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Use Data to Level the Diversity Playing Field

In this special guest feature, Jen Grant, CMO of Looker, makes the observation that if you’re talking diversity in business, you have to speak data. Percentages of the workforce that are women, people of color, gay, transgender – these are the metrics that businesses are measured against, and leaders often talk up their numbers when they compare favorably to peers. Jen spent the last 15 years building powerhouse brands from the ground-up. As the first executive marketing hire at Box, she oversaw its growth from a small “consumer back-up” start-up to an industry-leading enterprise content collaboration company used by the majority of the Fortune 500. After Box, she spent a few years advising Homebrew’s portfolio, on the board of directors of nonprofit K-12 Team, and led the rebranding of Elastic as CMO. Prior to Box, Jen spent 4 years at Google leading the Google Apps EDU, Gmail and Book Search marketing teams.

If you’re talking diversity in business, you have to speak data. Percentages of the workforce that are women, people of color, gay, transgender – these are the metrics that businesses are measured against, and leaders often talk up their numbers when they compare favorably to peers.

This leads to an inevitable backlash, as it reduces a major topic to a set of dry statistics that miss important distinctions. Should a Russian immigrant who worked their way through college while supporting a family be lumped into the same category as a privileged MBA from Connecticut, just because they’re both white men?

These critics, including Evan Spiegel of Snap, have a point. But they are missing a huge opportunity: the ability to use data not only to measure diversity, but to create it.

Data Haves and Have Nots

Most companies are experiencing a bottleneck when it comes to access to data. Tomasz Tunguz and Frank Bien in their book, Winning With Data, describe this as a “data breadline.” Where only a few at the top have access and can get insights into what is going on with the business. The rest of the company has to wait in line, struggling to get the analysis they need or the access to even a small set of data to do their own.

This bottleneck issue is exactly the kind of ‘have and have-nots” that can decrease the diversity of ideas in an organization. Typically the leadership – where are biggest gender and ethnicity gaps are found – have access to the data, while others do not. This encourages an environment where those without all the information tend not to share their ideas as it can become easy for those with the data to shoot them down with facts.

In many ways, data within an organization plays the same role as education. Just as the Russian immigrant can use a high quality bachelor’s degree to open doors that would otherwise be closed, access to data empowers women and minorities to take their ideas to the highest level.

Data Silos Encourage HiPPOs 

In other companies, silos of data emerge where everyone grabs whatever data they can find and does their own analysis in a ‘silo’.  While the access to data is a huge improvement, the analysis that everyone is doing can be wildly different. Bringing meetings to a standstill as the various participants argue over whose data is right, even over how to define important business metrics like revenue or active customers. This – again – leads to a poor environment for encouraging diversity of ideas because conversation reverts back to the ‘loudest person’ or the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) being the ultimate decider.

Level the Playing Field

One company – Avant – solved this by giving access to their centralized data platform to the entire company. Then everyone can access the same data and do their own exploration and analysis – all while the data analysts make sure that everyone is using the same definitions of the data and the same business metrics.

At this point, you can imagine the objection that often comes up around diversity initiatives: cost. Leaders will say that they would love to implement such solutions, but there simply isn’t the budget. Yet a 2016 report from  Credit Suisse report states “As we re-run our dataset for 2016, we find those investors focusing on those companies where gender diversity is an important factor in their strategy continue to be rewarded with excess returns running at a CAGR of 3.5 percent.”

In other words, diversity is good for business. Providing easy access to data can be a boost to the bottom line – and that’s one set of numbers that everyone believes in.

 

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