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Sathya Bala: How Data Leaders Can Support Enterprise Diversity and Inclusion

Sathya Bala, Head of Global Data Governance at Chanel, shares why she launched My Skin My Story, a global non-profit community connecting diversity and inclusion leaders with data-focused professionals

Inclusion and diversity has shot up the corporate agenda at many companies in recent years. For Sathya Bala, Head of Global Data Governance at Chanel, it’s a topic that will one day receive the same attention as sustainability does in business today.

Awareness of the roles diversity and inclusion plays in guarding against decision-making bias and data plays in ensuring organizations treat people fairly may be on the rise. But collaboration between diversity-focused and data-focused teams is generally very limited.  

In this week’s Business of Data podcast episode, Bala shares how she is working to address this disconnect through My Skin My Story, a non-profit global community she founded to connect, empower and elevate women of color to succeed on their own terms.

“I wanted to champion diversity and inclusion,” she says. “I was doing work as a very enthusiastic amateur, training myself, going to webinars, going to events around diversity and inclusion, just trying to educate myself and complement my personal journey that I’ve been on.”

“I was finding that data was coming up a lot in these diversity and inclusion events,” she continues. “But there were no data people at those events.”

“Over time, [I was] hearing from data leaders at [industry] events that they cared about diversity and inclusion and hearing from diversity and inclusion leaders saying how important data is,” she adds. “I very quickly thought, ‘Why are we not in the same place talking about this?’”

Where Data, Diversity and Inclusion Collide

Bala has been bringing professionals from these tribes together since November 2020. In that time, she’s identified several areas where these historically separate business units can learn from each other.

She argues that it’s the responsibility of data leaders to help diversity and inclusion teams overcome challenges around data collection, data governance and data analysis. Meanwhile, data teams should draw on diversity and inclusion leaders’ expertise to ensure they are diverse and aware of issues around diversity and decision-making bias.

“These are things that [are not in the wheelhouse of] diversity and inclusion professionals,” Bala says. “That’s not their job. We have those expertise and we can also make sure that, as organizations, we’re not wholly reliant on [external] consultants.”

“Should we be trying to tackle our posture on data ethics without diversity and inclusion input?” she adds. “Probably not, because there are things that they can provide a lens on, in terms of equity, transparency [and] debiasing.”

“We just don’t have the relationships built, historically, between the data profession [and] the diversity and inclusion profession,” she continues. “Do we have to wait for our diversity and inclusion teams to think of us and tap us on the shoulder? Or can we be the instigators?”

“As a Head of Data Governance, I had to figure out, what are those business-critical projects that I want to advise on, so that we build data by design into those projects?” she concludes. “Diversity and inclusion is one of those initiatives. It is a business-critical initiative just like perhaps sustainability was a few years ago.”