This is the second in a two-part series about how technology is helping companies reach gender equality.

Although the headlines focus our attention on the lack of diversity in business, especially in tech companies, many organizations are diligently working to create more inclusive cultures and they are using Big Data to help them.

You only need to look as far the Diversity Inc Top 50 Award winners to see a list of organizations that have been employing Big Data. These companies have reaped the benefits, and they are the pacesetters in terms of triangulating the Big Data opportunity to Diversity and Inclusion programs.

To get a better understanding of how Big Data is helping companies improve their diversity efforts, I reached out to Kiernan Kim, Global Vice President of Loyalty Strategy at Skillsoft.

Bonnie Marcus: Kiernan, what are the sources of Big Data?

Kiernan Kim: That’s a great question and probably the shorter answer really lies in, “What is not the source of Big Data?” The Big Data sources for diversity initiatives are extensive. If you’re examining things like race, gender, age, location, tenure within the department, that data is typically sitting in an HRIS system. Compensation data, though, could be in yet another system. Succession planning data with all the promotion, attrition, and performance appraisal details resides in a talent management system. Then there are organizations that have reward structures. That data is often managed in yet another system. Engagement surveys and culture work typically sit in a third-party system because they’re often conducted by an independent agency. So it’s probably accurate to say that Big Data lives in almost all the systems that we use.

Marcus: How do companies analyze the data from all these different sources?

Kim: Companies turn to a combination of two things. They turn to analytical software tools, of which there is an abundance. They also harvest the talents of a data scientist. A data scientist is someone who not only has the statistical background but also possesses business acumen and the ability to actually communicate to leaders. The data scientist can take those analytical tools and all the different sources of data, and they can help you figure out what problems to solve, and when it’s best to solve them. There’s also a layer of analysis that sits on top of data that can inform diversity strategies.

Marcus: How do these companies use the data?

Kim: Organizations fall into two different categories, those with existing diversity programs and those who have yet to give birth to some diversity programs and they need the business data justifications. The first group of organizations with existing diversity programs are going to be able to tap into Big Data for insights that they’ve yet to appreciate, about the underserved or underrepresented populations. With the help of Big Data, they can advance the state of their Diversity and Inclusion programs. As an example: It would be customary for an organization to have a scorecard or some sort of construct in which they benchmark themselves against a uniform standard. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a good example. That type of data collection in the world of data analysis is called structured data. It’s predictable. It’s counted. It’s very formalized. But with the advent and all the excitement around Big Data, an organization can monitor conformance to that benchmark using unstructured data. The unstructured data, in the land of Big Data, doesn’t have any kind of predefined data model. It’s not organized. It’s pretty chaotic. A good example of one is an organization’s social platform. How do they communicate and connect their employees? There could be scores of dates, numbers, texts, idioms, jargons, lots of different acronyms that you could point a Big Data lens toward to inform, and thus mature, a Diversity or Inclusion program. You might find insights in that unstructured data that can help advance and mature the inclusive work culture.

Marcus: If an organization is just starting and they don’t have a diversity program, how does Big Data help them do a baseline assessment?

Kim: When an organization has been struggling to define a broader agenda for a diversity program, they can tap into Big Data to accelerate that business case. For example, there’s a lot of research that points to the fact that balanced leadership in organizations results in statistically outperforming peers, against a traditional male-dominated leadership structure. If an organization has been making that case for quite a long time and has yet to be able to see budget and resources for Diversity and Inclusion program, they can actually point to some pretty sophisticated practices that Deloitte recently published. They found that those companies with more mature diversity programs were outperforming their peers at a rate that was two times higher in terms of cash flow per employee, than those who didn’t have a diversity program; or certainly not a mature one. In fact, more than 100 different practices were analyzed. The ones that were focused on Diversity and Inclusion were the ones that actually showed the best predictive capability of company performance. So if you have yet to really crack the code on the business case to make that organization invest in a diversity program, you can point to research like that and start to accelerate and advance the organization’s imperative.

Marcus: That’s extremely valuable. I’ve always wondered why more companies weren’t buying into the established business case for diversity.

Read the full article on FORBES.com

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