've seen the gamut, and some, I'm just going to fudge this question, some have done very well and some have obviously not done as well but those who have done well are those who focused on really humanizing their approach and understanding that the people who work for them, are people who are full of fear, anxiety, the ability to innovate, but also could get sick. So those who have, I think done well or those who incorporated that into their approach and been really human as an organization, and actually remembered as leaders that they too are human, and of course I'm going to bring in the sustainability aspect here, so those who understand that their role in society is about positive impact on communities, and also the environment, are those who are poised to continue doing well, is my brief answer.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic: Yeah, thanks Daniel for having me here and I think I would say that at least the US centric view that I'm taking, even though I wasn't born and raised, or raised here and I, and I've come from different places, but I think more so as a consequence of the times, we're living and the way that politics seem to be opening more polarization and more categorical kind of partisan debate, which is sort of one of the paradoxes of the digital age. On the one hand we have a lot of information to be more nuanced and kind of rationale, or data driven than ever before, but I think because of that people need to simplify and categorize everything into good or bad, right or left, with us or against us. And so companies to answer your question, I think organizations are somewhat fearful or worried. And rather than leveraging this moment, they are cautiously trying to work out how to respond mostly to avoid annoying or upsetting people, whether it's investors, journalists, clients, and you know sometimes this is a very difficult circumstance because if you don't react and you don't say anything I mean you can't please everyone all the time. You have to you have to take sides, or at least explain why you think what you believe and what your position is so then if I had to guess I will guess that the majority of organizations are hoping that this coming election is over soon, and then they can revert to some level of normalcy.
DR: Well what about how companies are viewed by their own employees I have seen advertisements go out, particularly for airlines, where they say that they're just as concerned about their employees as they are about their customers. How are companies having to rethink the relationship with their employees?
BR: I think now more than ever, there's a real risk of what in my, in my book, we call purpose wash or greenwash, as people have known in the past, where there's action that doesn't match the reality so I think on one hand there might be some leaders who their hearts in the right place and they really do want to show that they care for their employees in times like this but unless they back it up with really tangible action, whether that be benefits or time off, or engaging their, their employees and asking them what they need in this extraordinary time, there is a real risk of external reputation damage because they're not going to be doing extra, going an extra mile for their employees, for example. So, I think, internal engagement is more challenging perhaps than it's been in the past because most things are remote, so many people are working from home, and also the spotlight is really on, just because of trends in recent years the spotlight is really on how organizations genuinely backup what they say. So I think it's a really critical time for organizations to get this right. I'm not convinced, a lot of them are, but I hope they do. For the sake of their employees.
TCP: Yeah, and I would add that, you know, I think it's been the case for some time we have seen a trend you know maybe in the past couple of decades, whereby often consumers push organizations, into making some moral or ethical decisions, or at least statements, because they feel the external pressure to do so. Right, even if you think about fields that are, for sure very important not just for socially speaking but also from a perspective of driving organizational efficiency or effectiveness like you know the whole diversity and inclusion space. It very much starts out of external pressure, you know, people, consumers that want to feel represented or that want to feel that their favorite brands or employers are trying to do something to improve the state of affairs in the world. I think then that shifts to employees, and you know, in many ways, the ideal employee for any company is somebody who isn't in it for the money, or for the prestige or because the job is relatively interesting, but because they really align with the purpose and the mandate that organizations have, or at least express or profess to have, but with that comes the responsibility to also showcase to your employees what you believe in, what your values are. And I think, you know, we can absolutely imagine that with us kind of more heated political or social issues occur in the outside world, employees will feel disappointed if organizational leaders don't come up and speak up and say what their values are or, you know, they fail to take a stance. So this is really interesting you know because on the one hand, we all organizations one sort of a spiritual workaholics who are they're committed because they really believe in it and in a way you know they have been their most loyal consumers or customers first and then they really wanted to work for their favorite brands, but with that also comes a higher degree of ethical responsibility and moral stand, that the leaders of these organizations need to express.
