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Ethics in technology starts with organizational culture

Addressing data and technology ethics involves everyone

Disruptive technologies are pushing ethical questions about their design and use into the forefront. While chief ethics officers and advisory boards are helpful, organizations should also include some of their most important stakeholders in the conversation—employees. Explore how an inclusive dialogue around ethics and technology that embraces a wide spectrum of employee input can lead to fairer and more inclusive decisions.

Changing the culture

The impact of technology and the ethical dimensions of its use are firmly tied to issues of trust. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer,1 trust has dropped by 9% over the past 10 years for the technology industry as a whole. The report also shows that most customers, employees, and shareholders now expect business leaders to take the lead if government hasn’t addressed societal issues, and two-thirds of respondents say companies shouldn’t wait to be regulated; they should enact change and be accountable to the public. But for many organizations, a structure for identifying and addressing ethical technology concerns simply doesn’t exist.

To make certain that ethics in technology is not an afterthought, workforces should include tools, advocacy, and a structure that empowers more diverse thinking. A more participatory, interdisciplinary effort that embraces the input of all employees, both technologists and non-technologists, could be a great place to start.

Ethical technology is a team sport

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Helping employees understand their tech and ethics roles and responsibilities:

  1. First steps: Awareness and engagement
    People make ethical decisions every day, but they often don’t think of them in that way. Despite this, most organizations have never asked their employees to think specifically about ethical tech concerns. Helping your workforce understand their roles and responsibilities in technology ethics decision-making can be crucial to engaging them in conversations about how tech is designed and used. Leadership should identify prioritized groups—those areas within the business that may be on the front lines of confronting these concerns.
  2. Shifting the culture
    Thinking about the unintended impacts of data and technology requires awareness, along with a mindset that prioritizes and values ethics and technology dialogue and debate. While software developers may have data ethics top of mind, other groups in the organization, including the non-technologists applying the technology, may not be as attuned to potential ethical dilemmas.

    It's an opportunity to apply the concept of radical inclusion: designing with, as well as for, people. This can mean not just designing for hypothetical user profiles, but inviting actual users (including secondary users) into the design process to truly understand the impact of a technology solution on a variety of stakeholders.
  3. Empowering the workforce
    Creating an ethics-focused environment often takes governance built around employee teams, which can require them to take on both responsibility and accountability. These teams should include diversity of experience and thought, which can create more space for outcomes and impacts to be considered. Organizations should promote the idea that everyone has a role to play. Both technologists and non-technologists can and should contribute to these debates.
  4. Developing the skills
    There are currently five generations of workers in the workforce. Many people in today’s workforce will need to develop the skills to identify and integrate ethics in technology dilemmas. It is leadership’s responsibility to provide training and reinforcement; the skills and terminology an organization adopts for technology and data ethics decision-making should be applicable to any technology. For employees to participate in these debates, they should have a common vocabulary that allows everyone to start from a similar foundation.
  5. The cultural shift has only just begun
    For many, the area of technology ethics is still in the early stages of understanding. Societal standards evolve, and ethical issues can be subjective. Technology is evolving at a breakneck pace, creating new capabilities, and introducing new ethical questions at the same time. It is important to build a solid foundation for identifying and addressing ethics in technology issues, so employees are prepared to face future challenges.
  6. Deloitte is living the journey
    Our belief in a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace applies to how we use technology for ourselves and engage with others. We are evolving our approach to ethical technology to reflect the continually changing nature of these challenges.

    As part of that evolution, we regularly apply lessons learned; like every organization, we recognize that this is a process. We have incorporated a team structure and other ideas as presented here, but we know this is a learning journey, and there is more we’ll need to do as we scale our findings and find the path forward across our organization.

Deloitte’s recent State of AI in the Enterprise, 3rd Edition study of enterprise AI adopters found that 95% of respondents have concerns about ethical risks of the technology.

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Building on experience—our own and others

Our Trustworthy and Ethical Technology team is gaining growing insight into things that have worked and which paths are less likely to yield positive results. Trustworthy and Ethical Technology is fundamental to Deloitte. We look forward to engaging with others who share this vision, enabling greater fairness and inclusivity while powering technology that can provide a better future for all.

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