To Know Us is to Love Us: Developing a Culture of Data-Informed Inclusivity

Ron Williams
@DrRonWilliams – Twitter
@Ron Williams – LinkedIn

It’s been several months of observing and learning since I joined the Nation of Makers Data Team during the summer. The experience has been great and I’ve thought a lot about what to write in my inaugural blog post. My introversion dictates that I think deeply before I share outwardly. I also really want the post to be an objective presentation of the data and an informed narrative about what the data may mean, at least from my vantage point. I also must admit; it’s my introduction to many of you. With a smiling face, I accept the reality that first impressions matter.

Environmental Changes

It’s probably wise as we collect data regarding diversity and inclusion to do so considering what’s taking place outside of the Nation of Makers. Pew Research Center publishes their findings regarding demographic trends every April. The 2017 report is the most revealing about changes projected to have an impact over the next few decades. The 10 Demographic Trends by Pew Research Center (Table 1) suggest that we will be a millennial-dominant, diverse, less affluent populous who will be better served if we consider trends now, rather than later. Becoming more aware of who we are as a community of makers and interested parties will facilitate our ability to embrace external realities, become more self-aware, and develop the relational competencies necessary to advance collaborative economic growth.

Getting to Know Us

The data tell a story and provide a “snapshot” regarding life as experienced by the respondents. It’s the lens through which we see ourselves and become comfortable with who we are. If the data is clear and accurate, it provides a platform for strategic action. I’m reminded of the value of regular data collection every week when I engage in my routine practice of checking my weight. Regardless of whether the very accurate, digital data that appears on the bathroom scale is to my liking, it provides the information I need to develop my “theory of change” and take what I believe to be appropriate action. Then, I do it all again the following week.

The 2018 Membership Survey provided insightful data about the respondents.  While we are just beginning to examine who we are in matters of diversity and inclusion, the survey is a great starting point. We are not yet collecting data on a wide variety of diversity and inclusion indicators such as the recently identified list of 17 potential demographic indicators by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) (Table 2). However, as we make progress in efforts to learn more about ourselves, collecting at least some of these indicators will have value.

The 2018 survey provided data in three broad categories: demographic (i.e. racial, gender, age), climate (i.e. acceptance, respect, safety, work-life balance) and accommodations (transportation, facilities, equitable access).  Looking across these categories can help tell a story of a community of common interest and work. 

For instance, the demographic indicators reveal a largely homogeneous group regarding race and gender.

  • 40.9% middle aged (45-64 years)
  • 64.7% between ages (30 -54 years)
  • 70.2% male
  • 84.7% Caucasian

Social homogeneity, while inconsistent with demographic trends identified by Pew Research Center, suggest a set of relational qualities that represent unique organizational and interpersonal learning opportunities when working collaboratively with much more diverse populations. Sameness in groups has traditionally been the result of shared value systems that may have racial, gender, and age correlations. However, in a society moving rapidly toward diminishing cultural barriers, “othering” is becoming less a function of values-based sameness within a demographic group (i.e. age, race, gender). Othering is more recently described by sociologist such as Rawls and David (2006) as “a process that occurs over the course of interactions,” one encounter at a time. Even in regional geographic pockets where less racial diversity exists, situations emerge that provide opportunities for trans-cultural collaboration for mutual economic benefit and innovation (e.g. rural urban collaboration). This phenomenon doesn’t eliminate divisions based on more traditional categorization. However, the divisions are less able to diminish collaborative potential as cultural intelligence is improved.

The 2018 survey dataset regarding diversity and inclusion climate provides information about how respondents “feel” regarding their environment or situational interactions. It’s important in the pursuit of inclusivity to address the issue of implicit or unconscious bias when considering emotional responses to social realities. The active and passive participants in social interactions have biases that will influence their interpretation of events. There are nine types of unconscious bias (Table 4)

Feelings are often influenced by one or more of these biases; yet, the bias doesn’t diminish the consequences of the action. The trust required to build relationships and to embrace growing diversity in an inclusive manner requires an open, ongoing conversation about bias.

The NoM Membership Survey responses revealed that:

  • 71.5% always feel comfortable expressing themselves and their personal beliefs 
  • 82.4% always feel safe talking about or being accompanied by their spouse or partner 
  • 67.8% report always or usually their art/products are perceived as having value to their peers
  • 55.9% always or usually see people who looked like me are represented in marketing materials and publications
  • 65.6% always or usually don’t have to think about being the only person of their identity in the room
  • 95.2% feel accepted, welcome, and like they belong in their space

Table 5:

The high percentages in categories relating to “feelings” are common in homogeneous groups. For example, it’s not uncommon for most participants to feel “comfortable expressing themselves and their personal beliefs” in groups composed of those who are culturally similar. It’s when cultural dissimilarity is interjected that discomfort emerges. Likewise, if the room is composed of only same-sex couples, it’s unlikely that anyone would feel unsafe introducing a same-sex spouse or partner. There is a necessity to analyze the cultural composition of the of reporting groups regarding similarities and dissimilarities to be able to propose remedies that will facilitate inclusivity.

The highest indicator in the climate category is the 95% of respondents who reported they “feel accepted and welcome in my space; …feel like they belong.” A sense of belongingness is one of the pillars of “community,” a frequent word used to describe makerspaces and their stakeholders. The spaces provide a physical space where artists, creatives, innovators, scientists, crafts persons, entrepreneurs, and others can gather and form a unique community. The community is largely defined by relational markers such as trust, transparency, cultural competence and intelligence, and other elements of belongingness. When there’s a feeling of belongingness, you don’t have to be consciously concerned about who’s in the room that shares your identity or whether peers are going to perceive your art or product as valuable. Belongingness comes along with an inherent license to simply “be,” not concerned about playing to the judgments of those who perceive you as “the other.”

