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Why diversity and inclusion matter

Being from Kentucky, on occasion I like to share a bourbon and good conversation with friends and colleagues. Being a tech startup CEO with a moonshot mission, I don’t have time to do the bourbon part as often as I might like.

But I always take time to chat with anyone interested in my business. I call my approach “optimizing southern charm.” That phrase is about how I act, always ready for a chat, maybe over a bourbon or two. I’m easy to talk to, very open to collaboration, interested in new ideas and ways of doing things. I’m more up for listening than I am for speaking.

Yes, who you know still matters.

But even if you know everybody, if your idea isn’t any good, it’s quite unlikely to succeed.

As society evolves, merit is rising again as the key definer of success.

Profitability has become the greatest equalizer.

So if revenue is what matters, what is the value of diversity? What’s the ROI of inclusion? And how does weather hold possibly the greatest potential of opportunities for diversity and inclusion?

We’re in the business of predicting how weather will impact business in the coming years. I’m going to make a shocking admission here.

I’m a weather geek.

It was weather, after all, that brought us to Grumpy Cat.

It was the human toll of severe weather that caused citizens to demand that their government release life-saving data.

In March of 1993, the storm of the century that hit the East Coast was the first predicted storm.

Image from NOAA

Using only a computer model, meteorologists predicted the storm’s severity and duration a full five days in advance. This was a game changer. But few, if any, actually did anything.

40 percent of Americans in 26 states felt the effects. Up to five feet of snow fell in affected areas. 60,000 lightning strikes were recorded as the storm swept over the country for 72 hours. From the same storm, 208 people were killed by tornadoes, storm surge, and snow. In today’s dollars, the cost was more than $9 billion, making it the most expensive storm in US history.

Attention paid to weather forecasting surged and weather changed the way humanity collaborated in science. The need to collate and analyze the data made the nascent internet more relevant overnight. So you can blame weather for all those cat videos.

The world of data science was born and had quickly come of age, and became extremely powerful.
Today data analysis is the basis of most of our commerce, driving everything from stock markets to the commercial value of cat videos.

So how are we managing our data?

We taxpayers pay for billions of dollars worth of federal weather research every year.

Inclusion in access to that data is life for companies like ours. We’re using it to change the way the world responds to severe weather.

The problem with creating a new way of thinking is that people don’t believe the knowledge can be created. So it helps to have as many diverse points of view as possible, to increase understanding.

It might look like we are in the data or weather or insurance business, but really, we’re in the knowledge business. We’re using machine learning and artificial intelligence to create new sets of wind data that even the National Weather Service doesn’t have, for example,

And within those new sets of data, we are deliberately diverse and inclusive.

As algorithms make more and more decisions for us and about us, we must make
sure those decisions are actually fair.

Current thinking holds that artificial intelligence could be a great equalizer, and on its face value, it has that potential. And while AI makes decisions based on math, it is still a function of the defining algorithm, right? And so AI reflects the bias of its creators.

Weather analysis demonstrates that we are capable of global collaboration for human good.

Thousands and thousands of amateur weather observers gather data and send it to their governments around the world.

Every day, twice a day almost 900 balloons are released into the atmosphere, in almost 900 different spots around the world, including 93 in the US.

Thousands of buoys maintained around the world by various countries relay information about ocean currents.

And almost all of that information is shared with everyone else.

The benefits of this are as formidable as the weather systems themselves. Everyone benefits.

This is true inclusion – the opportunity to access data to create new ways of using it for profit and good, as our mission states.

Because we all benefit, we should all be part of the conversations about how data is gathered and used.

But we are seeing a sudden, sharp decrease in public access to the data our tax dollars have produced.

Information inconvenient to current policy is being sidelined. Information that was once easily accessible to the public has moved to locations that are harder to find, access and interpret. Other data has entirely vanished or is no longer being gathered.

Without knowing the data, how can we improve, and how can we participate? This doesn’t affect just our company, it affects every American.

We must make conscious efforts NOW to keep data open, and embed diversity in these natal data sets, because they are the foundation of every other data set to come. Diversity now yields value forever.

Society is changing color, but if your efforts to diversify are only about color, you’re missing the point, which is that racism just isn’t profitable any more.

One of my favorite MLK Jr. quotes is: “There is nothing more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

And I am just going to come out and say it: Most diversity and inclusion initiatives fall into the former category: sincere ignorance. They look and sound great. They are usually well-meaning too.

But a vast number of these initiatives prove ineffective within a year or two. Why? Sincere ignorance.

They fail because they ask and answer only one question: How can we acquire, train, and change diverse employees for them to succeed and thrive in our culture?

Diversity initiatives are too often viewed as  (expenses), rather than as profit centers (investments) to drive influence in the workplace and growth in the marketplace.

The answer isn’t a melting pot, where individuality is lost, it’s more a mosaic, where we are each unique, diverse and crucial parts, fitted together to make a stronger and more beautiful whole sum. Skin is the biggest human organ. It literally holds us together. But it’s what’s within our hearts that drives our actions. Diversity of thought is what drives success.

It is ok to be different where you work?
To be disabled?
To share and consider unpopular but challenging ideas?
Are you mindful of your employees’ and/or colleagues’ unique differences?
Do you value trust through transparency, even from the top down?
Do your employees and colleagues share the unique ways their cultural values influence how they think?
Do you empower your employees and/or colleagues to challenge your opinions and perspectives, or is there only one “way of thinking?”

It’s the subtleties that matter.
And bourbon.

Where I come from, there is a single, legal definition of bourbon. For a whiskey to be considered bourbon, the grain mash must be at least 51 percent corn.

But there are an infinite number of ways to interpret and express bourbon flavor. Trust me on that one. The adjectives that describe bourbon flavor could fill a dictionary. It’s those variances that fascinate us, bring us back, and keep us wanting more.

It’s the same principle for Diversity and inclusion. They’re about detecting and encouraging the value of those fine differences.

Stop creating a bunch of new programs with new titles that serve only the company’s needs.
Gain respect by actually listening.
Value difference.
Convert talent into strategy.
Realize full potential.

So where do we start?

Inclusion should begin at birth.

This about teaching kindergarteners boolean search skills, and the magic of compounded interest.

It’s about letting all children envision a future where their efforts matter.

It’s about making sure we don’t lose any individual’s potential to help humanity and maybe even save us all.

Make your company more like bourbon, where the subtleties are precisely what makes the product great.

 

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