A conversation with civil rights activist and author Dr. Mary Frances Berry about the importance of data in diversity and inclusions initiatives
COVID-19 has forced businesses to change in ways we didn’t know was possible, and at a speed many had never imagined. The summer of 2020 made something else very clear; while we’ve been agile on digital transformation in business, we have failed to tap data to help us confront deep-seated social justice issues. During Cloudera Now, Cloudera CEO Rob Bearden sat down with renowned civil rights activist and former chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Dr. Mary Fraces Berry, to discuss how data can bolster diversity and help ensure inclusion.
“It is clear that the diversity and inclusion project that we have all been engaged in has not been as effective as we hoped,” said Dr. Berry. That inertia can be traced back to inefficient and unproductive use of data.
According to Dr. Berry, society in general and organizations in particular do a lot of talking about underserved communities, but fail to define those communities and their different characteristics, leading to generalization and a lack of specific action.
Data is regularly, broadly aggregated instead of appreciated for its differences. For example, Dr. Berry referenced a study on admissions at elite schools that found they had grouped all black students together, American and foriegn, into the same category. It had done the same for all latino students.
What the universities missed in this generalized categorization are the diverse concerns that groups of people from different places and backgrounds have, despite sharing racial classifications they are not all similar. Dr. Berry also cited how Native Americans are inclined to concentrate on tribal sovereignty while other indigenous groups tend to prioritize nationalist issues, however, women spread across all groups focus on their issues with patriarchy. Batching demographic groups together dilutes the data, removing its specific value and makes actionable insights harder and less successful.
What does it mean to disaggregate the data?
Dr. Berry believes that we need to disaggregate data in order to be more honest, more actionable and more successful in driving change.
“We need to dive deeper, but also dive more effectively by looking at the disaggregated group data and their characteristics.” If companies begin to discover actionable insights from the rich detail of their diversity and inclusion data, and clearly communicate their intentions and plans, “diversity and inclusion can be made to work,” said Dr. Berry.
Rob agreed, “we can’t be satisfied with just a high level view of data. We need to be able to drive into the storm of data. Pull it apart. Have the specificity to find the hidden gems to glean the real insights. This is how we can use data to move our businesses forward and make positive social change.”
As Rob described in the beginning of his discussion with Dr. Barry, Cloudera is redefining the diversity and inclusion efforts within our own company. To start, we’ve created the position of Chief Diversity Officer and promoted Sarah Shin to the role. We’ve also started a Technology and Equality Consortium and a Diversity Center of Excellence. Most importantly, these initiatives will be driven by data and analytics. Only through data can we discover the insights that lead us quickly to action. We need to take action immediately to create a more equitable world.
I encourage you to watch this session between Dr. Mary Frances Berry and our CEO, Rob Bearden, at ClouderaNow for a fresh look at how data can help us drive more meaningful diversity and inclusion efforts.
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