Boost Innovation With Diverse Data and Analytics Teams

July 18, 2018

Contributor: Christy Pettey

Data and analytic leaders must invest in diversity and inclusion initiatives to overcome talent gaps and fuel innovation.

If you had to choose a team to help your company innovate in the face of digital disruption, which type would you pick? A team you feel comfortable and confident with, full of like-minded people and colleagues who are friends? Or a group that you don’t know socially and may not want to, because they are so different from your usual co-workers?

“Diverse teams feel uncomfortable, but produce better results. The diversity of a team, coupled with a culture of inclusion, can impact the success of the team in terms of business performance, understanding customer needs, innovation and the accuracy of its decisions,” says Rita Sallam, research vice president at Gartner. “In fact, a recent Gartner survey among analytic and business intelligence (BI) leaders indicates a positive relationship between the diversity of teams and business benefits. Data and analytics leaders have an opportunity to lead the rest of IT in leveraging diversity in all forms.”

“ Cross-functional teams with a broad skill set as well as different work and behavior styles will lead to more innovative thinking”

Data and analytics is the centerpiece of digital business transformation and needs diversity to drive innovation and overcome challenges. The gender (and other forms of diversity) gap requires leaders to think of strategies to retain and manage people from diverse backgrounds and build a culture of inclusion.

Gartner has identified three fields in which data and analytics leaders should become active to attract, grow and leverage talent in order to optimize business outcomes.

Improve candidate selection practices

It’s human to be biased. That doesn’t mean that our bias has to be reflected in the way we attract and select talent. Technology and, in particular analytics, has contributed to significant quality improvements in the candidate recruiting and selection process – if managed properly.

“It’s important to keep in mind that every algorithm was initially designed by a biased human being and is subsequently also biased — an opinion embedded in code,” Sallam says. “You should look for ways to minimize this inherent bias. Use diverse datasets and other talent identification and promotion algorithms to mitigate diversity imbalance.”

Once the algorithm has selected a diverse set of suitable candidates, it’s crucial that the interview teams are diverse, too. People tend to hire people who look and think like them and have a similar education and social network. Diverse interview teams increase the likelihood of hiring a broad range of talent.

Recruit from unconventional backgrounds

Once the “seen” diversity (gender, ethnicity and others) is taken care of, the perfect data and analytics team also needs to include a broad range of “unseen” factors such as diversity of thought, knowledge, experience, cognitive styles and perspectives on how to tackle problems.

“In data and analytics, cross-functional teams with a broad skill set as well as different work and behavior styles will lead to more innovative thinking and better outcomes. To achieve this mix, recruiters and leaders have to look for all kinds of personalities,” says Sallam. “For example, a number of leading organizations have specific programs in place that focus on employees with autism. These employees might not be extroverted, but their analytical and systematic mindset can be of great value to a team.”

Create an inclusive work culture

After the recruitment process is completed, the next step is to retain and develop the hired talent. Data and analytics leaders must practice an inclusive leadership style in order to keep the team motivated and invested. Employees need to feel safe when they speak up or propose new ideas and be empowered to make their own decisions. Mentoring and peer programs provide a framework to diversify all levels of an organization.

“Organizations should not only promote an inclusive culture, but really live it,” emphasizes Sallam. “If there is a flexible work policy, don’t stigmatize people who use it, but encourage all employees to take advantage of it.”

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