BR: Okay so I would build on that point by, I worked in house for the world's biggest food company in public affairs for a bit, and something that I noticed and something I noticed with corporate clients I work with and just communications in general is there's quite a siloed approach typically between internal communications and external communications. So what Tomas was saying about external trends influencing how organizations maybe deal with their employees, I think is actually a really big issue to grapple with because often teams and even bottom lines aren't built on an integration of those two approaches: employee engagement and external reputation management. And in an age when things like Black Lives Matter, COVID, climate change are on the agenda, I think organizations really have to, well, address, maybe, systems that have kept them in silos and work on doing this more effectively and in a more integrated fashion because it's kind of just not baked into their systems, and therefore not their cultures. So, I think that's a really important issue for them to pick up now.
DR: So, do you think a lot of companies are just paying lip service to some of these racial justice issues.
BR: Some are, but I think there are probably more who just aren't set up to grapple with them effectively, because they are not purpose driven companies which you know they exist in a system that is about creating profit before anything else and it's just, let's just call it old fashioned capitalism. So, I mean, there have been some who have done it well some who haven't and. And there are a lot of gray areas in this for example, you know, Nike has committed $40 million over the next four years to organization who address racial injustice and support the black community. And they, on one hand, have been slammed for it because some people say well they exploit black communities and athletes. But on the other hand, you look at things that they've done lately like Colin Kapernick campaign and supporting racial justice issues. So, it is also a really tough one to make a call on because it's kind of relative and it kind of depends on the brand and the trust that they have and the reputation that they have so it's a non-answer but it's one definitely to grapple with.
TCP: Yeah and I would add to that, you know, I think, of course, can put different organizations in different buckets some might be more in the lip service category. And now I do think it's harder today to get away with it because there is more scrutiny and people can find out about everything. You know, you can go to sites like Glassdoor and see what employees actually say about working in a different place, and if they report bad leadership behaviors. Let's say that the same leaders have the same leadership that came out to say, Black Lives Matters or, you know, we're totally behind this social issue or we, you know, adhere to a certain level of morality, actually behave differently internally that is today, likely to become public information. And so, I think reputation matters more than before. And at the same time to Betsy’s point I think that there needs to be concerted, and an obvious effort to actually go beyond your comfort zone, if you're trying to drive change and do things that are, you know, not just motivated for short term profits, but actually trying to make the world a better place, which sounds you know now like a cliche phrase out of a tv show in Silicon Valley, but I do think that consumers and employees care about where companies stand and, you know, ultimately it is about showing a higher degree of consistency between what you say, what you do, and the changes that you make. And let's not forget that the culture we have today is the result of what leaders through organizations did in the past. So culture is evolving and if anyone had fallen asleep in the 1950s or 1960s and woke up today, the world would seem like a very different place, you know, so you can extrapolate and think you know what would happen if you fall asleep today and wake up in 60 years time. Probably we would look at today's issues as quite conservative, outdated, racist, sexist, I mean hopefully because it means that we'll continue to evolve.
DR: So yeah, the internet has added a whole level of transparency that didn't exist before. You mentioned Glassdoor so we have a discerning workforce. Tomas, you'd mentioned earlier external pressures that people put on companies and, you know, many companies have been hijacked by hashtags for different reasons, whether it be for their environmental policies, racial or gender issues and boycotts through hashtags. How can companies that have been singled out by hashtags or boycotts use that to their advantage?
TCP: Well you know I think obviously that you can't assume that any type of data, even when a lot of people are behind it, then you know you talk about hashtags, as a movement or as a social external pressure that is infallible or that is always going to represent the ultimate kind of moral ground or high ground on something because by definition, you know, at various points in history we have the majority or a majority of people thinking that something is wrong when in fact, it may just have been an example of sheer conformism and you know resulted in atrocities later on. So, having said that, I do think that we are closer today to giving more power to the people through the internet and through social media. I think in the beginning, we overestimated the extent of positive influence that social media as a medium could have. And I remember reading I think it was Evgeny Morozov "The Revolution will not be tweeted," kind of, you know, cynical take on this, when he was one of the few voices saying look, I mean, this can be used in a positive or a negative way. And today, most of the conversations are, you know, holding, trying to hold Facebook accountable or portrayed on social media, and even hashtag as a problem. It can go both ways. And I think the point is that you can keep everyone happy all the time. But if you care about your reputation and you understand that what you do today is likely to impact on how people perceive you. You have to pay attention to this. And again, this is nothing new. I mean, and Betsy will know more about this than myself but I remember in the late 90s or early noughties when companies had a lot of intern students scanning chat rooms and groups to see where their brands were mentioned and then they paid those same students to say positive things about those brands to persuade people that the brands were good. Now this has scaled up. And of course, you know, we have the added kind of ingredients spicing it up, of cyber bots, or deep fakes, creating chaos and taking control over these things, but at the end of the day, the goal is the same. We want to hear what people think of a brand brands have reputations and those organizations that create the reputation, more effectively through positive actions should do better than their competitors.
