Last year a group of female jobs seekers in the US accused tech giant Facebook of helping employers exclude female candidates. They said 10 companies were using Facebook’s targeting technology to exclude women from seeing ads for jobs at a home security system installer, police department a window replacement firm and others.
The complaint on behalf of three women “and the hundreds of thousands of female workers” represented by the Communications Workers of America, read; “Facebook delivers job ads selectively based on age and sex categories that employers expressly choose, and that Facebook earns revenue from placing job ads that exclude women and older workers from receiving the ads”.
The tech firm replied: “There is no place for discrimination on Facebook; it’s strictly prohibited in our policies, and over the past year, we’ve strengthened our systems to further protect against misuse.”
The case reveals the huge dangers that can arise if business leaders are not tech savvy, says Michael Sagalla, professor of management at the HEC School of Management in Paris.
“The major and well-known blunders of some of the top tech companies at Microsoft, Amazon and others is in the design of algorithms and chatbots that are accidentally or maliciously trained to insult black people, discriminate against female job candidates, and spew insulting religious or social online insults is warning enough.
“The CEO and CFO may not need to understand how to program and algorithm, but he or she should clearly understand the ethical issues behind the conception, during the programming, and embedded in the end result. If not, it could be a game of Russian roulette,” he warns.
While getting your marketing wrong and causing offence- which may lead to reputational damage- there is also the failure to grasp market opportunities, says Prof Sagalla. “All of the inhabitants of the C-Suite must understand the developing technology that give their competitors an advantage in the marketplace. Understanding how to use the new or enhanced techniques to reach and capture leads ranging from content marketing (e.g., LinkedIn) to geofencing (many marketing firms can help with this) are key for C-Suite residents,” he adds.
Prof Sagalla says: “The development of impressive CRM tools offered by companies such as Salesforce will lower the costs of acquiring and managing lead acquisition. Inward facing technology, such as those offered by fintech, purchasing management, and human resource management, have made tremendous improvements over the past few years.
“Companies like Cornerstone On Demand and its competitors offer online suites of tools that can drive down the cost of recruitment and improve retention, especially with the new algorithms that track employee performance and suggest experiences or training tailored to move them up the hierarchy,” he adds.
Managing the bottom line
Dr Andrew White, associate dean for executive education and corporate relations at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, says understanding digital technologies is not only key to how products are manufactured and distributed, it can also impact the bottom line.
“Digital technologies are also underpinning efficiencies, so if senior leaders don’t understand them, they may find that their cost-bases are too high and also affecting how products go to market and therefore turnover. A lot of innovation is coming out of very small companies that are quickly scaling. CEOs and finance directors can’t just expect that that knowledge will come across their desk, they have to be proactive in going out and looking for it,” says Dr White.
He says the danger of not being tech-savvy is that a company’s cost-base “becomes too high and your turnover doesn’t continue to grow in the way that you need it to grow and you don’t deliver digital services to your customers. It affects everything about how your business performs,” he adds.
Dr White says corporate leaders need to be they be sure that their organisations have access to the right tools that can create insights for good decision-making. “They can do this in a number of different ways. They can observe the conversations that are taking place in the organisation: are they seeing innovation brought into those conversations?
He asks: “Are they seeing new types of digital interventions being talked about? Are they seeing their team bringing in some new ideas or are they just relying on existing technology and existing suppliers? Are they looking in the right places? Are they just observing their competitors or are they observing the smaller, more entrepreneurial organisations that are coming into their organisation?
“So, it is a number of things. It’s often about where people are looking, what they’re observing, what data they’re seeing and whether they are being broad enough in their perspective and looking in the right places,” he adds. “Are you bringing younger voices in? Are you bringing in new people who are coming out of industries that are perhaps more advanced than yours? Have you got enough grit in the oyster of diversity to really bring in those ideas and bring in those perspectives?”