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The Impact of Signaling Commitment to Ethical AI on Organizational Attractiveness

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As organizations drive the development and deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based technologies, their commitment to ethical and humanistic values is critical to minimizing potential risks. Here, we investigate talent attraction as an economic incentive for organizations to commit to ethical AI. Based on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) literature and signaling theory, we present a mixed-methods research design to investigate the effect of ethical AI commitment on organizational attractiveness. Specifically, we i) identify signals of ethical AI commitment based on a review of corporate websites and expert interviews and ii) examine the effect of selected signals on organizational attractiveness in an online experiment. This short paper presents first results on ethical AI signals and details the next steps. Our research will contribute to the theoretical conceptualization of ethical AI as a part of CSR and support managers of digital transformation processes when weighing investments in ethical AI initiatives.
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Wirtschaftsinformatik 2022 Proceedings Track 7: Digital Business Models &
Entrepreneurship
Jan 17th, 12:00 AM
The Impact of Signaling Commitment to Ethical AI on The Impact of Signaling Commitment to Ethical AI on
Organizational Attractiveness Organizational Attractiveness
Sünje Clausen
University of Duisburg-Essen, Faculty of Engineering, Duisburg, Germany
, suenje.clausen@uni-due.de
Felix Brünker
University of Duisburg-Essen, Faculty of Engineering, Duisburg, Germany
, felix.bruenker@uni-due.de
Anna-Katharina Jung
University of Duisburg-Essen, Faculty of Engineering, Duisburg, Germany
, anna-katharina.jung@uni-due.de
Stefan Stieglitz
University of Duisburg-Essen, Faculty of Engineering, Duisburg, Germany
, stefan.stieglitz@uni-due.de
Follow this and additional works at: https://aisel.aisnet.org/wi2022
Recommended Citation Recommended Citation
Clausen, Sünje; Brünker, Felix; Jung, Anna-Katharina; and Stieglitz, Stefan, "The Impact of Signaling
Commitment to Ethical AI on Organizational Attractiveness" (2022).
Wirtschaftsinformatik 2022
Proceedings
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https://aisel.aisnet.org/wi2022/digital_business_models/digital_business_models/10
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17th International Conference on Wirtschaftsinformatik,
February 2022, Nürnberg, Germany
The Impact of Signaling Commitment to Ethical AI on
Organizational Attractiveness
Sünje Clausen1, Felix Brünker1, Anna-Katharina Jung1, Stefan Stieglitz1
1 University of Duisburg-Essen, Faculty of Engineering, Duisburg, Germany
{suenje.clausen, felix.bruenker, anna-katharina.jung, stefan.stieglitz}@uni-due.de
Abstract. As organizations drive the development and deployment of Artificial
Intelligence (AI)-based technologies, their commitment to ethical and humanistic
values is critical to minimizing potential risks. Here, we investigate talent
attraction as an economic incentive for organizations to commit to ethical AI.
Based on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) literature and signaling theory,
we present a mixed-methods research design to investigate the effect of ethical
AI commitment on organizational attractiveness. Specifically, we i) identify
signals of ethical AI commitment based on a review of corporate websites and
expert interviews and ii) examine the effect of selected signals on organizational
attractiveness in an online experiment. This short paper presents first results on
ethical AI signals and details the next steps. Our research will contribute to the
theoretical conceptualization of ethical AI as a part of CSR and support managers
of digital transformation processes when weighing investments in ethical AI
initiatives.
Keywords: Signaling Theory, Corporate Social Responsibility, Organizational
Attractiveness, Artificial Intelligence, Ethics
1 Motivation
Artificial Intelligence (AI), that is, the increasing capability of machines to perform
specific roles and tasks currently performed by humans within the workplace and
society in general [1, p. 2], is considered a key element for value creation in
organizations and obtaining competitive advantages in the digital transformation [2].
While AI-based technologies are increasingly integrated in organizations [3], they are
also a subject of concern [4, 5] especially due to their complexity and adaptability
impeding the anticipation of adverse outcomes [6]. Thereby, legal guidelines and
frameworks for the development and deployment of AI are still in their infancy and
transferring them into practice can be challenging [6] and is strongly dependent on the
priorities within organizations [7]. Thus, the initiatives of organizations to strive for AI-
based technologies as a force of good which empower humans and benefit society (here
referred to as ethical AI”) are a crucial step for avoiding potential harms and should
be a part of any company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
CSR has its roots in normative ethics [8] and has been defined as an “organization's
voluntary efforts to operate ethically and promote the social and economic welfare of
internal and external stakeholders [9, p. 872]. The view that organizations ought to
take more responsibility for the social and economic impact of digital technologies is
also reflected in the recently proposed concept of corporate digital responsibility (CDR;
[10]). Yet, regardless of normative considerations, the historical development of CSR
shows that economic incentives are indispensable for organizations engaging in CSR
activities [11]. Accordingly, previous research addressed how doing good (i.e., being
ethical) and doing well (i.e., making profit) could be reconciled [12, 13] and identified
arguments in the “business case for CSR” [14]. This raises the question: which
economic incentives exist for organizations to voluntarily commit to ethical AI?
