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AI, the Metaverse, and DEI in the Workplace

As AI and the metaverse reshape work, leaders should consider three areas of concern -- and opportunity -- for the ways the emerging technologies can impact DEI.

5 Min Read
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Brain light via Alamy Stock

In the summer of 2023, when trade unions representing Hollywood actors and writers went on strike, a key sticking point was the use of artificial intelligence to do the work of human writers and actors. A leading commercial bank announced that it is using the combined power of metaverse and AI to train new hires to handle simulated real-world situations. Meanwhile, the European Union has passed its AI Act, which will require that companies using AI for employment or worker management conduct assessments for bias before their AI platforms are deployed.

These are not isolated examples. AI and the metaverse are poised to reshape work in sweeping ways. As these technologies reshape work, they will enter a working world in which diversity, equity, and inclusiveness (DEI) has become a baseline expectation. DEI initiatives don’t just help address societal inequities; they also benefit companies. By bringing in groups with diverse backgrounds and life experiences, such initiatives can build inclusive mindsets and behaviors to unleash the innovative potential of diversity of thought. The bottom line? Study after study -- from the World Economic Forum (WEF), Gartner and others -- confirm that more diverse companies outperform less diverse ones.

Related:How Businesses Can Build Confidence in AI and the Metaverse

Despite efforts to boost DEI, we have a long way to go. The World Bank estimates that 2.4 billion working age women lack equal economic opportunity, and the WEF projects it will take 132 years to close this global gender gap based on the current rate of progress. Other studies have found that discrimination based on age, race/ethnicity and gender identity imposes significant societal and economic costs.

How will the rise of AI and the metaverse in the workplace impact DEI initiatives? And what new opportunities and challenges do these technologies create?

Here are three key areas of concern -- and opportunity -- for the ways AI and the metaverse can impact DE&I initiatives:

Bias

For many years, experts have been warning about the potential for bias in AI. AI systems are typically trained on real-world data, which often embody human biases. Without careful testing and guardrails, AI could therefore significantly undermine much of the progress that DEI initiatives have made in recent years.

Generative AI models are improving at a rapid clip. They are developing emergent capabilities that were often not foreseen or tested for -- and which could spawn new instances of bias for which researchers have not built safeguards.

Nevertheless, AI and the metaverse could also create new opportunities to identify and reduce bias in the workplace.

Related:Honeywell’s Journey to Autonomous Operations

For instance, metaverse experiences could enhance awareness training by allowing individuals to step into the experiences of others who have different backgrounds and identities, gaining insights into the biases and barriers they may face.

Bias is often perpetuated through language. For instance, the choice of wording in a job posting may significantly influence how attractive the opening is to applicants of different gender, racial and/or ethnic backgrounds. AI, in particular large language models (LLMs) could be very useful here. These models could be trained to identify and correct biased terminology in job postings or interview questions. Even better, an appropriately trained and tested LLM could write job postings that significantly reduce biased language.

Access

Inequality has been rising in most countries across the globe. Among other things, this has fueled populism and nationalism, political polarization, labor unrest, and the backlash against globalization.

Without careful consideration, generative AI and the metaverse could exacerbate the challenge.

As these tools become the new workplace norm, they could create new digital divides. Accessing the metaverse in virtual reality might require expensive equipment. Generative AI could create a divide between those who are and aren’t trained in its use.

Related:AI, the Metaverse, and DEI in the Workplace

An even bigger concern is generative AI’s potential impact on the labor market. AI will supplement certain types of human work, allowing humans to focus on more fulfilling work and adding entirely new jobs and professions -- but it could also displace some forms of work. This could fuel economic precarity, with worrying consequences for social unrest.

However, if implemented correctly the metaverse and AI could increase access for traditionally marginalized groups.

Consider language barriers. About 56% of the World Wide Web is in English, which creates an access barrier for non-native speakers. LLMs could overcome language barriers by seamlessly translating text and interfacing with users in multiple languages. This would allow candidates to access work opportunities regardless of their first language, while allowing employers to tap into a wider talent pool.

