Could poor digital employee experience cost your company money? A recent survey says yes—to the tune of $4 trillion in lost revenue for global Fortune 500 companies. The past year has created a number of hurdles—particularly as it relates to facilitating equal access to technology and ensuring adoption and digital literacy.

I recently sat down with Angela Siefer, executive director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and Antonio Neri, CEO, HPE, on the recent Element Podcast from HPE, to hash out how to develop a more equitable digital workforce.

Neri makes the point connectivity is going to become as essential a service as water and electricity going forward. “… when I think about connectivity it has to be ubiquitous, it has to be secure and accessible to all.” To address this, HPE partnered with WEF (World Economic Forum) to create a series of frameworks that can be deployed quickly and make infrastructure available and ubiquitous.

Siefer adds saying the digital divide is not just about access to the technology, but actually using the technology. Some of the biggest barriers to actually getting people to use it have to do with not knowing how to use it, privacy issues, and understanding where your data is. “So, sometimes it is that the infrastructure doesn’t exists. Sometimes it’s that the infrastructure’s there, but it’s too expensive.”

In order to solve this, she says, it is essential people help other people, improve jobs, and education. “In order to get to those human things, we require the human interaction. We think that’s the piece that’s been missing. Not only do we need connectivity to the internet, and we need to get the right device for the job, but we also need those digital literacy skills and that tech support, and those come through people.”

Technology is only as successful as the people who use it. Siefer gives the example of the telephone and how it became more valuable because there was somebody to call. The same can be said about the internet—and any technology. If we limit who has access to it, then we are limiting the possibilities, she explains.

Neri builds on this concept by pointing to the example of AI (artificial intelligence). Leaders have a responsibility to educate the public sector on the technology—with a key focus on bringing inclusion in at the beginning of an idea, not after the fact. “When you come with a policy three, four, five years after the innovation is out, that’s not very helpful, so we got to bring both together at the same time,” he explains.

Siefer also suggests we need to consider whose voice isn’t in the room, asking, “Are you sitting around a table that’s full of white people? Well, then change that, right? Change your table.”

Quite simply, Neri says it begins and ends with the culture—and that the future could be bright if we all work together. He envisions a world with the right policies and leadership to solve the big challenges we have in front of us—and that we can use technology for a force for good.

“And to me, today, the best return for that technology is to solve some of these big challenges,” says Neri. “And we have an opportunity. It’s here in front of us. If we all get together, work together, the private and the public sector, and all companies step up, we can make a difference in this world.”

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #IoT #sustainability #AI #5G #cloud #edge #futureofwork #digitaltransformation #green #ecosystem #environmental #circularworld