Diverse Insights: A conversation with Steven Huang

Published by:
Kate Glazebrook
August 27, 2019
min read

#DiverseInsights - a series of conversations with the trailblazers turning diversity, inclusion and belonging ambition into action. Our third conversation is with Steven Huang.

Steven Huang is the Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Culture Amp. He left an actuarial career to take on HR analytics roles at Facebook and Square where he combined his passion for data analytics and people problems. In his current role, he leads diversity and inclusion initiatives internally for Culture Amp’s global workforce, as well as externally, through Culture Amp’s platform for people and culture. His favourite things in life are music festivals, travelling and tennis.

Q: The pathway from actuary to head of diversity and inclusion is hardly common! How did you end up where you are now and what drove you there?

If I knew that Diversity and Inclusion was a career back when I first graduated from college - I might have started there! Instead, I found myself attracted to solving really hard problems, and actuaries have to get deep into a problem to get to the right answer. Predictive modeling, as it turns out, is a great transferable skill - and HR was a field that needed more statistical rigor. But my true passion is rooted in social justice. I bring a data and research lens to the role which has allowed me to make contributions to the D&I movement and provided me with a rich and rewarding career as well. I couldn’t be happier!

Q: When you got the first set of data in on your diversity and inclusion survey, what did you want to explore first?

I was a kid in a candy store! I had a global, multi-industry, intersectional, validated data set at my fingertips. What stood out to me first was the stark differences in experience between demographic groups. Take the survey item “I can voice a contrary opinion without fear of negative consequences”, which is one of our markers for psychological safety: 78% of Straight White men agreed with that question, but it dips for non-white and non-straight men. Only 68% of Straight White women agreed with the question, and it’s even lower for Black Women (56%).

These differences exist across all questions and demographics, highlighting that the employee experience is not equal for the tens of thousands of people we surveyed. Honestly, the results were so shocking that I had to take a pause to fight back tears. As a D&I leader, I knew that my own journey was just getting started; we have a baseline for a better measurement. And as an industry, we now have a direct measurement for inclusion: You can measure inclusion by the degree to which a diverse group of people has an equal experience at work.

Q: Where can we find more insights from the work?

Last year’s 2018 Diversity, Inclusion and Intersectionality Report is available here. We also found interesting findings around Belonging. Belonging, of all of our measures, is the most correlated to business outcomes. Every D&I strategy should aim to bring belonging in the surface of the conversation.

Q: In your view, what do organisations get wrong most often when they think about diversity and inclusion?

Unfortunately, there is no universally proven strategy for D&I success. As organizations get started on their D&I journey, they’re tempted to copy and paste what other companies are doing. Instead, I’d encourage organizations to think critically about their own culture, the context of their workplace, and why they truly care about D&I. Set a strategy (using data and evidence-based research), realize that D&I is not a “target” you can achieve, don’t take shortcuts, and know that there will be setbacks between victories.

One of the most common “copy and paste” strategies gone wrong is to solely focus on diversity. While representation is incredibly important, focusing equally on inclusion will also help you reach your representation goals. On their own, traditional diversity metrics don’t work.

The other common mistake is the approach of “we’ll focus on women first”, which essentially signals to other groups: “wait your turn.” D&I programs need to honor intersectionality and our complex identities. Workplace intersectionality means more than focusing on women.

Q: What’s the next frontier for Culture Amp on diversity and inclusion?

By the end of the year, Culture Amp will have a new Head of Diversity and Inclusion. That’s because I fundamentally believe that the Head of D&I role at Culture Amp is best positioned to be a rotation. Having the role as a rotation signal that creating an inclusive company is not one person’s job. Since our future is intersectional, we’ll need different perspectives leading this work. Not many companies have taken this approach; we’re going to try it out and see if this innovation is one worth sharing.

Q: As a diversity and inclusion leader, what’s the hardest thing about making progress in this space? If you had a magic wand what would you use it to change?

Didier, my CEO, empowered me to think about what I wish I could accomplish with a magic wand. I told him: I wish every company could use our D&I tools, not just the ones who could afford it. Then, in concert with all of the executive leaders at Culture Amp, we decided to wave the magic wand: Culture Amp’s D&I Starter Kit was released, for free, for anybody looking to measure and manage diversity and inclusion in their organization. Anybody can sign up for access to our tools at: www.cultureamp.com/start.

I couldn’t be more proud of this effort, which has been a huge cross-functional push across the business. Creating this free resource for the community has inspired so many employees within Culture Amp as well. We know we’re doing work that is helping people across the world!

Q: If you could back just one intervention to improve inclusion and belonging what would it be?

I have a personal intervention that I encourage everybody to adopt to improve belonging in their community: Talk to the person next to you. Not via social media, actually talk to the person next to you. The regular at your local coffee shop, your new neighbor, the new hire in your office. We are surrounded by diverse perspectives – it’s up to us to engage and broaden our worldviews. And it’s literally right next to us.

We hope that after reading this conversation, you’ll be inspired to take action and make diversity a priority in your organisation. We think that our resource centre is a great start. It’s packed full with guides and studies for the next champions of diversity, inclusion and belonging.