From the Executive Director’s Desk: Data Identifies Problems, But Expertise Solves Them

A team looking at spreadsheets and charts

Hello readers – how do you make choices? If you’re anything like me, it probably depends on the complexity of the decision. If it’s about what to wear to a video conference call for work, I just follow my gut for how I want to look that day. But if I were making a big personal investment – like buying a car – I would spend significant time determining a budget and researching models that work within that budget. And then, once I have all that information, I’d probably ask a trusted friend who knows more about cars than I do for their opinion on the best purchase. That’s what I want to talk about today: how to bring together data and expertise in a way that helps make important decisions.  

I’m reminded of an interesting story in The Washington Post reporting that 34 major companies committed to disclosing their government diversity reports, which include troves of valuable data, such as the percentage of senior-level executives who are Black.

Their transparency is laudable, as it demonstrates that they’re willing to publicly acknowledge where there’s insufficient diversity in their organizations. But gathering and disclosing data is only the first step to progress. While data can tell you that Black employees are deeply underrepresented in leadership positions, it doesn’t tell you why that is or how to improve those numbers.

Making decisions based on data requires expertise. When an expert views data, they don’t just see the surface problem, but the hidden challenges that exist beneath the numbers and a pathway to surmounting them.

Here’s an example from my own work: Early in my career as an advocate for survivors, I was part of a state task force in Louisiana responsible for reviewing data on the state’s rape kits and making recommendations to the state legislature based on the findings. Essentially, the state had conducted an audit to determine how many rape kits remained untested throughout the state and found that some jurisdictions had a significant backlog – meaning that in these locations, evidence in potential criminal cases had not been analyzed by crime labs.

Many would immediately view any backlog of criminal evidence as unacceptable and would want legislation to require that all kits be tested. This response is understandable; instinctively, we believe that the more evidence we analyze, the more offenders we will bring to justice. But my expertise – and the expertise of my colleagues on the task force – helped us to see a more complicated story. In some cases, backlogged rape kits are actually properly stored, containing material from survivors who have decided they do not want to be part of the criminal process, an autonomous decision that should be their right to make.

Legislation that mandates the testing of every kit – thus eliminating the backlog – would in practice undermine the right for survivors to opt out of the process. We advised the state to pass rape kit legislation that didn’t broadly mandate the testing of every kit, but instead required that survivors give permission to crime labs before kits can be tested.   

Our expertise allowed us to take a step back from the data, challenge the conventional wisdom about backlogged kits, and make a recommendation that was ultimately in the best interests of survivors.

This month, RALIANCE’s blogs will explore how pairing data with expertise can help individuals and organizations make decisions that enable them to solve core problems. We’re looking forward to further discussing this important issue – so check back throughout the month for more!

RALIANCE provides consulting, assessment, and employee development services to help build more equitable workplace cultures and create environments free from sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse. We stand ready to support your organization’s goals – contact us today at [email protected] to get started.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter