Data: What Does It Matter?

In her guest column for Douglas magazine, Ruth Mojeed explores the appropriate use and impact of data in effecting lasting positive change for inclusion.

Ruth Mojeed, CEO, The Inclusion Project
Ruth Mojeed, CEO, The Inclusion Project

As a person of colour, I know what it means to be part of the statistics. As a Black woman, I know what it means to be a quota. My day-to-day experiences show me how numbers, or more broadly, data, impact my overall experience. Data, as it relates to policies guiding my ability to access employment or other opportunities, is more than just a number. I am not just a number. I am a whole experience shaped by a myriad of perspectives, so intricate and so complex, yet authentically valid. Deep meanings and nuances are more than numbers can contain. As I reflect on “inclusion” as the “power to be”, I think of my inherent power to name, create and shape a reality that is mine and really mine to create. I think of data – in its most unique and disaggregated form – as the truest way to make meaning, to influence and impact lasting change.

Workplace and other policies are designed by people whose lived experiences shape their view of the world – and of others. Policies do not run themselves or function in isolation from the people who design or implement them. They are validated through action, actions which may include some and not others. Without people with the requisite lived experience and perspective at the decision-making table, policies, processes and systems would only represent predominant views and norms. And systems – even unhealthy ones – have been known to perpetuate themselves. Cultural norms within any organization are shaped by the people within such organizations. HR managers, business leaders, operational leads and others have a shared responsibility to reflect and rethink systemic patterns and how decisions are being made. Better yet, reflect and rethink representation at the decision-making table. This begins with data.

The case for data

Data is how we make meaning. The quest for meaning begins with the need to know; data reveals how (and what) we know. Data is both a unit of reference and a forecast for future patterns and occurrences. Data, qualitative or quantitative, is how we visualize and predict outcomes, for businesses, community organizations or public institutions.  Effective policy and process development require keen attention to data and the inherent nuances, driving organizational planning and implementation goals. Among many employers, a commitment to change in systems and processes is not enough; there is a need for tangible measures for tracking organizational growth and development, long-term. 

Across the spectrum, diversity and inclusion metrics cover a range of social and economic dimensions, including race, age, gender, disability, health status, faith, sexual orientation, socio-economic backgrounds, academic background, family background, professional interests and expertise, immigration status, language proficiency, socio-cultural norms, among many others. While some of these data are obvious, many of them are generally subliminal or often imperceptible, obtainable only by proper solicitation and building of trust with the individual. This process often requires a methodical approach to be entrusted to competent staff or qualified consultants for eliciting relevant and appropriate (personal) data. 

The detail is in the data

It is imperative for organizations to understand the need for disaggregating data. The concept of disaggregating data presupposes that the true value of data is beyond numbers and the implication of such numbers at face value. Intersectionality plays a huge factor in data analysis for systems change. Intersectionality refers to the inter-related or interconnected aspects of a person’s characteristics or categorizations. Intersectional data are the units of measurement that account for different and overlapping dimensions of a person. Carefully curated and disaggregated data will provide clear insight on robust organizational characteristics, workplace dynamics and perception among diverse stakeholders, beyond what would often be deduced from stereotypical assumptions. 

Understanding the disparities in the hiring process will help employers know how to adapt recruitment, retention and other employment strategies to include underrepresented and marginally excluded people groups. With detailed analysis, data can also reveal intricacies and subliminal details about which cultural dynamics predominate workplace practices  as well as better understanding of why certain groups are underrepresented at various levels within an organization. 

Respect: a necessary requirement for data collection

Any form of data collection or baseline measurements require respect in ensuring that harm or inequities are not further perpetuated among groups or communities whose data is being collected. With particular equity seeking groups, such as racialized people, there is a need for consent to be explicitly sought and given, before proceeding to collect relevant data. This process requires a foundation of trust with a systematic approach to collecting both qualitative and quantitative data. It is equally important for the data gathering process to be open, transparent and mindful of respondents’ sensitivities. Historical and systemic exploitation of minorities in the workplace and other spheres of life often lead to mistrust and ultra-sensitivity among equity-seeking groups. 

Following data prompts may also lead to necessary audits and assessment of internal systems and structures, to remove layered or intersecting barriers for underrepresented groups. Objective, non-biased assessments can often be accomplished with the support of external consultants with lived experience and expertise in translating data into meaningful change. Systems change begin with looking beyond the numbers to the lived perspectives of others. 

“Moving with the data” roundtable event

My company, the Inclusion Project, is holding a Partners’ Roundtable on the theme, “Moving with the Data,” March 29 – 31, 2021. It will bring together key stakeholders, senior leaders and executives in government, academia, civil society and the corporate sector. Tickets are available at  https://www.theinclusionproject.com/events/.

Also read: Ruth Mojeed Is Taking Victoria By Storm Promoting Workplace Inclusion

Ruth Mojeed is the Founder & Chief Equity Officer of The Inclusion Project. She brings extensive lived experience and grounded expertise to her work in racial equity, diversity and inclusion (REDI). Her research and solutions design focus on an intersectional and inter-generational approach to address complex issues of race, decolonization and gender equity. She leads organizational EDI strategy development, assessment and coaching among multi-level stakeholders in public and private sectors, including finance, tech, non-profit, media, academia, among others.