DR: Well it seems the brand identity has really changed a lot in the last couple of decades. When I was growing up, you know, you picked a toothpaste or you picked a brand because it had the best sort of reputation as being best in that brand like a toothpaste or something. But it seems today that a lot of companies, even a toothpaste company might have to have a social message attached to the product. Is that problematic? I mean, is it fair to really expect all companies to have some type of messaging?
BR: I think I can speak to that in terms of just trends. So we know from things like the Edelman Trust Barometer or any of the major consumer trends reports out there that people do expect more of their brands of any kind, on their social and environmental impact. They expect greater transparency and they go to war with brands if they think they're not living up to the standards that they now believe should be upheld. So when you talk about hashtags I think there's a danger of brands hijacking hashtags because it can look super disingenuous, particularly if it's reactive or particularly if they're jumping on a bandwagon. So I don't want to name names but there's a major beauty brand who really jumped on the Black Lives Matter hashtag, and talked about promoting beauty among African American women, but then we're totally and rightfully sort of revealed as being hypocrites because they actually sacked a whistleblower in their own organization for speaking up about inequality and bias against black women. So I guess the answer to your question really is: people expect better, and they're less tolerant and they're more immediately on social media if they think that brands and governments aren't living up to what they want to purpose and I think there's also a real danger that brands underestimate their customers. So, I worked with communications agencies for a while now, and there's one particular High Street clothing brand that specializes in producing very cheap clothing very quickly, and their target market is teenage girls. And so, they had a factory disaster. Well, okay, I'll just talk about them, Primark because they've really cleaned up their act. So when the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed several years ago now and killed lots and lots of workers who turned out were working in horrific conditions and being paid a wage that kept him in poverty, people turned on Primark and Primark thought well our customers don't really care about this so if we put it front and center in our branding and on our website that's not why they buy our clothing. And actually, turns out they did care. So, the agency I worked with worked with Primark to actually sort of rebadged, redesign their website, put the work that they were doing to address that shortcoming that had emerged very prominently, and they actually had huge traffic and an increase in brand loyalty over it. Of course, this doesn't exactly reflect. You know what I think the model should be about fast fashion but the fact that they had totally underestimated their customers and what they expected him wanted from them, ethically was a real missed opportunity because they'd missed that for years and it could have been part of their branding part of the reputation management, etc. So I think more and more brands are catching on that this is a trend, it's not going to go away and even when it comes to say employees, not just brands that we choose to buy and use people are choosing who they work for based on their credentials. I mean, it's no accident, and Tomas will know Unilever, are this well known brands who are one of the most sought after companies to work for among millennials and Gen Z because they have really put it out that that they want to be a sustainability leader and they're working hard on it. But the fact is they make stock cubes, and things like Dove beauty products so it's not like they make the sexiest stuff in the world and yet they become this company that people want to work for because of what they actually do on the ground. So, yeah, this trend isn't going away at all. And I think expectations will just continue to get more intense as the issues, get more intense and more complex.
TCP: Yeah, you read you read my mind Betsy, because I was actually thinking exactly about that example, and I don't need my toothpaste, to have certain moral values, and I don't need the person who makes you know diapers or detergent to tell me why I should be using that and how that is going to make me a better person. But if we know they're all owned by Unilever, and you have the leaders or the CHRO or the director coming up and espousing certain values, and you know the conditions for people to work in that company that produces those things are better or they're trying to improve them, then that's part of the mandate right and I think, yeah, it's a brilliant example. I was also thinking about the one that maybe backfired or not but certainly got people talking you know Gillette’s toxic masculinity a couple of years ago which I found super fascinating right because on the one hand, it upset people, on the other hand, it got a lot of discussion going that I thought was very interesting and also necessary at the time, so I don't know what if you have anything to add to that one but it was really, really salient example to me.
