January 18th, 2016
In the 53 years that has passed since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech America has clearly come a long way, however the work of freedom is not finished. If you listen carefully the words of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech are still as relevant today as ever.
While he was speaking primarily to obvious injustices against people of color at in his time - and some of these measures have progressed - specifically, black people suffer less lynchings and can actually directly influence the political process - yet, upon close inspection of facts, it is obvious there is a startling and frustrating lack of progress today. On nearly all fundamental metrics of prosperity we see massive pernicious disparity by race.
How could we have worked so hard and arrived in a place not really that much different from where we started?
I will not insult you with an easy or absolute answer : the 3 step process for racial equality or the 5 reasons things are or aren't as bad as some would claim. Difficult problems cannot be satisfied by the sticky residue of low hanging fruit. I will share my few observations.
I don't know if the world has really become more complex, but it certainly seems like it has. Over my lifetime I have worked for over 10 different organizations in professional and nonprofessional roles and have never met a blatant racist at work (and very few even in my personal life). How much easier it would be to confront the obvious ignorance of racism directly. This type of problem seems it could be tidied up promptly. However that is not our work today. The problem we are dealing with is much much more insidious than this. I can find no racists, but of "unconscious bias" I could dredge up volumes for you. Here is a tidy summary published by the New York Times : Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions. Lacking an actual human descriptor - we are fighting an elusive thief that we are forced to call some inhuman name "unconscious bias".
Who believes in something you cannot see and a story you cannot tell. Imagine the frustration of toiling hard each day, stockpiling the fruit of your labor for tomorrow's meal and finding each night some unknown stranger steals it you in the quiet of the night. You have no way of catching, identifying or accusing this stranger and nobody believes you. Your lack of food must be explained by something else - perhaps you are lazy. You have spoken about it for so long, and this injustice so unbelievable that sometimes even you wonder if you have gone crazy. This is a description of the actual horror of unconscious bias.
One of the things we are doing now, different than in the past is that we are beginning to face this thief directly. It turns out that clever people have devised clever ways of actually catching the thief in the act. Here is a video of great work conducted by People Analtyics at Google, speaker is Brian Welle, a former colleague of mine : https://youtu.be/nLjFTHTgEVU . Brian will blow your mind.
Fundamentally, at its essence People Analytics is about using clever research methods and data to reduce mistakes of human bias, because bias causes us to make worse decisions for our business than we would have made with a more perfect understanding of truth. It was only a matter of time that People Analyticswould turn its attention directly upon matters of diversity too. While justifiable in its own right as an effort for "fairness" or for "the law", but we actually don't stand against bias at work just for these reasons - we actually benefit from truth too. This is not benevolence or charity - that demeans it .
The most astounding thing about working on issues of bias is that when we make decisions with less bias we benefit directly too! If you did not get this point from your reading of the book "Moneyball", or watching of the movie, go back and watch it again - you missed an important detail. They did not do this "diversity thing" because we feel sorry for people who look different or throw the ball weird - it turns out that if you like winning people who throw the ball weird might make great teammates! This is the beauty of all things good and eternal. In truth there is actually no threat to anyone. Open up the door, let every truth come in. The house only expands.
We may never reach a place of perfect truth or perfect answers on this earth, but as I am reminded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I too refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation (as he addressed the United States of America at Washington DC in 1963)
I leave you with his words, which even 50 years later, never fail to bring tears to my eyes. We are not where we wanted to be, but Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is no less prophet if we open our minds, hearts and ears.
"In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
You can find more posts like this and other helpful People Analytics related resources on my Misc- People Analytics blog roll.
Who is Mike West?
Mike has 15 years of experience building People Analytics from the ground up as an employee at the founding of Merck HR Decision Support, PetSmart Talent Analytics, Google People Analytics, Children's Medical (Dallas) HR Analytics, andPeopleAnalyst - the first People Analytics design firm - working with Jawbone, Otsuka and several People Analytics technology start-ups. Mike is currently the VP of Product Strategy for One Model - the first cloud data warehouse platform designed for People Analytics.
Mike's passion is figuring out how to create an analysis strategy for difficult HR problems.
I’m putting together a series of live group webinars where I will be revealing a process for dramatically increasing probability of success of People Analytics - building on a career of success and failures (Merck, PetSmart, Google, Otsuka, Children's Medical Dallas and Jawbone) - and applying new ideas I have developed over the last few years applying ideas from Lean to People Analytics.
The goal of this webinar series is to engage a select group of qualified early adopters, who have access to an organization, are willing to apply the process, report back how things are going, and work out the bugs out together. This group will have opportunity to share their findings with the broader People Analytics and HR community, if you choose.
If you have interest in participating in the webinar series, let me know here: (http://www.misc-peopleanalytics.com/lean-series)
And if you know anyone else who you think would, please let them know too!