Embracing diversity to drive analytical innovation

Over the past year, roundtable breakfast discussions have become a core feature at Corinium events. Designed to provide an informal, safe and welcoming platform for attendees to share their opinions and personal experiences on a range of hot topics, outside the parameters of the Main Conference. Of late, the most pertinent topic has surrounded ‘Women in Data’ – or ‘Data Divas’ at IBM CDO Summits – or, more generally, ‘Diversity in Data’.

Last week, at Chief Analytics Officer, Spring 2017 (CAO Spring), I had the pleasure of attending a session on the former topic, hosted by Daniel Caraviello from Dow AgroSciences and Jose Murillo from Banorte, and joined by over 50 senior data and analytics leaders from a range of industries, geographies and backgrounds. What followed was one hour of free-flowing conversation, reaching way beyond the usual scope of our breakfast discussions. Instead of honing in on gender, race and sexual orientation, the session attacked a wide number of issues relating to diversity and equality in regards to building a successful data and analytics function. In essence, the session became a discussion of leadership, driven by a group of talented and skilled leaders themselves.

Whilst the session concluded that ‘innovation requires a diversity of ideas’ and that ‘the more diverse the team, the more successful and richer the dialogue’, for me, there were 6 main ‘alternative’ takeaways.

1. Listen to the quiet voices

Within the first 10 minutes of the session, the notion of ‘he who shouts the loudest’ was shot down. One of the fundamental ways of ensuring a diverse and successful team, according to attendees, was to ensure that the quiet voices are heard. By creating a culture of ‘no idea is a bad idea’, whereby people feel safe and confident to express an opinion or suggest a solution, you are far more likely to enable innovation. Introverts, especially in the early days of a career, are very common in data and analytics, and it’s critical that these people are ‘given the microphone’, so to speak, so to ensure that their voice is heard and that parity is established with the extroverts. Through a combination of group and one-to-one management, making introverts feel valued will be critical to your data and analytics team.

2. Get to understand Millennials

As a Millennial myself, I always find it amusing when the topic comes up in discussions, at any of our events, or on LinkedIn (usually an article about how lazy we are)  because I often find them to be sweeping in their generalizations. Last week, however, the discussion centred on their importance. Older leaders, it was argued, need to understand Millennials (and understand them quickly) or risk losing them from their teams. Key to this understanding is that Millennials want accountability, independence and guidance, allowing them to think creatively and bring ideas to the table. If you can harness this, your data and analytics team will be richer for it, providing a new perspective on challenges.

3. ‘Don’t hire another you’ – Recruit without bias

How often do you look to hire somebody you can relate to? Perhaps somebody who reminds you of a younger self? This is exactly what our audience suggested you shouldn’t be doing. In fact, they even argued that you shouldn’t be looking to replicate successful hires. Let’s take Rebecca who has a degree from MIT, 3 years experience in industry, a stable, middle-class family from Maine, and has been a fantastic addition to your team. Surely you’d love another person like Rebecca? The argument in the room last week was that this is the opposite of what you should be doing. Seek a range of hires. Different educational and employment history, different socioeconomic backgrounds, nationalities, languages etc. The list is endless. This will ensure the aforementioned ‘diversity of ideas’. To aid this push, our delegates suggested, ‘recruitment without bias’ – apply science to your early stages of recruitment, standardised tests and scoring, without the context (bias) of the resume or knowledge of the person’s background. Furthermore, have separate teams or individuals conduct certain aspects of the interview process. One delegate revealed how he has one team interview for hard skills, a second team for soft skills and, if they pass that stage, only then will they conduct the final interview. This ensures that, not only do your team have a say, but a more diverse range of candidates will filter through.

4. Promotion doesn’t have to mean management

A key area of conversation centred around the necessity to guide, mentor and promote staff. Progression is key to ensuring your team remains successful. To some extent, though, this point ties into the argument around introverts because, as argued last week, progression and promotion doesn’t necessarily need to mean management. For some staff, management is not a good fit. Instead, they should be promoted to positions of greater accountability and freedom, to maintain or even increase their innovation and creative thinking. This can be quite easily stifled if somebody is railroaded into management. The upshot here was to accept that one size does not fit all and that, by managing to people’s strengths, you can ensure a diversity of talents within your team.

5. Think remote?

During the discussion, one delegate raised the issue that the geography of their office can sometimes restrict their hiring process and limit the range of candidates they identify. In response to this, several attendees, suggested that more people should be open to hiring remote-based employees and removing the barrier to entry that can sometimes can with geographical location. Undoubtedly, this is true. In fact, working for a remote company personally, I can speak from experience when it comes to opening new doors for recruitment. However, one counter that was not raised during the discussion is that ‘going remote’ can close other doors whilst opening others. Consider Millennials, for example, who (for the most part at least) desire face-to-face contact and guidance, the atmosphere and social culture of office working – this is lost, to an extent, when going fully remote. It also precludes those who perhaps do not have a suitable home working space – share living, for example. Perhaps the ideal compromise in some cases, then, is a hybrid model, whereby staff meet up on a semi-regular basis – either in the office or a remote working facility – to remove the necessity for regular travel and perhaps a barrier to entry, but without reducing access to personal mentorship and social interaction.

6. Finally, let’s talk about maternity leave…

The final argument to come from discussion was, admittedly, one that I’d never considered in much depth and that is the impact of maternity leave on the diversity of a given team but, more importantly, the overall career progression of mothers. Delegates were in widespread agreement that, on the whole, mothers’ careers often suffer due to maternity leave and not enough is done to ensure that women re-enter the workforce at the same level as when they left. Some argued that, in their organizations, they’ve experienced tremendous results when fully immersing mothers back into their work, responding to their needs and empowering them. One delegate cited an example of how a female employee returned from maternity leave reinvigorated and was promoted sooner than she would’ve been had she not taken maternity leave. The conclusion was that, if you want to ensure that women feel welcome and embraced by your organization or team, their career should not be negatively impacted by maternity leave (and thus deterred from taking it) and they must see real-life examples of how their careers will continue on the same trajectory, in spite of a career break.

For more conversations like these, join us at Chief Analytics Officer, Fall 2017. This promises to be our largest gathering yet of senior data and analytics leaders with over 300 attendees joining us over 4 days of action-packed content and exclusive networking opportunities. Discussions will include, how to shape and structure your team for success, understanding the skillsets required for current and future analytical success, recruiting and retaining top talent and much, much more…

By Adam Plom:

analytics - adam plom

Adam Plom is the Managing Director, Americas at Corinium Intelligence and specialises in creating platforms for the emerging c-suite to converge, address and overcome their most pressing challenges in the ever-evolving digital era.

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