BR: Well, I am one of those people who think’s that no advertising or no coverage is bad coverage which is totally not true but from an outsider perspective, somebody who really pushes people on their sustainability credentials, I'm always delighted, whether it's a crisis or a praise moment actually because it's an opportunity to move forward to either say, Well done, you really got recognized for doing this well or I'll say, Wow, you really could do that better because there's also the Pepsi example of, it was a couple years ago now with the Kendall Jenner advert with Black Lives Matter and they won awards for that advertising campaign and then had to pull it because there was such backlash because it was so tone deaf. It was brilliant creative, but they just totally missed the point, but it made them have to address something internally and change the way that they were realizing, yeah, they were living in an echo chamber. So I think there's no such thing as a bad moment, but that's me being external I'm sure that people at Pepsi didn't feel the same.
TCP: Yep. And I think it's fundamentally if you if you want to adapt or change or show that you're trying to change, there has to there has to be a risk involved, you know. It cannot be as easy as, oh yeah, we agree with this and then nothing changes.
BR: Yeah, those who do avoid all risk are definitely those who will be left behind. I think we live in times in which leaders have to have a bit of courage. They have to have a bit of an ability to look forward and look at trends, but some just have to make the leap because there's been this thing I've watched for years and I've heard it said by corporate leaders that there are those who are leading. And it's just them, they're advancing there's a small pack of those who are doing really well in social and environmental issues, and others aren't coming along with them. So I think it's those who take the leap who will survive into the future because we're getting to crunch point where certain business models simply aren't going to be viable in a very short amount of time and those who haven't kind of courageously forged ahead, are not going to exist in 10 years.
DR: We mentioned that employees are being just as discernible about the companies are working for as consumers are about consuming the products. Millennials particularly want to work for a company that they view as having a positive force in society. A lot of surveys have shown that, how do you successfully recruit a very discerning workforce?
TCP: Well you know I think I think you almost can't avoid it. So you could almost reverse the question. And, you know, I'm being facetious now But imagine if somebody didn't want to have critical and kind of morally engaged workforce, how do you recruit people who just want to clock in and out and get paid and do the job and will leave me alone, as a manager and not judge me for her, you know, kind of our behaviors. And I think that's very difficult today. There's of course some people who would always have, you know, extract meaning from other activities, and who will see work, yeah, work as a job rather than a career and after all, you know you get paid to do it because not supposed to be all of your life. But I think that segment of the labor market or the workforce has been shrinking, and will continue to shrink. I mean now, you know, I remember the early days of the pandemic. When there were, it was still the kind of humorous stage so we all have these jokes coming in, you know, that seemed funny before things got a bit tedious and now you wouldn't find them as funny but one of them. There's a lot of these kind of jokes that circulated and then became a reality. And I remember, you know, I get a lot of the HR ones, and one was a millennial person candidate going into a job interview. And when the interview asked them, Do you have any question for us, the candidate says, Yeah, Can you tell me how you know you handled or you manage, or what you did for your employees during the COVID crisis. I mean now it seems like the most obvious question to ask, but back then it was like oh my god you know will this become such a big thing. And I think the crisis will amplify that will amplify the concerns. A lot of people are not thinking about switching jobs today, but when this reverse to some level of normalcy or it's over, people will pay a lot of attention as to how organizations, manage their people, and what they did for them, whether they brought them into the office too soon. Well they have cases whether engagement and productivity went up or down during the crisis. So think it's unavoidable. And I think the main reason is that our side guys, today is that work, your employer and your career should be a source of meaning for you. In the past you know we extracted meaning out of religion, or science or the arts or music or, you know, maybe love and our hobbies, but today we see our organizations our employers, and our leaders, particularly if you work for firms that have highly involved founders who are sources or agents of meanings into a world, it's unavoidable that you're going to have people who care a lot about how you think and that see the company and their leaders as a source that shapes their own values and their own inner compass and understanding of the world.
