Data and diversity panel ODI Summit 2018 (cc by 2.0)

Data and diversity: views on approaches and ‘uncomfortable truths’

Thu Apr 25, 2019
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What are the incentives for measuring diversity? How can diversity data be collected safely and used well? These questions and more were discussed on the Data and diversity panel at the ODI Summit 2018

What are the incentives for measuring diversity? How can diversity data be collected safely and used well?

These questions and more were discussed on the Data and diversity panel at the ODI Summit 2018, chaired by ODI Head of Content Anna Scott.

Speakers included: Amy Turton, Diamond Project Manager at the Creative Diversity Network (TV industry’s diversity monitoring project on behalf of the five main UK broadcasters); Christine Forde, Workforce Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Greater London Authority (GLA); Georgia Thompson, Civil Engineer and STEM coach; Mark McBride-Wright, Managing Director, Equal Engineers; and Zamila Bunglawala, Deputy Director of Strategy and Insight at the Race Disparity Unit, Cabinet Office.

Uncomfortable truths

Zamila Bunglawala, Deputy Director of Strategy and Insight at the Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit, opened by discussing the government’s Ethnicity facts and figures website, which publishes UK ethnicity statistics as open data. “We in the UK have the best equality data in the word – that is true,” she said, “but where is it published, how accessible is it, and can non-expert users understand it? They were the key questions.”

Another key aspect was to identify “uncomfortable truths,” said Bunglawala. “We do know in our society that ethnic minority groups fare worse in certain industries and sectors – for example in education and employment. What we didn’t know is how widespread those disparities are.”

The project was a huge undertaking: “Doing a stocktake of all government [diversity] data, and then putting it on a website is massive: no government has done it before.” Bunglawala explained that accessibility was crucial. “We tried hard – partnering with the ODI – to make it accessible so that in addition to academics and expert users, the public can actually utilise this data.”

The goal is for people to use that data to take action, explained Bunglawala. “And since we built the website last year, we’ve announced various policies: on school exclusion issues; on mental health issues; and on improving employment for ethnic minority groups,” she said.

“The one I’m most proud of is a consultation on ethnicity pay reporting, building on gender pay reporting,” she said. “And I think this is the way forward for data, especially on inequalities – to actually make it accessible, to make it transparent, and to allow any user to download it, take it away and do something with it.”

Initially, there was resistance to building the website: “Government departments said ‘we already publish this – what’s the issue?’; diversity groups said ‘we don’t need a website, we know what the problem is’,” said Bunglawala.“You have to take people with you on the journey. People will not trust you if they don’t know what you will do with the data. Now we’ve built it people love it and I’m really proud of that. People can now see what it’s leading to because they can access it for the first time.

“If they see themselves as users and beneficiaries of that data, maybe that will lead to better collection of data. But we don’t talk about data in that way yet. That’s part of the challenge.”

A reflection of society?

Amy Turton (Diamond Project Manager at the Creative Diversity Network), said that similarly to government data, the broadcasting industry collected diversity data, but wasn’t being held centrally or consistently collated. “The idea was to put together one single database of who is working in television across the UK.”

And the benefit to broadcasters? “TV content is obviously about good ideas and creativity, and that requires new ideas and new people entering the workforce,” she said. “They wanted to understand where they were missing an opportunity, and where certain protected characteristics were being underrepresented.”

Audience expectation is another important element, said Turton. “One of the questions that we try to answer through the data that we collect is – are people seeing representations of themselves on screen?”

The project has already seen results: “The project has brought the whole industry together to talk about diversity –  and the production sector. It’s changing the conversations that broadcasters can have with the production companies.”

Transparency and accessibility are important, said Turton, making the point that previous reports could be lost or overlooked, whereas the new system is accessible, transparent and allows for comparison, monitoring and impact assessment over time.

“It hasn’t been an easy thing to do,” she said “especially as the broadcasters are competitors. But it is one area where they were keen to work together, recognising that it would be beneficial for all of them.” The fact that the broadcasters already used a shared platform to collate data about the programmes, including details of staff and actors, helped to streamline the process. “It was a case of expanding the system that they already had,” said Turton.

But the tricky part is deciding what to measure. The Creative Diversity Network collects against six protected characteristics: gender, gender identity, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and disability. Turton noted the importance of collecting data ethically and effectively, adding: “It was really important that people knew how we gather the data, how it would be stored, and what we would do with it. That trust is really important.”

The changing landscape of protected characteristics can make it hard to communicate diversity data, said Turton. “A lot of protected characteristics are mutable and different year-to-year which makes people think it’s wrong, rather than question why it might be different.

An additional issue is that “most people don’t know what to do with data”. Turton noted that people are unsure of how to collect, store and use the data effectively, pointing to a need to improve data literacy.

Measuring and reframing

The – often overlooked – fact that improving diversity benefits everyone, is an important point in the diversity discussion. “It’s a shame that you have to trundle out the McKinzie report analysis that shows, on aggregate, that more gender-diverse boards have greater returns,” said Mark McBride-Wright of Equal Engineers, adding that highlighting these universal benefits is important, particularly to help engage privileged groups in diversity discussions.

“Unfortunately for the group that need to be convinced [business leaders], they sometimes need to have a personal activation point to start emboldening and fully supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives,” said Mark McBride-Wright. “And it’s usually because they’ve got a daughter, or someone who’s experienced some inequality: they all of a sudden become supporters.”

The conversation has to be conducted in a way that “doesn’t shut down the white, cisgender, able-bodied men in the profession,” he noted. This awareness and acknowledgement of privilege is also crucial: “They have to accept that they do have privilege, and it’s about creating a way that they can use that position of privilege to the advantage of others. But you have to create active listeners first.”

