When defining their key performance indicators (KPIs), organisations are increasingly incorporating metrics around diversity and inclusion. While this is a laudable effort given historical inequities, it also makes a lot of business sense. Study after study has demonstrated that diverse organisation are more profitable. Given the evidence, why then is it that so many organisations struggle? Perhaps because practical blockers and benefits are not always clear.

We should first acknowledge that diversity is not simply "hiring more woman" or making a team "look like a Benetton ad" as I have heard people remark flippantly. While diversity does encompass gender and ethnicity, the discriminant can also be sociocultural, neurological, or even tenure within an organisation. Given that many of these are not immediately visible, it can take time and tact to appreciate the nature of a team's diversity, and to increase it.

I included this image because it seems like something the HBR would do. Photo by Nathan Dumlao.

Additionally, it is important to recognise that humans are subject to a fundamental bias: homophily, or the tendency to seek out those similar to oneself. While these types of social reflexes can effectively facilitate the formation of communities, these impulses can systematically exclude people and even lead to extremism. Rather unhelpful in our modern professional environment. Yet, there are other reasons to address this unconscious bias.

Reflecting on 2020, I remain impressed by the incredible level of resilience our team displayed. While doubtlessly my freshly minted dad jokes played a critical part in keeping up morale, I believe diversity to have played an even greater role. Due to our varied backgrounds, dispositions, and life stages, we all seemed to contribute different coping strategies to the team. Instead of wallowing together, I felt like my colleagues provided an emotional hedge.

Also outside a pandemic, data leaders should be rushing to embrace diversity. The holy grail of a data team is often to identify a breakthrough insight with analytical sleuthing. Yet any experienced analyst or data scientist knows that code and models are not enough. Human insight is often the catalyst that unlocks this value. The more diverse your team and your analytical community, the more bites you get at the apple, and the more likely your business prospers.

Strategy looks good on paper but if often messy, very messy, in practice. Photo by USGS.

Diversity not only benefits your upside, but it can significantly mitigate downside risk. For analytics teams advising the highest echelons of corporate strategy, nothing is more harmful than a full-throated recommendation to pursue a particular course of action that later proves horrendously misguided. Teams with a diversity of perspectives and opinions have a much stronger immunity to the effects of Groupthink. They are vaccinated, if you will.

Finally, this is the right thing to do. If you work in data, you are very privileged. Hey, if you are a data scientist, you even have the sexiest job of the 21st century. On a serious note, whether you are an engineer or a product manager, you have a job that is generally better paid, offers more autonomy, and has better prospects than almost any other. As data leaders, it is a moral imperative to ensure that anyone qualified has a fair shot at landing such a coveted job.

– Ryan