DR: Well, my cousin just started high school, and I've noticed you know he's having to work, virtually and this goes for employees as well. So, a lot of us have had to adjust to working at home. And then people are out on the job market, doing interviews virtually they're being hired for jobs where they're working remotely. I'm wondering as an employee, how do you continue to develop your skills, you know, especially your soft skills, when we have all these social distancing rules and meeting virtually, you know I'm curious how that would work in this sort of new world, even if this is temporary is still going to be temporary for another year. I'm wondering how we can continue to develop our own skills.
TCP: Well, you know, I think I think the main change really is is a change in degree or maybe symmetry right if you think about not so long ago it let's just say, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago, if you spend a lot of time in front of your computer, you were a geek. And you're probably seen as someone who didn't have social skills or people skills because you were just looking at a screen and interacting with others you know maybe you didn't even know who they really were and you know so on and that kind of extracted you from rich social situations where you're supposed to showcase and develop social skills. Today, we have literally very few opportunities to socialize in person and in the analog or physical world. So, you should be developing your online networking skills, your ability to write an email, to interpret what others say, and most of the social skills that you need today are digital anyway, so you know you can totally imagine somebody who's very charismatic extroverted in the old world of analog interpersonal contact and is now struggling because they suffer, having to look at their screen or phone all the time, and they're deprived of that activity, but unfortunately that's the other patience that is required today, the other range of skills that you develop, of course, they all come, all you need is a computer Wi Fi and the curiosity and interest in doing things. If you even just take YouTube, you can learn pretty much anything there is to learn in human civilization, if you spend enough time on it, and off certain things that might not contribute, you know, watching Cobra K or Tiger King probably won’t make you a more talented employee, but there's everything else you can learn is freely available.
DR: There have been a lot of laws passed in the last couple years about mandating the number of female employees for example if we're going to talk about gender, female employees that a company needs to have on their board. Ho are companies supposed to respond positively to a government enforced mandate and how should it fit into the messaging to potential employees?
BR: This comes at an interesting time right now because I have just become the co founder of a tech startup, and we are looking at seed funding and so I've been looking a lot at the figures around organizations who have female leaders, and a significant proportion of females in their workforce and obviously in the tech sector that's a bit thin, it's a bit of male so just, it's pretty easy to just do a little research and find out that those who do have more female leadership and better range of females in all levels of the organization do better. They are more profitable. They are happier. They are usually more sustainable in the long term. So, I'm coming at this from a very personal perspective but I think it when it comes to mandating anything, whether it's gender equality or climate change issues right now, I feel much more hopeful because I think that it almost doesn't matter what leaders think they should do or what is political. Their hand is being forced by trends, it's something that they can't not do anymore, whether or not they want to, it's just an issue of, they're going to have to do it, because this is how the world works now and this is how they're going to actually be able to survive in the future,
DR: Well along those lines, you see these days so many people have their preferred gender pronoun underneath their email. Is something that's been fostered by companies? How are companies responding to this this is something they're ignoring is something they're encouraging.
TCP: I don't know of any company that actually makes it a rule to specify your preferred pronouns. I do know companies where it's quite common to do so but I think it's more, you know people choose to do it because they just feel it makes sense, you know, and I think it's certainly becoming more common, and less unusual to see it. On the previous one, I think I changed my mind you know I used to be a proponent of just focusing on potential or talent because actually if you do that and you look at all the science, it suggests that you would end up not just with more women in leadership, but more women than men in leadership roles you know we know that women outperform men at university they have more of the necessary and required hard and soft skills to be a good leader, more empathy, more people skills, more integrity. They're less selfish, less narcissistic, less Machiavellian, so you know it's a little bit like if you want to not just help more women get to the top but actually improve the quality of the leaders, focus on talent, no gender, I mean it's a little bit like you know that height is really important for a job, and then you hire a lot of short people, and then you don't need governments to come and say, Hey, now, you're forced to hire tall people in reality what you would need is measure height correctly, and then you hire tall people, but I changed my mind, you know, and I've been persuaded by many, many of my colleagues have persuaded me that sometimes you have to force people to do what's good for them. If we hadn't implemented fines for not wearing seatbelts, more people would have died in car crashes, even though it only requires some intelligence and common sense to wear seatbelt and you can assume that people want to stay alive when they get into the cars. So I think quotas, even though they don't eliminate the problem of stereotypes and they actually in some instances perpetuate them because where you implement quotas, people will say are you see if they need quotas, it means they could make them on their own, so it doesn't challenge the misconception that what you have in place is a meritocracy, but quotas do work. They put more women in charge, we have more role models, we will improve the quality of leaders as well. If we have quotas to make that happen. And fundamentally we cannot wait you know 110 years for people to realize that what meritocracy will do for them is good, so you know I changed my mind here I was a little bit more utopian idealistic or just more of a pure scientist on this before and now I'm just all for quotas.
