5 Questions with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Data Scientists Stempathy (8/27/18)

Welcome back to 5 Questions, a series of enlightening profiles on exceptional people who make Health Equity Partners so unique.

This week, with back to school in full motion, we thought introducing our friends at Stempathy was in order. Rene Martinez-Johnson, Jill Craven, and Jane Ni are women passionate about educating and advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. What makes them different is they take a very rigorous approach to what data they collect, how they collect it and how it informs coaching clients. By demonstrating the value of why DEI is so critical to any organization, Stempathy then provides program-building guidance to improve all facets of DEI: recruiting, hiring, on-boarding, engagement, professional development, etc. As working scientists and engineers who happen to be women, they know what makes a STEM brain tick.

Stempathy co-founders Rene Martinez-Johnson, Jill Craven and Jane Ni

Stempathy co-founders Rene Martinez-Johnson, Jill Craven and Jane Ni

HEP: Why did you start Stempathy?

Stempathy: Working as engineers, we had firsthand experience of the importance of ‘soft skills’ to the success of projects that are, on the surface, purely technical endeavors. We started facilitating diversity workshops for our colleagues using material provided by the company, but found that it did not resonate with a technical audience (poorly labeled graphs, little data to support conclusions, etc.). Simply put, we thought we could do a better job. Now, our vision for Stempathy goes beyond diversity-as-headcount; we know that a workforce in which each individual is seen, heard, and valued is critical to the success of an organization.

HEP: These days, it seems like there are hundreds, if not thousands, of diversity and inclusion trainers out there. Which is great, but it also creates concern around who is truly intentional and holds a deeper vision beyond say, an anti-bias training workshop. What makes Stempathy different?

Stempathy: Our education and experience allows us to address the specific concerns of scientists and engineers. There is a common belief that science is objective and value-neutral and therefore the work of scientists is not susceptible to the biases that exist in society. We shine a light on the power inequalities inherent in science in order to reveal blind spots and cognitive biases. For example, the vast majority of lab mice used in experiments are male due to the mistaken belief that female mice are more hormonal and result in more experimental variability. At the same time, we know that using data to change minds is relatively ineffective; instead, Stempathy utilizes the latest findings in psychology to change intuitive reasoning.

HEP: We’re big fans of orgs like Kapor Center in Oakland and their Leaky Tech Pipeline platform. What are other orgs and/or individuals besides Stempathy doing similar efforts to bring more data and science into DEI work?

Stempathy: We recently read this paper [summarized in The New York Times here] in which the authors conducted a randomized controlled trial to study the effects of workplace wellness programs such as health screenings and fitness activities. Most interventions had little effect on health expenditures or absenteeism. But surprisingly, when the authors also analyzed their data as if it were an observational study — simply comparing employees who participated in the programs with those who didn’t — they found statistically significant effects! This is likely due to selection bias: those who participate in wellness programs are different to start with than those who don’t participate.

This result is an important reminder that the nitty-gritty details of experimental design and statistical analysis require careful consideration and should not be overlooked when designing a study or reading published results.

HEP: As a HEP partner, you know the value of understanding how behavior impacts the day to day workplace. Can you share a more personal story that led to you starting Stempathy?

Jill: Sure, I can share mine. I’ve worked in several intense environments in my career, and in my most recent job as a development engineer in a semiconductor factory, I became pregnant with my first child. My manager and teammates were supportive and caring as soon as I announced the news. Over the course of the pregnancy, I modified my hours and tasks — I switched from 12 hours shifts to 8 hours, reduced my on-call work, and modified many of the physical tasks normally required by my job. One might think a team could become resentful of a teammate not able to carry out all of their functions, but my team was the exact opposite. They brought me chairs to encourage me to sit, and carried heavy components that I was no longer able to carry. No one hesitated or was annoyed. It was not what I had expected at all. This support and kindness made me want to return to work 6 months after having my daughter. Had my team behaved differently, perhaps I would not have wanted to come back.

HEP: Thanks for sharing this, Jill. For all of you: if you were to pick one dream client, who/what would it be?

Stempathy: Our goal is to work with companies who are passionate about Stempathy and are committed to doing the work of improving equity and inclusion. So it’s hard to pick a dream client without having a conversation first! That being said, a company like Boeing would be pretty high on the list. They have made great strides recently: in 2018, they made DiversityInc’s list of top 50 companies for diversity for first time. There is still lots of work to be done, however. For example, their executives are still overwhelmingly male. Technology is constantly changing the nature of jobs, and making many aspects of work easier, but the challenges of managing a team that is cohesive and dedicated to a common goal without stifling creativity and originality remain the same.