How AI could help develop a new generation of diverse leaders

The Research University

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  • Artificial intelligence will transform the workplace — especially learning and development.
  • AI can expand and improve how we learn, and nurture the broadest possible pipeline of diverse and future-ready leaders.
  • Generative AI, in particular, will be key in promoting development equity and creating equitable access to improve diversity in the workplace.

Many of our current conversations about artificial intelligence (AI) tend to focus on what it may take from us. Like any disruptive technology, we need to pause and think instead about how AI, when leveraged and managed in the right ways, has the potential to change our relationship with what we do and how we do it.

When it comes to learning and development (L&D) opportunities, that means understanding how this technology can bring value.

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Not only can it help advance how we learn, but it can expand the scope and access to L&D experiences to nurture the broadest possible pipeline of diverse and future-ready leaders.

Changing how people learn

The pandemic rush to cross-train, retrain or uplevel employee skills may have subsided, but the volatility of the past few years has only underscored the need for continuous professional development. Employees now cite a company’s L&D investment as a significant factor in their willingness to stay or sign on with a new employer.

In turn, 80% of employers do not plan to reduce their L&D budgets in 2023, contributing to a $395 billion global investment in employee development. The resulting demand may pose capacity challenges, whether an organization is looking to stand up its own L&D function or partner with an external provider.

Enter AI, which has already shown to be a useful L&D tool in providing:

● Personalized and engaging learning experiences

● Pre-training assessment and predictive analytics that can adjust to maximize a learner’s potential

● Content creation that frees up L&D professionals to focus on programme strategies

● Ability to scale to meet demand – whenever, however, and for whatever number of learners

Historically, there has been both a perceived and real trade-off between the quality and scalability of learning (one-to-one tutors deliver more value to students than 50-person classrooms). When leveraged well, AI holds the potential to break this cost/quality compromise by allowing high-quality learning to, for the first time, be hyper-personalized at scale.

For example, AI will be able to pair content from outside providers with a company’s own content to create a truly customized learning journey aligned to both the leaders’ and the company’s objectives.

Additionally, through AI, companies can integrate their leadership development solutions with communications channels – such as email, messaging apps and video conferencing platforms – to receive learning recommendations and/or in-the-moment coaching based on projects in progress, conversation topics, virtual presentations, and more.

Without the limitations of human, financial or time resourcing, generative AI has the potential to further the reach of high-impact, high-quality learning experiences so they’re available for broader and more diverse audiences.

AI democratizes learning and development

When it comes to diversity, AI has had its challenges. Like most technology, it’s based on data and rules that are provided by humans – and their inherent biases.

That might make it easier to dismiss the technology out of hand, particularly with its exponential potential to proliferate those biases. But they’re already present in existing online and offline learning experiences. So why not use the power of AI to help course-correct and mitigate inequities?

OpenAI recently announced a grant programme to encourage discussion and democratic governance of AI behaviour. This goes beyond the due diligence any company should conduct to understand the current technology – where the data comes from, how it’s curated, the training and rules infrastructure, and how it aligns with the company’s values and approach to employee development. This grant programme is presumably looking toward the future role of AI in our lives and its impact on society.

But the technology is not the only operational behaviour that needs scrutiny. In businesses, development opportunities are typically limited to those who are identified as having high potential as leaders. Yet that identification may have more regard for proximity to current leaders than the actual performance of those outside an inner circle.

That’s where the true power lies in using AI to promote leadership diversity. Generative AI with a natural language interface is much more engaging and accessible than any version of AI we have had before.

That makes it easier to use to expand scope and nurture potential leaders at all levels by promoting development equity – equitable access for underrepresented groups to formalized, career-enhancing development opportunities – for maximum impact.

Measuring real-world impact of L&D

L&D is often viewed as nebulous and difficult to measure. I’ve seen a lot of companies lower their expectations about what can be shared to justify development efforts, even though they have the data – they’re just missing a framework.

Measuring L&D impact comes down to defining its relationship to business objectives. In my experience, investing in development helps drive measurable impact in the following areas and AI can be a critical enabler of these outcomes:

Retention: encouraging leaders to stay by helping them feel better supported and secure in their skillset. AI can contribute by providing on-demand, always-on availability for leader development.

Productivity: improving engagement to motivate leaders to go above and beyond for their organizations. AI can contribute indirectly by increasing efficiency for L&D professionals and enabling programme innovations, and directly by offering interactive experiences for learners.

Goal achievement: equipping leaders with the skills they need to better achieve organizational goals. AI can contribute to curriculum content and scaling efforts, and build upon pre-development assessments with objective, post-development evaluations.

Operating within a framework ensures a company is capturing data that is useful over time. Because we know that business priorities will shift or even pivot in the face of accelerating change.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum’s work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

The Platform produces data, standards and insights, such as the Global Gender Gap Report and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkit, and drives or supports action initiatives, such as Partnering for Racial Justice in Business, The Valuable 500 – Closing the Disability Inclusion Gap, Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work, Closing the Gender Gap Country Accelerators, the Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality, the Community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers and the Global Future Council on Equity and Social Justice.

Three years ago, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, companies made commitments to diversity and inclusion that they are still struggling to realize. They may have the intention. Or the data. Or now the technology. But it takes all these working in concert to move the needle on leadership diversity.

It also takes a shift in perspective. Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging should be integral, not additive, to corporate goals. Each decision point for a company is an opportunity to build equity and inclusivity into the process. That includes the use of AI to meet new expectations for agility and lifelong learning for everyone.

Leveraging AI technology responsibly in parallel with equitable internal processes and infrastructure is what will support sustainable leadership diversity in the future of work.

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