There are many factors that may influence equitable access to tools. However, in the context of makerspace communities, factors such as family circumstances (e.g. young children at home, single parent families, etc.) may be potential barriers if childcare options are limited or financially out of reach. The 2017 Pew Research Center report informs us that two-parent households are on the decline. This brings attention to a situation that will result in a data-informed response if our maker communities practice all the tenets of design thinking, innovation, and uncommon solutions. In Baltimore, it means partnering with groups such as “Moms As Entrepreneurs.” Partnerships are best when tailored to the data-informed profile of your space. However, 86.4% of respondents to the NoM Member Survey reported “never, rarely, or sometimes” having family demands as a barrier to participation. The same is true for the question regarding transportation. As one who is  aware of urban transportation barriers for underserved populations, the respondent demographic profiles suggest that the data may not be from transportation-challenged, underserved populations. Inclusivity demands that we acknowledge this and make strategic decisions about collecting data from others.

Learning to Love Us: From Data to Inclusivity

We are developing language, processes, techniques to facilitate our readiness for the global, trans-cultural, more entrepreneurial world that is rapidly evolving. Makerspaces, and the opportunities afforded by them, are becoming even more valuable as the “gig,” “freelance,” “bottom-up” economy continues to expand.

Regardless of the labels we use, the spaces where diversity, inclusivity, and equitable access will play out will only be sustainable if they are able to serve as the nucleus of community-centric networks that promote an internal sense of belongingness that extends to the external community. Community partners, members, funders, board members, academic partners, business residents, surrounding neighborhoods and community organizations are all better served if the space is perceived as a space that represents inclusive belongingness. Society is “thirsty” for such spaces and data suggests that we have an opportunity to fill a void and contribute to socioeconomic advancement from within the community. 

So, what are some of the next steps in “developing data-driven inclusivity”?

  • Let the data speak
    We’ll always be engaged in a process of “sense-making.” The most important aspect of this process is our constant collection, interpretation, and data-informed action. The process requires that we develop a healthy community of trust that facilitates relational competence and cultural intelligence. This is like being the member of a large family during the days when the entire family gathered and ate together at “dinner time.” We learned to cooperate, collaborate, and get through the experience. Roles changed as we grew and were able to take on different responsibilities. Setting the table, clearing the table, washing (drying and putting away) the dishes all happened in a choreographed manner. But even being choreographed, the process was being perfected. I still think I do a better job than the best automatic dishwasher.
  • Build Community Intentionally
    Trust is the most fundamental element of relationship. This is true regardless of the level of relationship. Trust in necessary interpersonally, organizationally, and societally. I’ve adopted Nurullah Gur’s words in his article, “Trust and the Wealth of Nations” as a personal mantra, “Trust is one of the fundamental factors that affects the wealth of nations.”  (2015, p.121) It’s important that we use principles of cultural intelligence and transparency to create a climate where healthy relational communities can grow. Data becomes our compass in this process 
  • Culture and Context Matter
    With rural and urban communities facing the same socioeconomic struggles driven by the loss of a manufacturing base, unemployment, failing schools, addiction, etc., makerspaces offer a common solution to common problems. Makerspaces provide an opportunity to transcend barriers and accept the mutual vulnerability required to build trust where historic distrust has existed. This also depends on our ability to know ourselves and each other. Collecting the data has to be followed up with open, honest conversations about the data. Diversity and inclusivity happen because decisions are made to deem them valuable.
  • Develop the Tools
    We don’t have enough tools and practitioners focused on advancing the cause of diversity and inclusion. We hear the terms regularly. However, hearing the terms doesn’t produce measurable change. The reality is that some spaces are in areas where the population may be largely homogenous along many diversity indicators. There are practices, based on the uniqueness of that space, to assist that community in their context. Tools and practitioners to utilize those tools will position us for data-informed inclusivity.
  • Create a Learning Community
    I came along educationally and professionally during a time when Chris Argyris and his theories of “double-loop” learning were the absolute “gold standard” for learning organizations. I’ve also become a fan of Henry Mintzberg’s work on organizational community. The gist of it all is being vulnerable enough to know that missteps will occur. Mistakes are allowed if data is collected, and we are “agile” enough to continuously improve. To use another term from the lingo of we practice “appreciative inquiry,” using the data to dream and build a better design. Taking the “blame game” out of the equation and building relationships. Data is the platform from which the movement is launched.
  • Keep the Conversation Moving
    That’s the beauty of the Nation of Makers. They provide a platform where the conversation can continue. Nation of Makers can be found at Join in the conversation with makerspace leaders around the country in the #culture_inclusivity channel.

Be a part of the research that is helping us understand and shape the future of resources and advocacy for hackerspaces and makerspaces.
Take the 2019 Survey of Makerspaces.

Written by Dr. Ronald Williams, PhD.
Editorial – Jeanette Brenton
Visualizations – Jennifer Deafenbaugh

Ron is the former dean of Coppin State University College of Business in Baltimore, Maryland and received his PhD in management from George Washington University School of Business. He is the principal investigator on the 2019 research study, “Turning Makerspaces Into Greater Places: An Organizational Assessment and Economic Impact Study of Open Works”  and recently became a member of the board at Open Works in Baltimore. Ron has authored articles on entrepreneurship, technology adoption, and organizational community. He joined the Nation of Makers Data Team during the summer of 2019.