BR: I was chuckling in the background with my microphone off Tomas, because I was going to ask and I'm glad you, you said that because I have a background in social justice campaigning and the concept of equity, the idea that somehow we can build up, you know, a meritocracy works. Meritocracy only works for those who have privilege and access to things in the first place so I totally agree with where you've ended up because you know it's sort of like telling people to look over the fence standing side by side and not acknowledging that they're starting from a different place. So, yeah, I absolutely believe in, I'm going stick my neck out and say it: positive discrimination. It's what's needed to address systemic inequality that's been built around systems that work for a very few people so what we're seeing now is a breakdown of systems and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better and actually I celebrate that because that's what's needed to happen, so you just got my activist side coming out very publicly.
TCP: Yeah, you know, I mean, well you know, I agree and I think positive discrimination still sounds controversial and taboo to people but it's because they believe that what we have in place is a meritocracy, of course, you know, it will be better to just negatively discriminate against all the incompetent men who are put in leadership roles. And then you solve the problem as the right or at least, How about removing the quotas that are already in place for all the incompetent men we have, you know, governing countries and running organizations because there are quotas in place that we don't discuss, so remove those and then, you know, you're going to improve things.
BR: It’s like you've written a book on this. I think we need to work on rebranding that positive discrimination charm. I'll work on that. It still has the word discrimination it so it implies somebody loses when actually it's just like no we're actually just taking back the thing that never should have belonged to you in the first place but, yeah, I've been grappling with my white privilege for decades, so I speak from experience here.
DR: Well I'm curious how, you know, we're talking about recruitment. How does technology fit into recruitment?
TCP: Well you know, I mean technology. Yeah, it means a lot of different things right, but I do think, although it's sort of unfashionable in liberal circles to quote Peter Thiel I do like his definition, you know, which is technology is about doing more with less, you know, and we've always used technology throughout the history of mankind or civilization, whether that's kind of a wooden stake or weapons or a wheel or any appliance. So today technology mostly means digital stuff and there's a lot of talk and discussion on how artificial intelligence is being used or could be used in recruitment. I think it's important for people to understand that so far, it's almost not being used at all, 90, plus percent of the decisions that are made when it comes to evaluating or hiring someone for a job internally or externally are heavily dependent on human intuition, you know. It's really important to understand this because it means that the bar is very low, and although people very, very quickly react to, case studies like Microsoft or Amazon were attempts to use AI or technology in recruitment such as creating a machine learning algorithm or a chatbot to predict who is likely to get promoted in a company, recommended or ended up being seen as bias because they recommend that more middle aged white male engineers than anything else. The reality is that, I mean, we don't need for AI or technology to introduce bias in the workplace, or in the world. Humans have been doing a great job at that for centuries and millennia, and there is simultaneously an opportunity to use those same tools to actually expose bias. I mean, even if you go to, I mentioned this case because it's quite famous right so, even if you talk about the case of Microsoft, or Amazon, you know, if you don't introduce this chatbot and you don't use AI there, middle aged white male engineers are still going to get promoted in the company, you know, so is like, pointing the finger of AI for detecting, exposing or emulating biases that exist that are systemic of the workplace or society is the wrong approach you know it's a little bit like I'm trying to lose weight, I weigh myself in the scale, I don't like what I see, so I smashed the scale. I mean it's exactly like that. So I think there is really an opportunity for technology, first of all, for organizations to be more data driven, and rely less on their intuition and in perceptions and rely more on what people can actually do, and artificial intelligence and similar technologies will help because if there is a logic or a pattern, and that pattern, you know, increases the probability of someone being a high performer in the job or not, and actually increases your probability of placing someone in a job that will be more enjoyable, and that will make them thrive. Then, for sure, computers are going to be better able at identifying those connections than humans, and the only algorithm that cannot be reverse engineered or that cannot be opened and understood is the human brain. You never know why people hire someone or not. They can tell you a story that will be probably the story they told themselves. Whereas if you have a data driven system, you can at least look at probability and say okay, you know, if we get people with these characteristics, they're happier and more productive, and you have to be comfortable with the fact that you're always going to make mistakes, and it's not about getting it perfectly right but you know finding better ways of being wrong and then incrementally correcting over it so I mean that's the state of play today.
