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The Truth Behind Diversity Numbers

Two studies reminded me today that behind every data set, there are people. And sometimes they can tell us more about the real world than just numbers alone.

The first is a new survey commissioned by the software development company Atlassian, who was looking to better understand the attitudes about diversity held by employees across the technology sector. It was a bit of a head-scratcher. Despite the industry’s dismal representation numbers across the board, employees tended to think that things were mostly okay at their own HQs. Among the 1,400 tech workers polled, 83% say diversity in tech is important, but only half believe improvements need to be made at their own firms. High-level talking points about inclusion don’t seem to be trickling down.

“While we see CEOs and the heads of diversity talking about it, what really matters is what those frontline workers and everyday people think and feel about diversity because that’s where the real cultural change is going to happen,” Aubrey Blanche, Atlassian’s global head of diversity and inclusion told Fortune’s Grace Donnelly. Click through for more analysis, but there’s another interesting tidbit in the findings. “Almost half of respondents said they cared more about diversity after the election and one in four reported that they changed their own workplace behavior as a result,” reports Donnelly.

Here’s another snapshot of workplace sentiment that caught my eye. A recent piece by New York Times columnist Neil Irwin asked an important question about the information we collect, and whether social scientists could help governments make better policy decisions than, say, economists. (See my blurb below for more on this.)

He cited research by Ofer Sharone, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who surveyed unemployed or job-seeking white collar workers. Turns out there are emotions at play that aren’t readily apparent in data alone. Because corporate work is both personality and credentials-based, says Sharone on his website, unemployment launches a high-stakes “chemistry game” that requires a job-seeker to present the perfect “self” behind their skills. In a desperate attempt to be a good culture fit, a nearly impossible task, rejection is quickly internalized as a personal failure. It’s not them, it’s you. “Job seekers in the United States fearing that there is something wrong with them, often become deeply discouraged and cease searching,” he writes. (This dynamic is not true in Israel, he says by way of comparison.) Typical advice – which is usually some version of More! Positive! Attitude! – just makes things worse. Though his book, Flawed System/Flawed Self: Job Searching and Unemployment Experiences, digs deeper, his message is clear: The more your self-worth is tied to your employment status, the more emotionally painful any setback is going to be.

Now imagine being a third generation coal miner looking for work at a big box store. Or a fifty-something accountant interviewing for a low-level position with a manager her daughter’s age. Or a developer team lead who wants to jump up a notch, despite significant competition. What’s diversity got to do with it?

I’m curious to see how tech leaders respond to the Atlassian survey information. Maybe a different conversation needs to happen to help front line leaders feel more comfortable managing the messy day-to-dayness of inclusion. With so much emotionally at stake for people in the work place, asking them to unmask their perfect selves, even in a minor way, might feel like an impossible lift.

Maybe that’s why it took a shocking existential threat – like a sudden travel ban or the marked increase in hate crimes – to help people break through any subconscious resistance to real talk and meaningful action. When supremacy is writ so large, individual acts of inclusion are more than just second-hand emotions. They become the heart and soul of work.

On Point

A hate crime in New York City and the media reported the victim’s arrest recordWe are going to learn more about Timothy Caughman in coming days, the 66-year old black man who was rummaging through recyclables on the street when he was set upon and stabbed to death by a white man who had traveled to New York to specifically target black people. The story is horrific. But mostly what we learned in initial news reports was that Caughman had 11 prior arrests for petty crimes, and lived in transitional housing. “This gratuitous emphasis on alleged crimes committed by black people in a story where such information is immaterial echoes a history of media publications using black criminality to implicitly justify black death,” says Mic’s Zack Cheney Rice.Mic

Black women and girls are going missing to an alarming degree and nobody is talking about it
There were some 15 open cases in the D.C. area alone, and that was just in January. With the exception of Teen Vogue and Essence, few media outlets are talking about the missing girls and women, and related tweets from police departments are barely touched. It reminds writer and activist George M. Johnson of “missing white woman syndrome,” the term used by social scientists to describe the focus the public has on the plight of missing white girls, while ignoring others. That we are still talking about JonBenet Ramsey and not, say, Relisha Rudd, speaks volumes. “Even still,” he writes, “the majority of the outlets reporting these cases are those with a predominantly African-American audience, and it has yet to get the attention of major network news.”
The Grio