One such economic incentive could be a competitive advantage in attracting and
retaining talent [14] which is one of the most important factors for sustained business
success [15]. Due to demographic developments and changing demands in the job
market, the competition among organizations for recruiting talented employees has
intensified [16, 17]. Thereby, CSR initiatives (e.g., sustainable practices) were found
to increase organizational attractiveness and employer attractiveness [18, 19] as well as
job choice intentions [20, 21]. Moreover, Ronda et al. found that CSR is a non-
negotiable attribute for some applicants: If a company did not meet CSR requirements,
job offers were rejected in 31% of the cases, regardless of other attributes [22]. Thus,
CSR serves as a competitive advantage for attracting talent [23, 24]. Here,
organizational attractiveness refers to one’s (positive) attitude toward an organization
and perceived desirability of entering an employment relationship. The effect of CSR
on organizational attractiveness has been explained with signaling theory [25, 26]
which assumes that CSR initiatives convey information about the companies’ values
and practices. The effect on the perceived organizational attractiveness of prospective
applicants is mediated through perceived value fit with an organization, anticipated
pride of working for an organization, and expected treatment in an organization [18].
Against this backdrop, we suggest that signaling commitment to ethical AI as a part
of CSR could signal desirable qualities about an organization and thus serve as a
competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent. Accordingly, we formulate the
following research question: How does signaling commitment to ethical AI impact
organizational attractiveness?
To answer this research question, we draw on signaling theory, CSR-, and
organizational attractiveness literature [9, 18, 26] and follow a mixed methods approach
to i) identify signals of commitment to ethical AI based on a review of corporate
websites and an interview study and ii) examine the effect of these signals on
organizational attractiveness in an online experiment. Here, we present our approach
and first results for identifying ethical AI signals and the design for the online
experiment. Our research will contribute to the conceptualization of CSR regarding
ethical AI initiatives, empirically test the model of signaling mechanisms by Jones and
colleagues [18] in a new context, and support managers of digital transformation
processes when weighing the costs and benefits of ethical AI initiatives. It could present
a strategy for doing well by doing good [12] and synergistically achieving instrumental
(i.e., increasing profit through improved talent attraction) and humanistic (i.e., social
welfare through a focus on ethical AI) outcomes when developing or deploying AI
systems in organizations [cf. 27].
2 Research Design
2.1 Signaling commitment to ethical AI
To identify signals of commitment to ethical AI, we reviewed the websites of
companies which i) develop and/or apply AI technologies and ii) are listed among “The
2021 World’s Most Ethical Companies” by the Ethisphere Institute. The rating
evaluates the company’s i) Ethics and Compliance Program, ii) Culture of Ethics, iii)
Corporate Citizenship and Responsibility, iv) Governance, and v) Leadership and
Reputation based on company-reported data, supplementary documentation, publicly
available information, and, if necessary, additional research. While it is not focused on
ethical AI specifically, we expected that a software, IT- or technology organization
ranking highly in these areas of ethical conduct is also likely to be committed to ethical
AI. Thus, we expected that the online presence of such companies would provide
informative examples for signaling commitment to ethical AI to relevant stakeholders.
From the 2021 list, we selected companies from the industries “Software &
Services”, “Information Technology Services”, and “Technology” which indicated on
their website that they develop or use AI technology (i.e., Infosys, wipro (IND),
DellTechnologies, HewlettPackard Enterprise, IBM, leidos, Microsoft, Salesforce,
workday (USA)). The websites of these companies were reviewed for information
related to costly initiatives in the field of AI technology and ethics. According to
signaling theory, a signal only conveys information to the recipient if it is costly.
Otherwise, it could be acquired by anyone and thus would lose its informational quality
[25]. Zerbini [26] developed an overview of CSR signals and distinguishes between
dissipative costs (i.e., must always be paid for acquiring a signal, for example hiring an
Ethics Officer) and penalty costs (i.e., must only be paid if signals turn out to be untrue,
for example if a company is sued for not following its own code of ethics). Table 1
shows exemplary signals retrieved from the websites of IBM and Salesforce and their
classification based on Zerbini [26].
