The possibilities of Gamification for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

In this blog post we explore the ways in which Gamification and serious games are beginning to be utilised as a new form of de-biased assessment and the contribution these new methods will have in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion within the workplace.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, in their 2018 ‘Is Britain Fairer’ Report, report that there are currently serious challenges to achieving fairness in the UK, with fundamental failings occurring in the areas of discrimination, safety and justice. Many private sector organisations are taking advantage of new technologies which incorporate gamification to advance their DEI agendas, de-bias recruitment and improve the way in which important workplace conversations are conducted. The UK public sector can learn a lot from these approaches. 

In 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ Report identified that gaps in employment, pay, achievement and treatment still exist between ethnic groups in UK workplaces, with as much as a 21% difference in employment between White British and some ethnic minorities, and with those from ethnic minority backgrounds being 11% more likely than those from a White British background to say discrimination affects their achievement of career goals. 

This has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, with McKinsey identifying that only one in six diverse employees has felt more supported due to DEI changes around concerns and needs during the pandemic. Furthermore, the Harvard Business Review has identified that women, LGBTQ+ women, women with disabilities and women of colour have been more likely to support employees and lead necessary DEI action over the past year than men. Even though this work is hugely important in boosting employee morale and retention, only a quarter of employees doing extra work for DEI say that their work is formally recognised. 

Workplace DEI can currently be divided into two focal areas: recruitment into the workplace and treatment at the workplace. Recruitment is the area that has seen the greatest benefits from technological developments. Traditional hiring mechanisms such as person to person CV screening and interviews are increasingly being replaced by automated and algorithm-led hiring aimed at de-biasing recruitment. However many automated recruitment systems can still unintentionally replicate bias through errors in design, as with Amazon’s CV-filtering algorithm which accidentally filtered out women, as it was trained on the company’s CV database at the time, which was predominantly male. Other issues include the influence of educational background and language differences, which mean that generalised cognitive assessments can be biased against those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those who are not native speakers, which also both can be proxies for race. 

Gamification and serious games are beginning to be utilised as a new form of de-biased assessment, where data, behavioural science and game mechanics are combined to provide an assessment experience that is fair and equitable. Examples include enterprise software firm SAP, which changed their interviews to Lego building exercises. Participants were assessed on the solutions they came up with and how they aided others, rather than a traditional panel approach, in order to incorporate neurodiversity into their hiring. 

Pymetrics is a best-in class example of game design achieving fair recruitment in its algorithmic functions. Pymetrics uses a core suite of 12 games based on cognitive science experiments, designed to discern an applicant’s cognitive, social and emotional attributes. Pymetrics was assessed by Northeastern University for algorithmic bias in 2021 against the United States’ Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines. The Northeastern assessment team verified that Pymetrics’ games did pass the test, though the algorithm could be improved to test for intersectionality, as oppressions are multiple and overlapping for people with multiple protected characteristics, such as a woman of colour. However Pymetrics currently represents one of the strongest algorithmic de-biasing processes, and its game-based nature means that skills assessment isn’t inherently linked to academic attainment or language proficiency. 

Despite this, algorithmic de-biasing cannot affect how an applicant progresses through the next stages of hiring, and even into their experience in further working life. As mentioned above, people of colour in the UK are more likely to say that discrimination in the workplace has affected their professional progression or improvement than white British people. In addition to this, the EHRC 2018 Is Britain Fairer Report identifies that bullying and sexual harassment remain widespread in the workplace, with some evidence that women, ethnic minorities, LGB and transgender people are at greater risk than other groups. 

Immersion has been shown to improve empathy with others, as with a 2016 clinical trial of immersive training for nurses treating patients with PTSD. Serious games, which are games applied for a reason other than entertainment, have also been found to improve learning around humanitarian causes, as a Save-the-Children funded report found in 2020. Increasingly non- and for-profit organisations are applying findings such as this to teaching DEI to people of all ages. 

Startups are currently providing solutions for teaching empathy in many different scenarios; this is important as a more inclusive atmosphere in workplaces will lead to better treatment and recruitment, and in public organisations, higher empathy with those from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences will result in more equitable and fair policymaking. This can start from a young age, as with games Salaam, When Rivers Were Trails, Our America, Spent and 6x9. These respectively simulate and educate about the experience of being a refugee; the colonisation of Indigenous peoples; the experiences of people of colour with law enforcement; the choices that homeless people have to make, and; the experience of solitary confinement. Through teaching about human rights, equality and discrimination from a young age, the UK can help to build a society rooted in inclusive values. 

New technologies are also increasingly being implemented to aid DEI within the workplace.  As well as many gamified applications aiming to make key training processes more engaging and so more productive (such as Contineo: a board game run-through of DEI scenarios), there are solutions that help in change management, and in conducting key DEI conversions. Mursion is a VR platform that conducts simulations and practices of crucial DEI conversations, in order to assess how employees respond to different situations, and also to provide a safe space in which difficult topics can be discussed. 

Though many of these solutions are improving the way in which DEI is being approached in the workplace, they are only a small part of addressing structural issues in recruitment and progression. It is important to pair any new technologies with a clear, tangible and aspirational DEI policy and strategy, combined with strong leadership from higher levels of the organisation. Given these aspects, gamification can be an ideal tool for achieving crucial DEI changes. These are significant in any organisation, but more clearly so in public sector groups, where decisions can have knock-on effects across society. This emphasises the need for best-practice DEI within government organisations, to both provide the best example for other organisations, but also to make policy that is equitable for people across all groups.


Jess Taylor

Nov 22, 2021