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AI: An employer’s friend or enemy?

Martha Delehanty
Martha Delehanty
As Chief People Officer, Martha Delehanty uses deep experience and understanding of global talent trends to advance Commvault’s employee recruitment, retention and professional development capabilities. With more than 30 years of experience as a global HR and business executive, she always celebrates the human side of the business and focuses on empowering teams to thrive, regardless of market conditions. She is a powerful advocate for young women and underrepresented talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), helping drive participation in programs like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Built By Girls, WiTNY (Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York) and Breakthrough Tech. Throughout her tenure, she has served on several not-for-profit boards, including 180 Turning Lives Around, a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating domestic violence. Delehanty holds a BS in psychology from Mount Holyoke College and an MBA in finance from the University of Texas.

As chief people officer at Commvault, I am seeing AI change … well, everything! The way we think about and organize work, how we operate tools we give employees access to—not to mention the way we hire, train and develop our team members.

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And we’re not alone. Throughout the business world, people are pondering the implications of artificial intelligence—not only how it will affect their products and services but also the likely impact on people, jobs and careers.

Employees and job applicants may also be wondering: Will AI one day render my job obsolete? Should I get an AI-specific degree so I’m more marketable? Is AI a friend, foe or frenemy?

Employers, meanwhile, might be asking: Will I be able to find enough AI-ready talent when everyone else is competing for them, too?

But I think these questions are looking at AI from the wrong angle—as if only super-smart, super-specialized engineering types are capable of guiding companies into this new era. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here at Commvault, over half of our employees are already involved in some sort of AI-assisted work. And only a small subset are engaged in the nitty-gritty technical aspects of AI—the crucial, specialized work involved in incorporating AI and machine learning into our products and services for customers.

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The rest of us are using—and learning how to use—AI to assist us in a variety of endeavors, like improving the way we answer customer calls, conduct our accounting, find qualified job applicants, fix design problems, and on and on.

That’s why I’m convinced that the secret to success with AI is to take a people-first approach. That requires a commitment to training on the part of employers—and a willingness to learn on the part of employees.

I expect AI eventually to play a role in nearly every job in the professional arena. The companies and employees who understand this now, and set the stage for it, are the ones who will come out ahead.

Growing AI skills from within

While most companies will require a core group of technical teammates with deeply specific AI skills, for an AI opening, employers do not necessarily need to look for an outside software engineer with an advanced degree in artificial intelligence. Given the speed at which AI is evolving, that degree may well become outdated in just a few years anyway.

Rather, companies need to focus on hiring the smartest software engineers with deep, specialized knowledge and training a wide swath of their current employees—from call centers to marketing departments to HR and beyond—on the possibilities of AI. This can include offering programs like AI boot camps, team-based hackathons or special certifications and credentials.

Some of our best ideas at Commvault have been born from hackathons, which bring together employees from diverse backgrounds and experiences—with both strong functional and technical expertise.

Don’t automate bias

When it comes to hiring new employees, keeping the pipeline open to a diverse array of applicants is essential. AI can be a big help by automating parts of the recruiting process to make the search simpler, broader and deeper, creating a better experience for both employers and applicants. I’ve seen that happen here at Commvault.

But AI can also introduce dangers. The algorithms used in AI can contain built-in biases that prevent nontraditional candidates from even being considered. This is one of the things people fear when AI begins performing more of the tasks previously done by humans.

Related: Buying AI? The questions HR leaders should be able to answer

But here’s the thing: These biases are initially introduced by humans, not AI. From the way job descriptions are written, selection criteria are created that can even limit who is selected for the interview panel.

And that’s exactly why we need a more diverse group of employees—whether technically trained or not—to have input into AI and the overall design of the algorithms.

Making us—all of us—better at our jobs

I’m encouraged by the passion of people like Judy Spitz, founder of Break Through Tech, who is working on this very issue by encouraging more women and people from under-represented communities to pursue technology careers. Commvault is doing the same. From internship programs to partnerships with government agencies and colleges, we work hard to find truly diverse talent, as we believe this leads to the very best outcomes. And honestly, this is now more important than ever.

At Commvault, our business is all about protecting our customers’ data in a difficult world. I believe that leveraging AI helps us do this, and it will play a much bigger role going forward.

But for most of us, embracing AI isn’t about diving into the deepest levels of technology. It’s about understanding where this tech is relevant and using it effectively to make us better at our jobs.

Whether you’re an employer or employee, if you’re not intellectually curious about the potential of AI, you will fall behind and, in the end, lose relevance. Business leaders need to stay informed about what AI can do for their customers and their business—and where their companies might be disrupted. And, of course, business leaders must recognize the risks and potential shortfalls that exist to guide their employees and company into this exciting new era.

In the end, is AI a friend? Enemy? Frenemy? I say it’s all three. So, let’s lean into AI, and like my mamma taught me: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.