The metaverse could similarly be game-changing for workers with physical disabilities. Despite laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, physical access to the workplace can still be a barrier often due to poor or inaccessible transportation. A virtual rather than physical workspace could remove physical access barriers, while using avatars during the recruiting process could combat interviewer bias.

The metaverse could also empower trans and gender diverse individuals to bring their authentic selves to work by using avatars of the genders with which they identify, as they choose.

Cognitive Diversity

Cognitive diversity is an important focus of DEI initiatives. Bringing together people from different backgrounds and unique sets of experiences will lead to greater diversity of thinking. More recently, the drive to increase cognitive diversity has expanded to include neurodivergent individuals.

As AI reshapes work and creates new job categories, it could spawn roles well suited for neurodivergent individuals. For example, prompt engineering requires creativity, critical thinking, numeracy, and detail orientation without the need for complex in-person interactivity with others.

In addition, AI itself could ultimately become a new source of cognitive diversity in the workplace. So far, generative AI models have primarily excelled at creative mimicry. But generative AI models are also rapidly developing emergent properties in unexpected ways. We can expect that AI’s capabilities will continue to ramp up and inject more creativity and cognitive diversity into the workplace.

AI and the metaverse present a unique chance to diminish bias, enhance inclusivity and foster cognitive diversity in the workplace. However, it is crucial to approach their implementation with careful consideration, as they also introduce new challenges that, if not addressed thoughtfully, could inadvertently contribute to the perpetuation of biases and exacerbation of inequality. Striking a balance through mindful adoption and continuous vigilance will be key to ensuring that these technologies contribute positively to a more equitable and diverse working world.

About the Author(s)

Edwina Fitzmaurice

Global Chief Customer Success Officer, EY

Edwina Fitzmaurice is EY Client Technology’s Chief Customer Success Officer. In this role, Edwina leads the successful technology delivery for EY’s $45BN client services in audit, tax, strategy, transactions, and consulting. Edwina heads up 10 Regional Technology Hubs across the US, EMEIA, China and Japan focused on technology adoption and innovation. Edwina developed the global metaverse strategy for EY and is leading the transformation of EY with Artificial Intelligence, taking a keen focus on employees and their experience with AI.

Edwina is on the World Economic Forum Global Futures Council and chairs the Governance and Nominating Committee as a board member of Women in Innovation. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor in Trinity College Dublin, lecturing on emerging technologies and is a mentor for TechStars which works with leading startups in Silicon Valley. Edwina is an advisor to the EY Foundation on technology implication for DEI, and a Board Ambassador for EY’s Center for Board Matters on technology governance.

Over the course of her career, Edwina has been a CEO, COO and CEO of European financial services businesses and held multiple board positions on public and private boards. She was formerly the EY Global Consulting Markets and Business Development Leader, responsible for revenue of $10BN across 140 markets.

Karyn Twaronite

Global Vice Chair of DE&I, EY

As EY Global Vice Chair – Diversity, Equity & Inclusiveness, Karyn Twaronite drives innovations that maximize the strength and effectiveness of EY personnel by embracing diversity. She oversees EY’s integrated approach to diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) - the EY Culture Change Continuum: a roadmap for success, which enables leaders to foster an inclusive environment, where people can better leverage their diverse skills, experiences and cultural backgrounds.

A member of the Ernst & Young LLP Executive Committee, Karyn co-chairs the EY Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Steering Committee and the EY Americas Inclusiveness Consulting Council. She began her EY career as a tax professional more than 20 years ago before shifting her focus to help shape the organization’s talent, human resources and D&I leadership culture. Karyn works with clients and stakeholders in these efforts around the world.

Karyn earned a BSc in Accounting from Miami University (Ohio) and an MSc in Taxation from Fordham University. She is certified in Strategic Human Resource Management from Harvard University Graduate School of Business and a licensed CPA in New York.

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