To be told to “go back to your country,” when you are an American
Gautam Gandhi recalls the first time he was called a terrorist. It was while driving to the Boston-area funeral for friends who had died on American Airlines flight 11, on 9/11. “Get the hell out of my country and go home,” a driver screamed, shocking him. Gandhi was born in New Jersey and has a stellar resume – which includes a new business development gig for Google. He has seen things get worse, not better since 2001. “I am a brown man, and subject to the stereotypes and assumptions that come with my appearance, despite my American upbringing, education, and tech industry resume,” he writes. But Gandhi is calling for a different kind of raised voice. “Rising anti-immigrant sentiment isn’t just about Indian Americans at traffic lights, it’s anyone deemed culturally ‘different’—whether it’s because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or religion,” he says. That’s something to scream about.

Report: Black entrepreneurs face unique barriers that if overcome could add $55 billion to the economy
A new report from the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, a non-profit that supports microbusinesses, finds that desire for entrepreneurship in the black community is high, but there are three areas where black business owners face unique barriers. The first is the “wealth gap,” which speaks to a historic lack of personal resources. The second is the “credit gap,” a lack of equal access to capital markets. Then finally comes the “trust gap,” which describes the persistent institutional biases that prevent them from effective networking and partnerships. “There is a myth that Black people aren’t motivated to start their own firms, and are pushed into business ownership mostly due to unemployment,” said the AEO President. The report was funded by the Kellogg Foundation. Click through to download.
AEO Works

Taking diverse design teams to heart
Here’s a stat that will take your breath away: the only artificial heart on the market, designed by men, fits some 80% of male heart patients, but barely 20% of women. It’s just too big. This design bias is causing deadly outcomes. Though men and women are afflicted by heart disease in equal measures, “Women are more likely to die while waiting for a heart transplant,” explains Vice’s Rose Evelth. “And the artificial hearts available aren’t designed to fit them.” But it’s been twelve years. What gives? Capitalism, she says.

The Woke Leader

Maybe the economists could take a seat for a while
We take a lot for granted by basing our lives on the wisdom of economists, with their chewy ideas about rational behavior, perfect information, and labor markets. But, argues Neil Erwin, our overreliance on them as pundits and advisers mean that our societal prescriptions are unduly influenced on one narrow point of view. But what if sociologists ruled the airwaves? You know, the people who actually study how people and societies function? Instead of talking about falling unemployment, we might learn more about the addiction, depression, and loss of dignity that inevitably cripples entire communities when jobs are lost. And more importantly, we’d come to value those insights to a greater degree when making policy decisions.
New York Times

Baby Boomers: A generation of sociopaths?
So, I haven’t read the book, but this review was so irresistible that I wanted to bring it to your attention. In his new book, A Generation of Sociopaths, writer and venture capitalist Bruce Gibney puts forth the controversial notion that baby boomers are selfish, impulsive and exhibit a shocking lack of empathy, specifically the white, middle-class ones. Citing mental health data, he claims that they exhibit more anti-social behaviors than other cohorts, and their money, power, and sociopathy has helped create a society that is deeply dysfunctional and takes more than it gives. They were all raised basically the same way, he says. “They came of age in a time of fairly effortless prosperity … They really just assume that things are going to work out, no matter what. That’s unhelpful conditioning.” He also cites permissive parenting and television. I share this, in part, as an exhausted Gen X’er looking to take the blame off the millennials for a hot second.
Huffington Post

The gig economy is killing you
Told one way, the story is grim: A pregnant Lyft driver desperate for work accepts a ride while having contractions and nearly gives birth in her car. Told another way, by the company’s comms machine, it is a tale of hard work, dedication, and entrepreneurial spirit. Writer Jia Tolentino calls big business to task for the way they are messaging the difficult lives of their gig workers who are increasingly working themselves to the bone for marginal Tubmans and no benefits. “It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms.” A must-read. 
New Yorker


So when it came to role models, I looked at presidents’ wives. Of course, you’re talking about a farm girl who stood in the fields, dreaming, years ago, wishing she was that kind of person. But if I had been that kind of person, do you think I could sing with the emotions I do? You sing with those emotions because you’ve had pain in your heart.
—Tina Turner