How Automation Can Save the Tech Industry From Itself
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Ping-pong tables, kombucha on tap, hoodies and blue jeans as far as the eye can see. We’ve all heard about these cultural clichés that are attracting young talent to the technology industry. In fact, due in large part to culture, nearly half of the Gen Z and millennial populations say they are interested in pursuing careers in technology. Meanwhile, only 10 percent of the workforce’s younger generations are interested in finance -- an industry traditionally characterized by long hours and high stress.
Recently, however, it’s been revealed that the flashy office perks that have come to define Silicon Valley are merely a camouflage for an industry marred by serious cultural problems. Tech is now known for its homogenous employee base -- coined Brotopia -- and very little work-life balance. The same stigmas swirling around finance (stress, long hours) are on full display in the tech world today. It’s time for an overhaul.
Indeed, righting these cultural wrongs is especially important as millennials, who have very different professional expectations than their predecessors, come to represent more than half of the workforce. Fortunately, automation -- arguably the most exciting and transformative segment of innovation in our world today -- has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of the very people working to develop it, while potentially keeping kombucha on tap.
Moving beyond the frat house mentality
It’s no secret the tech industry falls into two demographics. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 68.5 percent of people working in the tech industry are white, and only 36 percent are female. On top of that, 80 percent of tech executives are male. In addition to hot-button issues like workplace harassment, underlying biases that permeate the tech industry can lead to other workplace and culture problems for companies. Research shows businesses with a less diverse workforce perform worse financially, and a study by Weber Shandwick found 47 percent of millennials are actively looking for diversity and inclusion when researching potential employers.
While some companies have introduced training programs to help eliminate bias and increase diversity within their ranks, the truth is that many people need more than periodic training to shake their innate, unconscious biases. This remains one of the greatest challenges for HR teams. An increasingly effective way for tech companies to bring more diversity into workplaces is by using automation and artificial intelligence (AI) technology in their recruiting of new talent. By filtering out data such as age, gender and race, and focusing on performance data and metrics, talent teams can make hiring and recruitment decisions based on skills, competency and abilities, rather than subjective qualities. For example, one solution called Textio skims for and flags any cliché or potentially biased language present in job posts and recruiting emails from companies. The result? Job postings that target all genders and ethnicities, attracting and recruiting a more diverse employee base.
Keeping an eye on employee burnout
Companies view talent as one of their greatest assets, yet they often know more about their customers and sales than they do about their greatest asset -- their talent.
Hoodie or not, tech professionals work, on average, over 50 hours a week. What’s more surprising is that working longer hours like this is proven to cause frightening side effects. Tech colleagues at all levels suffer from afflictions like depression, sleep problems, substance abuse and overall employee burnout.
Preventing employee burnout should be top of mind for companies, especially as tech companies usher in a new generation of employees. Younger colleagues today have witnessed the negative effects of working long hours by observing their parents’ lives. A study by PWC shows millennials do not believe that productivity should be "measured by the number of hours worked at the office" but rather "by the output of the work performed.”
However, changing the view around long work weeks and improving company culture can seem like an impossible task for HR departments. In fact, almost 90 percent of working professionals think their HR/people team could be doing a better job. Productivity-minded talent managers who use AI-driven HR platforms can collect data around clock-in times, the number of completed tasks or even an employees’ computer use, and can use that data to identify potential employee burnout.
A good example of using data-driven insights to inform people-related decisions is how one of my company’s customers solved a high employee turnover rate in India. By looking at HR data around which employees were leaving and why, the company was able to quickly adjust its model and significantly improved employee retention and colleague experience in the India office.
Empowering workers to focus on high-level tasks
According to 92 percent of the millennial and Gen Z generations, a positive workplace experience would have a huge impact on their productivity and happiness. This is important to note, as a recent survey revealed more than a third of employees admitted they are productive for less than 30 of the 40+ hours they work each week. Fortunately, there’s automated technologies that can boost productivity, and ultimately improve workplace morale.
Using AI in the workplace can lead to huge productivity gains by automating mundane, repetitive tasks like providing quick, suggested replies to emails, scheduling meetings and automatically organizing digital files. This frees up technology companies’ time to focus on what’s enabling their employees to take on engaging, high level jobs, improving their everyday experiences and the business as a whole. Providing great experiences at work will not only make them more productive, but also give them a greater sense of satisfaction at work.
Looking toward the future
Automation has the potential to drive necessary culture change in the tech industry by helping companies recruit diverse talent, monitoring and flagging any overworked employees and giving them the time and energy to focus on creative projects. The answer to the tech industry’s cultural problems can’t be solved -- or even masked -- by in-office arcade games and kegs. Automation could be the solution tech executives are looking for -- we just need brave humans to embrace it.