As technology becomes a bigger part of daily life in and out of work and continues to evolve, considerations around how tech can be made more responsible are now vital. From measuring environmental impact and ensuring long-term sustainability, to considering impacts on society and improving equity and inclusion, tech companies have the power to ensure a more responsible future.
Here are four of the biggest areas in which the tech sector is working to improve responsibility going forward.
Creating & measuring impact
Creating and measuring impact on Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) regularly, and adapting business practices accordingly, is paramount for ensuring an ethical, inclusive and sustainable culture going forward. According to KPMG, 74% of tech CEOs believe they are personally responsible for ensuring reflection of ESG policies on the values of customers.
For tech companies, effectively measuring the impact of responsible technology practices involves steering away from the one-time tick box and building on targets. These goals should be clearly communicated from leaders across the organisation, and discussed frequently. Companies such as Salesforce, for example, publish regular reports displaying equality data on their website. In addition, businesses in the tech sector can gain inspiration from tech for good communities if needed.
These days, the vast majority of people are exposed to digital technologies in some way. This has led to masses of personal and financial data being obtained by businesses and social media platforms, which in turn has increased the importance of data privacy. While standards such as GDPR and CCPA are now in place to keep companies in line when it comes to keeping data safe, breaches of data from hundreds of users on networks such as Facebook show that there is more work to be done in this area by corporations.
The evolution and increased infiltration of artificial intelligence (AI) and other automation capabilities has also been playing a bigger role in life in and out of work. Both sides of the customer relationship have been leveraging AI, with vendors using it to speed up back-end operations and improve service, while consumers have receiving product recommendations, to name just a few examples. But there is also the risk of bias and inaccuracies within algorithms, which can and have resulted in serious misrepresentation errors.
Another important ethical matter to consider regarding responsible technology is misinformation, which has been especially rife during the Covid-19 pandemic. To keep social media regulation fair, corporations have to strike a balance between preventing the spread of misinformation and maintaining freedom of speech. This can be aided through collaboration between stakeholders and the general public, with the latter providing feedback for improving user experience.
Related: The biggest trends in digital ethics
Equity & inclusion in tech
True tech innovation is incomplete without a diversity in terms of backgrounds. This means being mindful of recruitment methods, including considering where to look to find new talent. Sticking solely to candidates within the network of leaders can lead to a workforce with a similar way of thinking across the board, which is likely to bring innovation to a halt.
Along with adjusting the hiring process, marginalised groups need viable avenues towards career progression. This can be achieved through encouragement and training from leaders in the organisation, and role models in the industry.
Being inclusive as a tech company also entails looking to close the digital divide. Around 40% of the world population lack regular Internet access, and Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, recently called on governments to provide universal broadband by 2030. Helping to close this digital divide can widen the talent pool further, increasing the chances of a truly diverse workforce in the process.
According to KPMG, 57% of tech CEOs believe they should look beyond financial growth to achieve long-term sustainability. With digital transformation and innovation increasing during the pandemic to meet evolving needs and locations of customers, sustainability needs to be seen as a key part of operations, as opposed to a separate agenda.
It’s vital that leaders in the tech sector remain wary of possible environmental impacts during every project. This includes ensuring that all the data at the company’s disposal is useful, eradicating duplicates where necessary, and considering how waste, including e-waste, is managed.
Smart technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) are known to help facilitate smart buildings, which enable tracking of carbon emissions, water usage and energy consumption, among other aspects. Additionally, data insights powered by smart tech has been used to improve the welfare of wildlife, and speed up research on animals in conservation.