On July 19, I had the privilege of representing Accenture at the White House’s #HackThePayGap demo day. Accompanied by a team from Accenture Labs, I demonstrated our prototype Freelance Economy Equalizer (FrEE) Kit to a panel of government officials including US Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, US Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker, and Deputy Chief Data Scientist of the Dept. of Commerce, Tyrone Grandison. The FrEE Kit is a set of services that allows companies, who use the gig economy, to drive gender equality in their workforces, by helping them write better job posts and giving them quantifiable awareness of their hiring practices with regard to gender.
Finding ways to use technology to combat issues of inequality, such as gender bias and the pay gap in the workforce, has long been a passion of mine. Through the experiences of family members, I’ve seen first-hand the harmful effects of systematic biases, which unfortunately still remain deeply ingrained in our society and workforce. When I learned that the Presidential Innovation Fellows and the Department of Commerce were also trying to address these issues with MIDAAS (Making Income Data Accessible As a Service) I saw an opportunity to not just simply tackle this problem, but to do so in such a way that addresses challenges our research shows may arise with regards to how talent will be sourced in the “future of work."
Fast-growing gig economy needs ethical approach
I am part of Accenture’s Digital Workforce team, which is one of Accenture Labs’ research groups and has been exploring the “future of work." For over a year, we have been actively investigating how enterprises can use gig economy labor markets to create a liquid workforce by running experiments, designing best practices and process methodologies, and developing differentiated technical solutions to help organizations maximize the potential of this innovative way to source work. (Learn more about our crowdsourcing work). The rapid growth of the gig economy is creating many exciting new opportunities for both workers and enterprises. The benefits for skilled, in demand workers can address problems that hit women hardest, such as balancing family and career, by providing further viable options for workers to do well at both.
However, the corresponding challenges can be less obvious and carry significant risks. The freelance economy is forecasted to comprise 43 percent of the US workforce by 2020, yet there are still far fewer regulations supporting it compared to the traditional labor market. It is, therefore, crucial that enterprises make all the possible ethical considerations when assembling their liquid workforces.
Although these hiring biases exist throughout traditional workforces, it is critical to address these biases specifically in the context of the unprotected, fledging gig economy. Otherwise, not only will workforce inequalities persist, but also they could become further entrenched. The unique aspects of the gig economy, such as self-declared skills and wages and the rapid pace of hiring, can more quickly yield the data required for actionable change. With this in mind, and given the forecasted rapid expansion of the gig economy, we expect that insights gleaned from sourcing a liquid workforce will filter back into the traditional workforce hiring models.
Breaking the cycle of inequality
I would like to highlight one aspect of our prototype that is of particular importance. The FrEE Kit does not simply provide enterprises with a solution for hiring workers; it provides insight into their hiring practices, so that organizations can better understand the issues and help ensure these inequalities do not persist for generations to come. This sentiment was echoed by Megan Smith, who borrowing a line from Ida B. Wells-Barnett, told us that “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of the truth upon them.”
Leveraging the capabilities of Accenture’s liquid workforce platform and the FrEE kit, I hope to continue this work by addressing racial bias in the workforce. Through listening to the heartfelt stories, reading powerful articles, and analyzing the distressing data, I realized that women face similar hurdles as non-white males do- and then some. While we’re all in the same boat together on the surface, the biggest eye-opener was how badly the effects are exacerbated for Black and Latina women, who respectively are making 64 cents and 55 cents on the dollar, compared to their white female counterparts who earn 78 cents. I am proud to work for a company that has such a progressive perspective and support for diversity. Those around the country who helped build FrEE kit came from all levels in the company and brought with them a great deal of passion and support. I’m hopeful that Accenture has the opportunity to influence our clients, and society more broadly, to be more receptive to and proactive in developing real solutions to combat unconscious hiring biases. Our success at #HackThePayGap shows that to ensure we continue to put “people first” and to make effectual change in the digital era, data is key. Data allows us to shine the light of truth on a variety issues and enables us to deliver leading, human-centric business solutions.