Leading in an age of automation and AI

The Association of MBAs’ Employers Forum covered leadership qualities in a future of AI, the gender pay gap and employer branding

An age of automation and AI requires a specific kind of leader, according to artificial intelligence programme leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Rob McCargow.

Speaking at the Association of MBAs’ Employers Forum 2017, attended exclusively by HR magazine, McCargow described a future of AI as a “phenomenal opportunity for aspiring business leaders of the future".

He said leading in this climate “requires people who will be able to communicate the benefits and risks involved; it requires people who can take others on a journey, because there’s often scepticism from workforces on this".

McCargow pointed out the huge responsibility leading in a future of increased automation will entail. “We’ll start seeing employers getting employees coming to them saying ‘you have a duty of care for my future; you have a duty of care to provide these skills and move me forward in life',” he said.

He added the importance of avoiding homogenous leadership teams and workforces in responsible implementation of AI, pointing out the danger of technology increasing rather than warding against unconscious bias, for example. “If you have got a homogenous workforce developing AI it leads to bad AI,” he said, highlighting the need to significantly improve STEM gender balance.

Also speaking at the event was David D’Souza, head of London and head of engagement (branches) at the CIPD. He called for a much tougher line on the gender pay gap. “Employers need to have absolute commitment to paying people what they’re worth, not what they can get away with,” he said. “There’s a next level where we level up that gap because it’s the right thing to do and it’s terrible that it still exists.”

There is a slippery distinction between recruiting for cultural fit and recruiting from a place of bias, said D’Souza. There’s a “difficulty of reconciling them” he said. “I’m not saying the two are impossible to reconcile, but you need to put time and effort into that. If you don’t someone from a different background, where there’s no inclusion sitting around that, is going to have a difficult time.”

D’Souza also spoke on the increasing trend to include employees in external branding and advertising. “What I’d like to see is less sanitisation of that process and more humanity brought to the fore,” he said.

Practice leader, EMEA human resources at CEB (now Gartner) Rebecca Willimott, who was also speaking at the event, agreed on the importance of employers avoiding one-dimensional employer branding. “Employer branding is no longer as effective as it used to be,” she said. “What we found [from our research] is that all employment brand messages tend to coalesce around the same themes.”

This means, according to her firm’s research, “six out of 10 candidates are very skeptical about the messages they hear from companies… prospective candidates are becoming more disengaged,” said Willimott.