Measuring Experience, Not People

How do you “human”? What is “humaning”? What are “people metrics”? What’s “people science”? “People experience”? Working backwards, isn’t all experience “people experience” if we, as people, experience it? Isn’t the established research field of “social science”, “people science”? Is “people metrics” just counting people? Or perhaps “surveying”? Circling back then, isn’t “humaning” just being? ExistingExperiencing life as a human, presumably what we are all doing?

I ask these questions not (entirely) to be obtuse or critical, but rather to point out that it seems the more we try to understand the experiences of people, as “humans”, (our experiences), it seems the further away we get from what it means to be … human. I am skeptical of any company that tries to convince me that it is human. If you insist on telling me you’re a human, well, I have my doubts. As our working world has turned towards diversity and inclusion, and trying to measure it, I agree that it is important to begin with understanding the experiences of employees, the “people experience”, if you will. But how do we go about it and what do we need?

Part of the work of creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces is understanding that we are all dealing with very different lived experiences. It goes beyond what brings us together as “humans”, to what distinguishes us based on the way we are classified by society, as women, as people of colour. Race, gender and other classifications are societal constructs with real consequences for those who are reminded of their race, gender and other distinguishing factors each day. Whereas when we had more homogenous work cultures, there was an assumed default experience that was largely white, male, able-bodied and straight.

As hard-won progress thanks to social justice activists has opened up career and education pathways to more diverse groups of people, now we on the corporate side must do the work of ensuring equity, making adjustments for the varied lived experiences that make up a workforce. What does it mean to walk into a conference room and be the only woman of colour? What does it mean to have to commute to work each day in a wheelchair? How must we adjust and adapt work schedules and structures to our “people” who must care for other people at home? These are just a few of the questions we must consider if we are to create better workplaces.

How do we begin? Start with “people metrics” or “surveys”, if you like. Collecting this data is crucial for leaders who are truly committed to correcting internal inequities, and not just broadcasting or “woke-washing” for the public. How does it feel to come to work each day, for everyone? It helps to ask. While developing thoughtful questions for surveys is important, bringing in an outside auditor can help in creating safe, open spaces for employees to be candid. In-house HR, and even D&I departments, as well-intentioned as they are, are not always the best suited to auditing their own companies. External auditors (to steal a term from accounting), can bring a microscope, prepared to reveal uncomfortable patterns about the experiences of Black folks, people of colour, the LGBTQ+ community, women and people with disabilities.

Once companies have done the work to bring in external auditors to review their own internal workings, I would recommend bringing in experts who not only understand the language of social activism, but are able to articulate it to engage employees. Naming everyday racism and sexism in the form of microaggression, gaslighting, and unconscious bias is important to build understanding among employees, to ultimately be more empathetic towards the lived experiences of their fellow humans.

Frank Starling is the Founder and Chief Diversity Officer of Variety Pack, specialists in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

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