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Tearing The Data Apart

Ruthie: Yes, I’m very excited for this episode! I attended one of Dr. AJ’s webinars and she said the phrase, ”Disaggregate the data to find intersectionalities.” And I was like, “Yes, that’s it! That’s it right there!” I have a ton of data-minded people in my network and I’m really into this topic. I’d like to start with the value. So what types of things do you find when you disaggregate data?

What Do You Find When You Disaggregate The Data?

Dr. AJ: Well, when you disaggregate the data you actually find that people are far more diverse than you realize, and that diversity is not being included. For instance, Asian Americans are said to have a higher median income than white men, and that Asian Americans are on par with white people for leadership. 

However, they’re only talking about a very, very specific subset of Asian American men, who are not actually on par with white people. That’s because these are Asian American men who have at least 1.5 degrees more than their white counterparts.


So when you control for that, you actually realize that people who are more qualified are getting paid on the same level. The aggregation of the data misses that point. 

Data Aggregation Can Hide Data Points

It also misses the point that when we talk about Asian Americans, there isn’t that much representation in Asian American women’s leadership. Asian American women are still tokenized. Also, let’s break apart this umbrella term “Asian American”. 

Ruthie: I was about to say! That covers a lot of people, right?

Side Note: What About This Term “Asian American”?

Dr. AJ: As Asian Americans, this was a term that was put on us by the white mainstream America. We don’t identify as Asian American. I don’t go around saying I’m Asian American; I’m Indian American. 

If you want to talk about Asian American representation in general, there’s a lot more questions that can be asked. How many Nepalese people do you have?

And Burmese people?

What about Bangladeshis?

How many Sri Lankans do you have?

How many Micronesians do you have?

What about the different genders?

Their nationality and immigration status?

What about their education level?

Are they married or not?

What about their sexual orientation? 

Uninclusive Workspaces for LGBTQIA+

By the way, you’re not supposed to ask about that by EEOC standards, yet we still find that nearly 47% of people hear bisexual jokes and 33% gay and lesbian jokes in the workplace. Around 68% of the American workforce thinks that somebody’s sexual orientation is something that’s completely irrelevant to their workplace, but sure! Joke about it. 

Heteronormative people can sit there and talk about what they did with their child or spouse, but somebody who’s in a polyamorous relationship doesn’t have a space where they can talk about their partners. Can you imagine what judgments they would face? 

Ruthie: Quite a few. 

Dr. AJ: When you disaggregate the data, these are the truths that come out of it. Data aggregation makes the visible invisible, or the invisible even more hidden. That’s why we absolutely need to disaggregate the data. This needs to be done if we want to get to the reality of what our employees’ lives are like, so that we can meet their needs and help them thrive. 

EEOC Standards Vs. Asking Direct Questions

Ruthie: So what’s the fight between the legality of asking someone these types of questions vs. the legal compliances from Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Dr. AJ: Well, EEOC standards keep changing, but they’re also being dictated by those from outside of these marginalized groups. The majority of the leaders who are making these policies are still educated, affluent white men. They don’t understand the reality of the intersectionalities of other people’s lives. 

Because of the way all of these factors intersect in somebody’s life, their lived experiences are very unique and different. I think it was until 2010 that Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders and native Hawaiians were all in one group. Our needs are very different. 

Ruthie: Yeah. Those are some very disparate cultures. 

Dr. AJ: Yeah, exactly. Compliance is the bare minimum to be politically correct, but we need to go past that political correctness. We need to go to what people’s needs are, in order to be able to really move the needle toward inclusion. Again, it really boils down to disaggregating the data and looking at it. You can aggregate it after you disaggregate it, you know what I mean?

Ruthie: But get everything you can from it. 

Dr. AJ: Exactly. Get everything you can from it because nothing else is going to do justice. 

The Use of Aggregated Data for Unethical Purposes

Ruthie: There’s a lot we can learn from the data and the subsets of data. As a former government worker, I’m always thinking about ways that information can be used. It’s possible that all of the aggregated data could be used for unethical purposes.

When you’re working with your clients, are there particular steps that you counsel them on in order to avoid these unethical uses? Or even just PR disasters. There are people who tend to just slap these diversity photos up on their website. 

Dr. AJ: I mean, that still happens ethically; legally. When you talk about organizational culture, artifacts are a huge part of that. That means the posters, mugs, hats, etc. You have all these posters with smiling people of all colors and some kind of a catchy phrase, but what’s the reality of the interactions in that workspace? Are these poster children even being included in those interactions? 

We Learn Early About Unfairness

Those types of things can get tricky, but not really. Because we are able to tap into that need to belong and that innate need for equity. You have 4 kids. I have 1 kid. What was the earliest that your kid said, ”That’s not fair, mom!”

Ruthie: Ooh, that’s tough! Even if my 2 year old doesn’t say it, she certainly acts like it’s not fair. 

Dr. AJ: Even a 2 year old knows what she needs for a situation to be equitable to her. 

Ruthie: Oh! Just this morning, I gave the kids granola and yogurt in a bowl, and she had one of those yogurt pouches. But my husband was like, “You should probably give her some cereal in a bowl, because she’s about to notice that she didn’t also get a bowl.” She’s very much like that. 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

We Have an Innate Need to Belong

Dr. AJ: That is literally how young we are when we realize the sense of fairness. Think about that. We laugh when our kids say, “That’s not fair, mom!” That is the innate need for equity. That is the innate need to belong and say, “I want what’s my fair share.”

But that somehow gets brainwashed out of us. We conform into these silos because we want that paycheck; because we’re beholden to our employer; because at some point, people forgot that companies were actually created for people, not the other way around. 

Tap into your humanity. Tap into that innate need for equity, which comes from a place of genuine curiosity and vulnerability. All of us have not belonged at some point in our lives, and we’ve all been treated unfairly. Probably even Ivanka Trump at some point. I’m not sure about that one, but the rest of humanity has. We’ve all felt this way, so it’s not a matter of ethics. 

If you’re tapping into your humanity, why would you think about using that to somebody’s detriment? If you’re thinking about using that to somebody else’s detriment, then you’re not coming from a place of curiosity, vulnerability, and true leadership. You’re coming from a place of greed, insecurity, and God knows what else. Unpack that junk first. 

DE&I Data-Related Resources

Ruthie: You actually have something in your lead magnet that includes data, right? 

Dr. AJ: I’m a social psychologist. That’s a big component of everything that I do. That’s why I’m able to spout off all these numbers off the top of my head; they just stick. So I’m like, “Alright, let me see what I can do with it.”

There’s a checklist that helps you see if your organization actually has inclusive metrics, like performance metrics, DEI metrics, and data analytics on the information that you’re collecting. And are you using it the right way? 

“Is This Unethical?” Yes!

One last point about the ethics is that if you’re in a position where you’re thinking, “What I’m about to do is possibly unethical.” Then yes it is. 

Ruthie: The answer is yes! 

Dr. AJ: If you have done all of this other work and you’ve come to that, take a deeper look at everything you’ve done. If you’ve done everything the right way, that question should not come to your mind. If it is coming to your mind, then yes. 

Ruthie: Right. If you’re over there looking like the Wolf of Wall Street, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should

Dr. AJ: Exactly.