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What’s Holding Companies Back From Improving the Diversity of Their Workforce

September 25, 2018, 8:45 PM UTC

Despite so many companies discussing the need to improve the diversity of their workforce, their actual efforts have only led to incremental improvements over the past few years.

Bank of America’s global talent acquisition executive Ebony Thomas said Tuesday at Fortune’s annual Brainstorm Reinvent conference that she believes companies stumble “on execution” when it comes to hiring.

She said that people often hear about how “the competition for talent is fierce,” but in actuality there are many people with diverse backgrounds in the U.S. who could be qualified candidates that companies are somehow ignoring.

“The myth is there’s a pipeline issue,” Thomas said. “The reality is it’s not a pipeline issue, it’s about how to deploy the right people, resources, and technology to help us execute on that diverse talent.”

Thomas said that companies need to find a way to funnel that talent into the organization. One possible way could involve using cutting-edge recruiting technology to help discover new candidates.

Using technology to assist in finding diverse candidates could help “eliminate some of the biases we have.” Still, Thomas acknowledged people must know that “there’s a bias in the technology based on the data we use,” which could perpetuate existing hiring biases within a corporation.

“But there is an opportunity to use data and insights to understand better our pipeline and funnel,” Thomas said.

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IBM HR vice president, chief leadership, learning and inclusion officer Deb Bubb agreed with the notion that artificial intelligence technologies can be a powerful tool but can also encode the unconscious biases of the people making the tech. For this reason, companies need to be aware of the employees that are training the AI systems, among other tasks.

“At IBM we know it matters who makes it,” Bubb said of its AI technologies. “We are working so hard to remove bias from our AI.”