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How to use data to create a more equal and inclusive workforce

Article by Sruthi Mohan, Senior Solutions Engineer, Cloudera

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives are crucial to creating and fostering a thriving workplace, helping to spur creativity and innovation as well as to improve employee engagement and business performance.

For DE&I initiatives to be successful, organisations should not treat them as a box-ticking exercise but rather an opportunity for using data to better inform and equip their programmes. By doing so, businesses can establish a truly equitable and inclusive workforce.

Data breaking down bias

There has been much discussion about using the power of data to enhance technological efficiencies and customer solutions, but what about when it comes to developing a more equitable environment and breaking down biases?

By capturing data on employee demographics, a business can better understand the diversity of its employees, the equity of its internal policies, and identify any trends of potential concern.

For example, rather than only outlining the ratio of males to females within a business, it can go further to highlight how many of those females are in leadership positions compared to their male counterparts. At the same time, it can spotlight anomalies when it comes to retention, engagement and promotion rates.

Tapping into data for the use of DE&I crucially allows businesses to diagnose internal discrepancies and eliminate any unwanted bias that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

At Cloudera, we are doing just that by using data to examine and address wage gaps between employees who are comparable in terms of years of experience, role and responsibility – ensuring compliance at all levels and eliminating discrepancies.

Moreover, to level the playing field for underrepresented communities, we have committed to regularly providing financial contributions to non-profit organisations dedicated to creating a more equitable environment for those groups.

 Using data to enact change

To better understand how we use data to drive diversity forward and create positive change, we spoke with renowned civil rights activist and former chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Dr. Mary Frances Berry.

She noted that many DE&I projects that companies engage with are not as effective as they could be due to inefficient and unproductive use of data. As such, it is important that organisations collecting a high density of diversity and inclusivity data find a way to disaggregate that data.

By doing so, businesses can discover the nuances that need to be overcome for them to create initiatives that truly tackle the related issues. In turn, they are better positioned to communicate their intentions and take action that manifests into positive change for employees.

At Cloudera, we believe data is vital in the pursuit of diversity and organisational effectiveness, and it’s this belief that led us to create the Technology for Equality (TeQ) Consortium – an open digital platform that enables individuals and groups to address bias and equity using data, analytics, AI and open-source technology tools.

It’s human nature to have blind spots when it comes to interpreting our understanding of how others are feeling, and often our biases are unintentional. Here, the goal should be for each of us to recognise and have a greater awareness of our unconscious biases and develop methods that are able to overcome them. Only then can we truly create policies and initiatives that are inclusive of the entire workforce.

Diversity of thought

While we have discussed how data can be used to highlight where marginalised demographics persist, it is also imperative to understand why it is important for businesses to achieve a diverse and inclusive workforce. One reason is that it encourages and facilitates diversity of thought, meaning a greater range of mindsets, thought processes and perspectives can be found within an organisation’s workforce.

Having diversity of thought at all levels is critical for businesses to have a better chance of troubleshooting problems and for fostering innovation. These differences can then be harnessed to an organisation’s advantage.

Take for example the role of the data scientist. Research indicates that the discipline has a gender gap which is problematic as its related fields play a key role in shaping society, so having equal and proportional representation is important. It’s no secret that men and women think differently – with women typically being more empathetic and compassionate – so it stands to reason they are likely to interpret data differently. This is important when working with data models that impact real-life decision-making especially when we consider that women are more communicative than men, enabling for better collaboration and problem-solving.

For this reason, businesses must look to create a diverse workforce that encapsulates different groups and backgrounds as it allows for greater representation and the bringing of new perspectives and insight to the table.

If not, businesses might find themselves recycling the same ideas and be out of tune with their customers’ needs – limiting their potential growth. To help tackle this problem, we’ve launched Cloudera Now, a initiative we’ve built to illustrate best practices when it comes to how companies can use their data for the greater good, such as their DE&I initiatives.

Power of data 

While it’s positive that DE&I initiatives are becoming part of the boardroom conversation, organisations must look to ground these initiatives with insights based on data. Only then can businesses identify where inequalities persist to take the decisive action required to remedy them and be able to start harnessing workforce diversity not only for their competitive advantage but for the benefit of society.

Sruthi Mohan featured

Inspirational Woman: Sruthi Mohan | Solutions Engineer, Cloudera

Sruthi MohanSruthi Mohan is a Solutions Engineer at Cloudera in the DACH and Central EMEA region. In this role, she works across multiple industry verticals to help architect modernised data platforms.

Prior to joining Cloudera, Sruthi honed her skills and built her career working with companies such as Cisco and SAS Healthcare and Lifesciences. Sruthi is a strong advocate for diversity in the workplace and currently sits as a D&I Advisory Board Member at Cloudera.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

Having studied Environmental Studies, with a focus on Chemical Engineering and a minor in Economics and Business, I’ve found my somewhat untraditional tech education incredibly useful for my career development.

For example, my minor in Economics has proven immensely helpful when navigating value management conversations, understanding what market potential exists for my customers  and informing them on why Cloudera is the right solution for them. On the flip side, my interest in environmental sciences has helped shape my understanding of the wider industry and supporting our customers in this space. In both cases, it has been the problem-solving mindset I’ve learnt throughout my education that has really equipped me for my role today in technology. It’s all about the skills you learn and how you apply them. It doesn’t matter so much how you get them or what you apply them to, so long as you can align the two, you’re on the road to success.