To validate, prioritize, and potentially complement the list of identified ethical AI
signals, semi-structured interviews will be conducted with each 3-5 individuals from i)
Human Resources or Management, ii) Business Ethics, and iii) prospective applicants
in the technology sector. The first part of the semi-structured interview includes
questions about the background and position of the interviewee, the perceived relevance
of ethical behavior of an organization in job choice, and if they can think of initiatives
of organizations which make them appear more ethical to them. In the second part, the
identified ethical AI signals will be discussed with four guiding questions: How do you
perceive the costs or difficulty of implementing or acquiring the signal? How does the
signal impact organizational attractiveness for you? How relevant do you consider the
signal from an ethical or societal point of view? What would make this signal
(in)sincere for you? The interviews will be transcribed and coded according to
qualitative content analysis [28]. A subset of ethical AI signals will then be
implemented on the website of a fictious technology company called “Cladus” as a
corporate website is often the first point of contact for job seekers.
Table 1. Examples of signaling commitment to ethical AI
Company
Observable Signals
Classification based
on [26]; new signals
Salesforce
Chief ethical and ethical use officer and
“Office of Ethical and Ethical Use of
Technology” with advisory council
Ethics officer
Ethics committee
Guiding principles (e.g., privacy, safety)
and AI ethics commitment (e.g.,
accountable, transparent)
Code of ethics
Certifications, standards, regulations
(e.g., ISO 27018 for data privacy)
Trust marks
(certifications)
Building awareness for employees (e.g.,
consequence scanning)
Training programs
IBM
AI ethics board, IBM Policy Lab
Ethics committee(s)
Trust and transparency principles (e.g.,
augment- not replace, explainability)
Code of ethics
Open-source software toolkits (e.g., AI
Fairness 360 to find biases)
Corporate disclosure
(knowledge sharing)
European Commission Expert Group on
AI, Global Partnership on AI, IEEE
Global initiative on AI Ethics
Trust marks
(memberships)
TechEthicsLab (with University of Notre
Dame) research collaboration
Research
Self-restriction not to develop general
facial recognition software until legal
framework is refined
Self-restriction
2.2 Impact of ethical AI signals on organizational attractiveness
The empirical evaluation of the website is based on the theoretical model by Jones et
al. [18] as we investigate if the identified signals of commitment to ethical AI increase
organizational attractiveness both directly and mediated by anticipated
pride/organizational prestige, perceived value fit, and expected treatment. Additionally,
as insincerity of the signals might torpedo the effect [26, 29], we include perceived
signal quality as a moderator of the relationship. We formulate the following
hypotheses (visualized in Figure 1):
H1a-c: Signals of commitment to ethical AI increase a) the anticipated
pride/organizational prestige, b) the perceived value fit, and c) the expected treatment.
H2a-c: The effect of the signals of commitment to ethical AI on a) the anticipated
pride/organizational prestige, b) the perceived value fit, and c) expected treatment is
positively moderated by a high perceived signal quality.
H3a-c: The a) anticipated pride/organizational prestige, b) perceived value fit, and c)
expected treatment increase the perceived organizational attractiveness.
H4: Signals of commitment to ethical AI increase the perceived organizational
attractiveness.
Figure 1. Adapted research model [18] of the effects of signals of commitment to ethical AI on
organizational attractiveness
For the main study, we plan to recruit at least 200 participants (matching N =180 in
Jones et al. [18]) who have an educational or professional background in IT. In a
between-groups design, the participants will be asked to imagine that they are looking
for a new job and want to evaluate if Cladus would be a suitable employer. There will
be three groups with different websites: Group 1 (baseline), group 2 (ethical AI signals),
and group 3 (ethical AI signals + general CSR information). This allows for quantifying
the added value of ethical AI commitment. For realism, only positive and a multitude
of ethical AI signals are included on the website. Other potentially relevant factors for
job choice (e.g., salary) are mentioned on the website in all conditions. Following the
methodological approach of Jones et al. [18] we use the same scales for measuring
anticipated pride [30], perceived value fit [18], expected treatment [18], organizational
attractiveness [31], and will derive questions for perceived signal quality from related
measures. For analyzing the data, we aim to conduct multiple regression analysis
including the examination of mediators and moderator effects as visualized in Figure
1. We also aim to examine potential group differences that might result based on the
applied signals. Furthermore, as other studies found CSR to be especially important for
attracting millennials [9] and women [22], we will consider individual demographics
(age, gender, AI experience) to exploratively check for group influences.
3 Conclusion
This short paper proposes a study to addresses the research gap regarding the role of
ethical AI as a part of CSR and a possible economic incentive for organizations to
commit to ethical AI. Organizations drive AI innovation and use, and their choices have
implications for society and individuals. On a theoretical level, the study will contribute
to the understanding of signal-based mechanisms and organizational attractiveness by
transferring Jones et al.s’ [18] model to the context of ethical AI and additionally
considering the role of perceived signal quality. It will also add to the conceptualization
of CSR in research to include ethical AI and potentially add types of signals (e.g., self-
restriction) to existing overviews [26].
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