To address the (very human) ‘what’s in it for me?’ question, McBride-Wright suggested “flipping the gender conversation on its head and focus on masculinity in engineering”. As an example, he said there is a lot more engagement when focusing on how the gender pay gap also has negative effects on men – in terms of overwork and skewed expectations – which can be attributed to the gender pay gap. “Helping the executives have that personal connection – to override having to quantify it as a return-on-investment – to help them empathise, is one of the most successful points, said McBride-Wright.

“That’s why I focus on diversity of thought and experience,” he said “because health and wellbeing affects you irrespective of your gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc.” Adding that, when trying to bring along a wider audience “…reframing the conversation proves to be more effective,” he said, rather than focusing solely on the benefits to particular underrepresented groups.

He discussed the natural fit of engineering and data. “Demystifying is the key. In engineering, we love measuring and monitoring,” he said, and also noted the business sense in gathering and acting on diversity data. “Diversity seems to be the only thing that isn’t treated in such a way – like we would safety or quality. What other business process would you not baseline to know exactly where you are now, then bring in interventions, then reevaluate further down the line?” he asked.

McBride-Wright also discussed the importance of having a truly comprehensive diversity policy, noting sexual orientation, disability and other non-surface characteristics as the ‘hidden elements’ of inequality that must be included in any policy design. “Too many [policies] are reactive and just look at gender and race,” he said, and noted that building trust within workforces relies on faith in the robustness of the process.

Inclusion–diversity balance

“I think the focus needs to be more on inclusion: diversity in recruitment is a quick fix,” said Civil Engineer and STEM coach Georgia Thompson. “Inclusion is harder to measure,” she said, adding that it is worth giving it the time and attention as it can have a self-perpetuating effect. “If you have an inclusive culture and environment it will naturally attract diversity, because the people that come in will feel more comfortable.”

Christine Forde of the Greater London Authority agreed: “When places aren’t inclusive, people leave,” she said. She noted the role of training, in particular around unconscious bias, to help people understand how bias might affect their decision-making processes. Diversity specialists need “to work with leadership and managers to help them understand what an inclusive culture is, and how people feel,” she said.

Thompson agreed, noting that senior-level sponsorship is a vital element to a successful diversity and inclusion strategy. Board-level colleagues needs to be committed to the BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] groups within organisations, explained Thompson. “If the board-level staff are not committed to them, they’re ineffective – they don’t have any power or influence over changing that culture.”

Tokenism is also a pitfall that many organisations stumble into, noted Thompson. “It’s dangerous to rely a small group of people to contribute to these decision factors  – an experience from one person from a particular group doesn’t reflect everybody,” she said, adding that this can happen when diversity is seen as a tick-box exercise.

“What gets measured gets done”

Building a successful diversity and inclusion agenda involves having “real leadership and a real belief that it’s important,” said Forde.

How to cultivate successful diversity in companies? “That’s where the data comes in. You need to appreciate what you organisation actually looks like,” said Forde. She pointed to campaigns that have been successful: “The gender pay gap data has really made organisations take note,” she said: “It’s that burning platform that you need to propel action.”

But as well as reporting you need to act, she said. “You need to close that gap. It’s about translating the data into achievable actions and monitoring that they are delivered. Governance is crucial. It’s the old adage: what gets measured gets done.”

“As part of the mayor’s ambition to lead by example, the GLA published its gender pay gap data, a year before it was legally required. This year we’ve published our ethnicity pay gap – before it was legally required.”

“As a result of the ambition to make the organisation as diverse as possible, in terms of representation – but also as inclusive as possible in terms of culture – we set up diversity and inclusion management board,” said Forde.

A success factor is the senior-level representation on that board. It is chaired by the chief officer and “the mayor’s chief of staff and the staff networks chairs are on the board. We have parity of influence and can hold people to account on actions,” she added. “We have indicators on our dashboard – and is absolutely right that they are there as part of core business.”

Nudge and comfort

Discussing the ethics of diversity data collation, Bunglawala stressed the importance of data and digital standards when building the Ethnicity facts and figures website. “We spoke to GDS [Government Digital Services], to the ONS [Office for National Statistics], and the ODI,” she said, noting that “a website about data will only be useful if people trust it – and that has got to be based on what standards it follows.”

User testing in the design phase was also crucial. “Academics, NGOs, policy officials, local and central government, members of the public, expert groups. We tested with all of them, and we said ‘tell us what you want to see on this website’.

“The data has to inform your policies,” she said, adding that people “shouldn’t be afraid of targets – they’re not quotas.” She recalled the reaction when there was a target around women on boards – some people said it was unethical. “We were told: ‘You can’t do that because it’s tokenistic’. Turns out it was a very good move, as we have lots more women on boards.”

Although the civil service is increasingly diverse at the junior levels, “it is not very diverse by ethnicity at the senior levels.” This needs addressing by setting targets, outreach work and supporting people within the organisation. “We also need to encourage boards to offer paid board roles, not just expect them to be volunteers – that could be an inhibitor.”

Small-scale tactics can also work. “We need nudge; we need incremental changes.” The aggregate effect of many small nudges – eg ‘How diverse is this meeting?’ posters – can be very powerful.”

Thompson also agreed that targets and visions are crucial: “There’s an assumption that things will just change – that it’s natural that things will change. But they have to be targeted” she said. “We need actual numbers. You can’t just say ‘we want to improve’. You can’t hit a target you can’t see.”