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Jul 02, 2024 Vicki Saunders

Understanding the Psychology Behind Authentic Employee Advocacy and Navigating AI Bias

Listen to this blog: Understanding the Psychology Behind Authentic Employee Advocacy and Navigating AI Bias

Imagine standing amidst the iconic architecture of London's Gherkin, surrounded by panoramic views that stretch to the horizon. This was the breathtaking setting for Tribal Impact’s Social Business Exchange event, where I had the privilege of presenting insights into the psychology of employee advocacy. 

As the Founder of The EVP Consultancy, I am deeply immersed in the world of Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and Employer Branding (EB) and have always been fascinated by the science behind it.

In this blog, I'll explore the key themes discussed at the event and how to ensure authentic employee advocacy, focusing on the nuances of AI bias, the neuroscience of advocacy, and the transformative power of authentic connections.

The Science Behind Employee Advocacy and Why We Connect

As humans, we're wired for connection, especially connections we can trust. This biological imperative is rooted in our evolutionary past. Our ancestors relied on strong social bonds for survival, and this need for belonging translates to the workplace as well. 

Research by Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti, a professor at the University of Parma, Italy, sheds light on this phenomenon. His discovery of mirror neurons – brain cells that fire both when we perform an action and when we observe someone else doing it – highlights our inherent capacity for empathy. 

The concept of empathy extends beyond our species. Studies on macaque monkeys, highly social primates, have shown similar neurological processes at play. Researchers have observed macaques exhibiting signs of distress when witnessing another monkey in pain. 

This suggests that empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, isn't solely a human trait. It's a fundamental building block for social cohesion, both in the animal kingdom and within our own teams.

Macaque monkeys empathy

Empathy empowers us to be more authentic, and authentic connections are the cornerstone of effective advocacy. When employees feel genuinely connected to their company's mission and values and are encouraged to share their authentic selves, they become natural advocates. They share their positive experiences, successes, and sense of purpose with their networks, fostering trust and attracting like-minded talent. 

This sense of belonging, similar to the "tribe" mentality observed in macaques, creates a foundation for strong and authentic employee advocacy. If we can understand the neuroscience of advocacy, organisations can tailor their advocacy strategies to tap into the innate human desire for connection and belonging. 

The Authenticity Factor and Why "Fake" Doesn't Fly 

In today's hyper-connected world, audiences can sniff out inauthenticity a mile away. Remember Patagonia's now-famous Black Friday ad in 2011?

Black Friday is typically known for deep discounts and intense consumerism, but Patagonia took a different approach. On that day, they ran a full-page ad in The New York Times that challenged expectations. The ad featured their best-selling jacket with a simple, yet powerful headline: "Don't Buy This Jacket." 

Instead of pushing for sales, the ad focused on the environmental impact of producing the jacket. It detailed the water usage, carbon emissions, and waste generated. This bold move sparked a global conversation about responsible consumption and the true cost of clothing. 

It resonated with a growing segment of environmentally conscious consumers and ultimately strengthened Patagonia's brand image.

The lesson here is clear: Authenticity is key. Your employees are your most powerful brand ambassadors only if their advocacy reflects their genuine experiences. When a company's actions align with its stated values, it builds trust and loyalty.

How AI Bias Can Negatively Impact Employee Advocacy

By now, we understand the importance of authenticity and building trust, but what happens to authenticity when you use AI to create your content? While AI holds immense potential for streamlining advocacy efforts, it’s not without its pitfalls. There are significant dangers of unchecked AI bias, especially when using AI imagery, which could negatively impact your efforts to be authentic. 

AI algorithms are trained on massive datasets, and unfortunately, these datasets can sometimes be riddled with biases. For example, a study of Stable Diffusion, a text-to-image AI model, revealed a significant gender bias in its generated images.

For example, when generating images for the term ‘Doctors’, only 7% of the subjects appeared female, while the US Bureau of Labour Statistics reports that women make up nearly 40% of doctors in the US.

AI Bias Stable Diffusion

This highlights the dangers of using AI-generated imagery without human oversight. Biases embedded in the data can lead to unrealistic portrayals of your workforce, alienating potential candidates and undermining your employer brand. 

Think about it this way: Would a talented female engineer be drawn to a company website showcasing a team of all male engineers, even if the company’s reality is more diverse?
Such biases in AI can undermine the authenticity of employee advocacy efforts, making it imperative to scrutinise and address these issues proactively. 

Here's why this matters for employer branding:

  • Perpetuating Stereotypes: AI trained on biased data can perpetuate harmful stereotypes in the images it generates, potentially causing offence or misrepresentating your company’s values. An authentic employer brand strives to showcase its workforce accurately and celebrate its unique talent.
  • Misrepresentation of Your Workforce: Biased AI could misrepresent the diversity of your company, alienating qualified candidates who don't see themselves reflected in your employer’s branding materials. Authenticity requires transparency and a genuine reflection of your company culture.

The Antidote to Bias? The Human Touch! 

So, how can we leverage AI's capabilities while mitigating its biases and staying authentic? The answer lies in striking a balance between automation and human oversight. 

Here are some strategies to help you stay authentic and true to reality:

  • Curate Your Data: Before feeding data into AI models, take steps to ensure its accuracy and inclusivity. This might involve partnering with diversity and inclusion specialists to identify and address potential biases within the data.
  • Human Review is Key: Don't rely solely on AI-generated content. Utilise human expertise to review and edit AI outputs, ensuring they are representative of your diverse workforce.
  • Embrace Real People Stories: The most powerful employer branding stories come from real people. Showcase your employees' unique experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives. This not only fosters authenticity but also allows potential candidates to see themselves thriving in your company.

A Balanced Approach to Employee Advocacy 

Employee advocacy amplifies your EVP and employer brand and impacts your reputation in profound ways. It is particularly powerful when it taps into human emotions like pride and aligns with values and beliefs. Authentic advocacy resonates deeply, creating genuine connections that cannot be replicated through traditional marketing tactics.

When employees share their real experiences and genuinely believe in the company's mission, their advocacy becomes a compelling testament to your organisation’s culture and values. 

Leveraging AI responsibly plays a crucial role in this process. While AI can streamline advocacy efforts and enhance productivity, it's essential to mitigate biases and ensure the outputs are inclusive and representative of your diverse workforce. 

This balanced approach amplifies the effectiveness of employee advocacy and reinforces the integrity and inclusivity of your employer brand.

If the above strikes a cord, I recommend seeing how Tribal Impact can help you with your employee advocacy strategy.


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About Tribal Impact

Tribal Impact is a B2B Social Selling and Employee Branding Agency.

We're a team of social media strategists, trainers, coaches, content creators and data analysts who are passionate about helping our B2B customers develop and scale their social selling and employee advocacy programs.

Learn more about us here.

Published by Vicki Saunders July 2, 2024
Vicki Saunders