THINKING FORWARD – Ideas for your work from MIT Sloan School of Management


Ideas for your work from
MIT Sloan School of Management | Office of Communications

May 9 – May 15, 2021

1. Artificial intelligence programs often fail to account for the humans doing unseen work to make the programs run, and for the people who are negatively affected by the changes wrought by AI.

Speaking at the recent EmTech Digital conference hosted by MIT Technology Review, experts shared insights on how to make AI systems more ethical and effective:

  • Consider how AI will be integrated into the workplace. Developers often fail to consider the “repair work” required to make a technology actually effective in a specific context. Skilled workers often wind up having to weave new technology into existing work practices, power dynamics, and cultural contexts.
  • Account for the “ghost workers” who labor behind the scenes labeling images, transcribing audio, and flagging violent content or disinformation on social media. Research shows these workers often earn below minimum wage and have limited opportunities for career growth.
  • Ask who’s not at the table, and whom AI might harm. Facial recognition systems, health care algorithms, and privacy violations tend to disproportionately affect and disadvantage Black and transgender people, immigrants, and LGBTQ children, said Abeba Birhane, a PhD candidate in cognitive science.

“The people who are creating and deploying these systems benefit, while the cost falls heavily on the marginalized,” she said.


2. East Asians are underrepresented in leadership positions in the U.S. — and the reason might be cultural, according to research from MIT Sloan assistant professor Jackson Lu and co-authors.

Lu and colleagues conducted nine studies of the two largest Asian subgroups in America: East Asians (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, Korean) and South Asians (e.g., Bangladeshis, Indians, Pakistanis). Their findings suggest that East Asians but not South Asians are underrepresented in the C-suite due to cultural differences in assertiveness.

East Asian cultures emphasize humility and conformity over assertiveness — a trait that could be interpreted by American leadership culture as lacking confidence and motivation. In contrast, South Asian cultures often encourage assertiveness and debate in interpersonal communication.

“Whether in company meetings or in classrooms, it’s a common observation that East Asians are less likely to speak up and voice their opinions,” Lu said. But “assertive leaders are not necessarily the most effective ones. American organizations need to diversify the prototype of what a leader should look like.”

Lu’s work comes as Asians in America face an increase in racism and discrimination.


3. One of the qualities that makes sports so satisfying is the simplicity of the games: The team that scores the most points is the winner.

But a recent MIT Sloan workshop told a much more complicated story about opportunity and equality in athletics. Using examples from professional sports teams, MIT Sloan researchers and others offered diversity and inclusion insights applicable to all industries.

Just one example: Since 2003, the NFL’s Rooney Rule requires teams to interview racial minority candidates when hiring for top positions. But as of January 2021, only five of the NFL’s 32 head coaches were not white.

Why didn’t more interviews for minority candidates result in lasting diversity among head coaches? A 2016 study by the University of Michigan’s Chris Rider, one of the workshop leaders, shows that 70% of head coach vacancies are filled through promotions from coordinator roles, and white position coaches were 114% more likely to get promoted to a coordinator role than their nonwhite peers.

The takeaway for every industry: Diversity at the executive level alone doesn’t solve an organization’s opportunity imbalance.

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By MIT Sloan CDO