BR: I have a bit of a question actually because I know you're an expert in this, but I'm a bit dubious about it because I'm always conscious that it is people who program the technology in the first place and obviously there's, you know there's racial bias and profiling there's we build ourselves into a lot of the technology so how do we how do we discern in this really technology driven age where there's bias built into the tech? And yeah I would love to hear you unpack that because it's something I'm grappling with, it's not my area of expertise.
TCP: First of all, this is a real problem, right, but there’s a difference in trying to address it and just saying, okay I'm not going to use, you know, any technology at all because there is the potential of a problem right so it's basically like you shouldn't throw the baby away with the water, etc. So I think, even when people say there's bias in the programming or AI is programmed by humans therefore it's going to be bias, it's actually not to do with the people who program it, you know, there isn't a kind of secret, or clandestine cult of hoodie wearing white, which mostly are not white by the way but anyway software developers in Silicon Valley, who are being evil and trying to build in bias in these algorithms. The issue is with the so called training data, basically if you train, or teach artificial intelligence to observe and detect patterns in any observations or outcomes that rely on human preferences, then you're probably going to embed some bias in the system, but again you know you can eliminate AI altogether and think about examples like we know that if you're a salesperson, you're more likely to sell more if you're attractive, or if more people consider you attractive within a certain, you know, cultural standard or parameters. We know that that would also capture your race, your age, your gender, right? So, you know, the issue here is quite complicated because you could train AI to predict whether someone is going to sell more or not and either decide to include information about their gender, race and age, or punish the algorithm, every time it relies on that information. But imagine that if you punish the algorithm for including, you can make the algorithm blind to gender, age, race, and if you do that, which is possible, it would achieve something that humans can never achieve even if they go undergo 100 hours of unconscious bias training in a year. You cannot ignore the fact that the person in front of you is either male, female, young, old, more or less attractive, even if you're not physically attracted to them yourself. But even if you did that, then the danger is that salespeople are still judged by human clients and human clients are taking that information, you see. So, a company could decide well you know it's morally wrong for clients to buy more from white people or females or attractive people, and program that into the algorithm. But then, in effect, they would select fewer high performing sales. So the ethics around this are very very interesting and more complicated than people think. Fundamentally, it's a challenge that we need to deal with. If we say, hey, let's not use any technology at all because there is a risk of bias, and then you just rely on humans making decisions. I mean, for sure, the bias won’t go away. So it's quite interesting, there's more and more companies that are actually appointing experts in algorithmic responsibility, or the ethics of AI to deal with these issues, and I think it was in a recent interview that I saw with Yuval Harari, the author of Homo Deus and Sapiens, where he actually said, Google, Amazon and the big tech firms should be teaching, should be training their developers or software developers on basic things like ethics and philosophy because they might inadvertently omit or ignore these systemic biases that exist, and you know for sure if you're unaware of this then the algorithm, what it will do, AI, is sort of augment or turbocharge biases that exists already.
DR: Tomas, are organizations becoming more data driven, and if they are what does that mean?
