A Conversation With DiversityInc’s Chief Science Officer Dr. Chang Chung

There’s been so much hype about the concept of “Big Data” in recent years that the importance of the data itself gets lost.

It’s about bettering “the human condition,” stressed Dr. Chang Chung, DiversityInc’s chief science officer, who joined the team in August after working for Princeton University’s Office of Population Research.

“People say the word big data, but I think that will become just data,” Chung explained. Data, he continued, is becoming more abundant, accessible, and transparent. Data is also proving diversity is more than just a nice-to-have, but a must-have if businesses want to be successful.

DiversityInc is at the forefront of this data tsunami.

The way Chung sees it, these data trends are reshaping research and, in the process, our understanding of workplace diversity. “We are generating a lot of data and we also consume a lot of data, but whether data are big or small some principles remain there. You need representative data to accurately make references to the population you are in.”

The flood of such information has impacted the way DiversityInc conducts its Top 50 surveys, and it will shape the organization’s innovative research plans for the future.

Chung, who was born in Seoul, Korea, came to the United States in 1989 to attend graduate school at the University of South Carolina. There he studied computer programming and data analysis and found himself in a pioneering role. He launched the sociology department’s first website early in the digital age when few universities, if any, had websites, and even before Netscape was around.

Today, yet again, Chung sees himself on the ground floor of a society-changing movement with his work at DiversityInc.

“One of the big trends I notice is the transparency,” he said. “A lot of organizations that collect and analyze data are releasing data. More data are open and more accessible. If more data are accessible, we can verify certain claims and, in general, improve the human condition in that way. We are aiming to be more transparent in our work and that trend will continue.”

So, how’s the Top 50 Survey changing?

“There’s a joke about data scientists that 90 percent of what we do is data cleaning, 10 percent is data analysis,” Chung quipped.

The same is true of his work at DiversityInc. “With the data analysis process, the more you put into qualifying and looking in the details and cleaning the data,” he noted, the bigger the “payoff later in your analysis.”

To that end, “We improved data input and checking routines internally.”

DiversityInc has also made changes to the survey:

• Cut more than 60 questions;

• Began working with outside reputable data sources and organizations such as the National Organization on Disability;

• Added two new sections, one about people with disabilities and another about high potentials.

“We also combined two different surveys, one for hospitals and health systems and the other for the other Top 50 companies,” Chung added.

And, DiversityInc is increasingly using more outside and reputable data sources. One example is Thomson Reuters’ market data feed, which is being used in analysis and data processing.

All these things, Chung maintained, are “improving the survey questionnaire itself and the quality of data.”

Looking ahead, there are even more improvements on the way. Chung said DiversityInc is adding data staff; there are also plans to cut more questions from the survey, and initiatives to bring in more data via licensing and also utilizing publicly available data.

There is growing proof, he stressed, that diversity “helps company performance.”

For example, the DiversityInc Top 50 stock index compiled by CNBC outperforms the S&P 500 index in the long term, Chung said. Also, he noted, a recently released comprehensive study of global companies, produced by the Peterson Institute of International Economics in conjunction with EY, shows that having more women at companies employed across management boosts profits.

“Our philosophy is, given all human beings are equal, talents, not the qualifications, should be distributed equally as well,” Chung said. “That means companies who are finding talent, regardless of gender, regardless of race or ethnicity or a host of other dimensions of social differentiations, will get ahead.”

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