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Ideas Made to Matter


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Evan Apfelbaum is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, so for him, exclusion has been ingrained since childhood. While Apfelbaum was a professor at MIT Sloan, he recorded a “Data Made to Matter” podcast about his research on behavioral science, highlighting the potential of a diverse workforce. Apfelbaum is currently an associate professor at Boston University.

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“Managers, laypeople need to be much more sensitive to where people are coming from, why they would be concerned, and how those concerns would diverge from the ones that they hold. So I think that is a lesson that I've learned myself within the research and one that I think can go a long way.

I mean, when we collect data, many people want to achieve a situation in which race is something that is comfortable for people to talk about and doesn't have to be a source of conflict, but the path to getting there is a little bit bumpy and people have very different ideas about how to do that. And I think a large part of this is that people are mostly attuned to their own concerns and what makes them afraid, and much less able to step into other people's shoes and think about why they may think about it differently.”

Data that matters

“What we find is that African-American women respond more similarly to African-American men than they do to white women, and we think that's the case because race is a much more salient characteristic in these settings. People tend to self-identify in terms of visible characteristics that really are distinctive or stick out in that environment.

I think that that's such an important feature of this research because it really suggests that — certainly not to say that white women and African-Americans are the same — but they have similar concerns when they are in 5 percent or when they're in 40 percent and that suggests that those numbers are driving a large part of the concerns that they have.”

What should you focus on in the future?

“I see [in] a lot of organizations, a lot of goodwill [is] actually there that maybe wasn't there decades ago. People are concerned with more than just not being sued. They really do see making diversity work as something critical because, irrespective of whether this is something that morally or politically they favor, the fact of the matter is … when you start thinking forward and planning for what contemporary organizations will look like, where the best talent is going to be coming from in the future, it involves non-white males and it involves figuring out how to speak to those individuals. And those individuals are going to be less likely to come to an organization that has nobody who looks like them.”


What to read after you listen

Diversity in tech a ‘people problem’ in need of a management solution 

Evan Apfelbaum, helping firms craft diversity plans, makes best professors list

Hacking diversity with Hubspot’s Katie Burke

For more info Meredith Somers News Writer (617) 715-4216