At present, I am focused on ascertaining where my key strengths are and how I can optimally make use of them for my current job role and industry that I work in.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I was never the girl in school who sat down and had her year on year career plan. However, as I’ve developed through my professional life I have started to curate a plan around my own board of directors to ensure my career is going in the direction I want. Simply put, this is the idea of having not just one career mentor but multiple, offering different perspectives and helping to shape your career progression. After a colleague first brought up this notion of having a personal board of directors for your own company – yourself – it made me question; what does a board of directors mean to me, who do I want to have a seat at the table and what role will they play?

For me, it was important that the members of the board were invested in my life, willing to let me vent when things weren’t going to plan and there to give me honest feedback at crucial moments. Having input from people who are going to cushion the truth and tell you what you want to hear is ultimately not going to take you in the right direction. As such, these members have often been those closest to me, such as my mum and dad as well as my best friend.

Secondly, I realised at this stage of my career, it was important for me to include people that I didn’t know that well and who I didn’t work closely with. This has been invaluable for me in gathering an ‘outside’ perspective as sometimes you can be too close to a task to have clarity. I was able to receive guidance from others on things I was or wasn’t doing well in a way that meant no long-term relationships were in danger of being damaged.

Lastly, and what has been most important for my current board of directors and career, is ensuring that I am accountable as chairman. And this would be my advice to anyone looking to build their board of directors – you can get counsel and guidance from your board but it is you who is ultimately responsible for the decisions you make.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

When I first started out, I suffered a lot from imposter syndrome. Questions of whether I belonged there were asked on a daily basis and I had an initial worry I wasn’t capable enough. Looking back, I suppose it was nothing out of the ordinary for someone working their first ‘proper’ job. I’ve managed to overcome this feeling by learning to accept within myself that I am good enough for the role I was hired for. On this journey, I have actively requested advice from others, asked questions and sought mentorship to lay these self doubts to rest. My managers have played an important role in bolstering my confidence in the technical sales space and making me recognise that not only could I achieve my goals but I could always go that one step further.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date would have to be dealing with what seemed a major professional setback at the time in a positive way. It all started with keeping a positive attitude throughout it all which led me to see the “setback” as an opportunity to reflect, reassess and act, rather than a disappointment.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Mentorship has and always will be key to my development. Part and parcel of this is having access to a blend of strong male and female mentors to provide fresh perspective and guidance on the journey.

Within such a male-dominated industry as tech, I’ve found it extremely useful to first have a fleet of male mentors. Men often don’t see the same ‘ceilings’ on ambitions that some women have grown to internalise. In my experience they have helped challenge and provide alternative viewpoints to support my progression. Seeing that men don’t encounter the same challenges as women, and that they tend to focus on what they can do – rather than what they can’t – by default, has given me the encouragement to adopt a similar mindset and do the same. That being said, it can’t go unmentioned that female mentors are equally as valuable. Unlike our male counterparts, I’ve encountered first-hand how female leaders can relate to the issues that we as women face, offering a level of empathy and understanding.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Go for it! We want you in the tech industry to shake up old ways and bring a fresh perspective to the field so we can drive positive change for future generations. By bringing true diversity to the tech sector, you and I can help overcome gender biases and challenges such as better informing AI to lessen prejudice and inspire new talent into the industry. My overall advice to women is to be your authentic self, be bold and don’t hold back.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are certainly still many barriers for women in tech. This was an industry predominantly designed by men and they continue to be the heavy majority today. So first of all, for example, less representation is a starting barrier. This then also bleeds into other obstacles experienced as well. But they can all certainly be overcome and I think the best approach to do that is to change the obstacle into an opportunity. For example, I can use my lesser representation as an advantage – I am able to really hone in on my uniquely different perspective to challenges we face on a daily basis. This has particularly come in handy in customer conversations to add diversity of thought to an issue.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

The technology industry needs and wants more women in tech, to bring a new, more diverse, offering to the business. However, to make this happen, we need to see an institutional interest in attracting more women into the space. Companies need to drive greater awareness around the avenues available to women, the benefits that come, and how they can create real societal impact. What’s more, this encouragement for women into technology roles should also be reflected in educational systems and via government support. It is only when this holistic approach is taken will we really start to see meaningful change.

The accessibility to support systems and internal programs within companies is also vital to support women’s progression within technology. It is for this reason that I am a D&I Advisory Board Member at Cloudera, working to encourage a more diverse workforce. As part of this, we have a committee in place that meets on a regular basis to discuss and reflect on these matters. The committee also arranges inspiring sessions from a DE&I perspective on a monthly basis. Beyond this, we have multiple newsletters that guide us with suggested books and blogs on this topic. Most importantly, we are a group of employees who genuinely care and prioritise diversity issues and that is reflected in each and every one of our day-to-day interactions with one another.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

This is a tough one, as I’m not sure if there is one thing that can change but rather it is many small things changing all at once that usually results in a large acceleration. However, if I had to pick one, I might choose to invest more in getting young girls into STEM programs. Your career progression unbeknownst to you, can start at such a young age, based on the types of content and situations and opportunities we are exposed to. As such, it is crucial we get in there as early as possible to help inform and shape the minds of the next generation and open them up to every opportunity available to them.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

I love reading and so I can recommend many books, but I don’t believe they necessarily need to be women specific for women to be able to benefit from them. HBR’s Managing Yourself which is a collection of articles on this topic was one of my recent reads that was a favorite. Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion was also wonderfully insightful especially given that I came into reading this book from a pre-sales perspective. Grit by Angela Druckworth, while also not just about technology was also inspirational in that it made me question and find the source of my “why” or “raison d’être” which then further helped me find the grit to push through challenging situations – a lesson learned that is relevant for life but also specifically my professional role.