TCP: What I think they mostly are, and most of them see it as a, you know, priority and their to do this so you have large organizations that are hiring people with PhDs in industrial organizational psychology and creating people analytics departments and what it means is to first ensure that you're harnessing your data, that you are, of course, in an ethical and non-intrusive way recording patterns of interaction or what people do at work and trying to connect their behaviors with outcomes of team performance. And then, of course you need to have the expertise to interpret that then incorporate that into your talent identification, or recruitment processes. Fundamentally, that means to structure your thinking, as a prediction problem, you know, very much like scientists have proceeded for decades and centuries is like if I do this, I have a hypothesis that if I hire people with these characteristics, my team will be more engaged more productive, my net promoter score will go up and, you know, you have an assumption that you can test or falsify with data, then you gather the data in the most objective possible way. And then you just analyze it I mean whether it's AI and machine learning, correlations, regressions doesn't really matter. These are all different varieties of versus will same thing. But fundamentally, you have to think of reducing the influence of serendipitous, intuitive, or subjective decisions that you make, whereby, maybe you know five decades ago, it was the norm for someone to say, Well, I just had a chat with this person and I hired them because I like them and that's it, and no one could question that. And today, we're trending towards the norm that is, If you can demonstrate or prove with data that you made a rational decision for the interest of the organization, and then have the humility and dedication to deliberately test whether that was true, or that continues to be true in the future, then you're not being data driven, and you know you're not just putting yourself in a legal risk, but also reducing your ability to outperform your competitors, because at the end of the day, even when we talk about things like diversity, either the group or organization level, the quest for organizations is to attract a rich range of talent and skill sets in their workforce and of course to have good leadership to make them work together and produce, you know something better than what you were producing before. So that cannot happen without data in a way you know we've moved a long way in the past five or six decades from an instance in time where you can look at somebody's CV and say, Yep, they're a good fit for this job and that's it, and they'll probably do the job. Today you have to have a deeper understanding of what they can do what they could do and what they're going to bring to your team and organization. And there's absolutely no question that today, and in the near future, that's going to happen. More likely, when humans work in combination with data and AI and technology, one without the other won't be as effective. It's still work in progress, but more and more organizations are trying to become more data driven and then more or less know what they should be doing.
DR: So, Betsy, can you give some specific examples of business models that are successful.
DR: We mentioned millennials a few times already, and I know that people need to think of themselves more globally about their online presence and about how they represent themselves, and particularly we go on the job market, an employer can search you on Google, they can look at your Instagram they can look at whatever you post, you know publicly. I'm wondering what advice you would give to young people, particularly like young people who might be entering the job market for the first time, who were, you know what we consider digital natives who grew up on all this stuff. What advice would you give for them going on to the job market?
JCP: What do you do online matters. And if you engage in too much inappropriate self-disclosure that will work against you and your career and unfortunately this is original notion that you know in the internet nobody knows if you're a dork and you can just be yourself and you can you know portray yourself in a uncensored uninhibited way is obviously a myth. First of all, people are faking good as much online as they were offline. And secondly, as much as this might feel like a constant pressure to perform and portray yourself in the best possible way and not be authentic, the reality is that there is no escape, unless there is like a third medium that emerges, you know you have offline, online and then something else. Don't be yourself, is my advice, you know,
DR: Betsy, do you have anything to comment about that?
BR: I guess mine would be more to the positive aspect of being a millennial or Gen Zed or even somebody younger than that coming up, which would be just be human, be really clear about what your values are because they do matter and I think that brings a lot to a workplace. It's going to make, it's going to force leaders and brands and organizations to develop and the world's not going to get any better so they have solutions that we've never thought of so bring that fresh perspective and actually it's going to be hard, but I have hope because we're seeing a lot of innovation, a lot of good ideas and approaches from people, their age and younger.
DR: Thank you so much for this this really great conversation I really appreciate you joining me today.
BR: Thanks so much. yeah it was enjoyable. Thanks.
JCP: Thank you for having us.
DR: Thank you for joining us for my conversation with Tomas and Betsy. You can find more information about each guest on the podcast show notes on our website. I'd like to thank Niall Kennedy for his help with today's episode, and Alex Jungius at This is Distorted Studios.