CIPD Annual Conference 2017: highlights from day one

From ethics in HR to what AI will do to the profession – our essential round-up of events in Manchester

The 2017 CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition in Manchester kicked off with a call to arms from CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese. Here are some of the other stories you might have missed on day one.

We need to see each other as humans

There is a lazy tendency to tick a box when it comes to ethics, despite its importance to the HR profession, particularly in light of the advances in technology, said Professor Roger Steare, corporate philosopher in residence at Cass Business School.

“Research into the moral character of an HR professional revealed that in their personal lives they are caring, thoughtful people, but at work they conform to the pressure-driven fear culture that permeates more and more workplaces,” said Steare. When the fear factor is present not only is robot-like compliance increased, humanity is diminished, he said.

One important factor when it comes to making ethical decisions is making the effort to see the human in one another, added Ben Yeger, UK representative at Combatants for Peace.

Talking about how to fix the problem of how unethical decisions are made, Steare said it was about “boiling the kettle, not the ocean”. “The most effective interventions I have seen working are at the local team level,” he said.

Harvey Weinstein is a ‘lightning rod’ for confronting sexual harassment

Amid ongoing revelations in both Hollywood and parliament, HR must start addressing sexism in the workplace, spanning from ‘banter’ to sexual assault, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese told People Management.

“We must train our managers if we hope to start resolving this terrible systemic problem. ‘Training’ may sound crass – but this is not just about tackling instances of sexual assault, but recognising the broader issues with sexist, disrespectful behaviours at work,” he said.

“It also means addressing leadership. People need to understand that when they have positions of power and authority, they must not impose themselves on people, or repress them. Managers still like to behave as though they are one of the team often, but they do have to realise that they are in a position of power and can very easily overstep a line.”

Failing to nurture diversity is a world without challenge

Understanding the difference between diversity and inclusion, and being able to combine them effectively, is crucial for organisations seeking to be competitive in a fast-changing world, consultant Huma Qazi told delegates in her talk ‘Do more diverse teams mean business success?’

"Diversity is a state of being different. Inclusivity is a state of being involved, of supporting those differences. Diversity and inclusion is about giving every individual the chance to fulfil their potential,” she said. “If you don’t have the right collaborative spirit, and are not using it to your competitive advantage, you are going to lose out.”

It matters who’s flying the plane

Artificial intelligence is rapidly becoming an everyday reality for many HR departments, said Timandra Harkness, radio presenter and author of Big Data: does size matter? She outlined technology that was being used to monitor how and when people worked (even taking webcam shots of freelancers working remotely so you can see what they are doing), to automate whole elements of the recruitment process and to identify staff at risk of leaving.

But though Harkness said there were many ethical questions thrown up by such applications, she remained confident that humans would always be in control because they would exercise a level of contextual judgement that computers would never be capable of. “A human being is answerable for a decision,” she said. “Automation is an invitation to outsource decisions, and we will never be fully comfortable with that. That’s why we have a pilot on a plane – because no matter what the technology, we want to know who’s flying and where they’re flying to.”