Event Recap
Wharton People Analytics Conference

30 Mar 2017
Event Organizer: The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
Event Link
Tagged as: Startup Competition Finalist Philadelphia , PA

By Teresa Whitney - 20th April, 2017

This two-day conference sought to bridge the divide between academia and industry and to tap into the "meaningful work that happens at that intersection." Much of this year’s WPAC focused on diversity and turned a critical lens on the ways in which people analytics (PA) experts in both industry and academia collect and analyze their data.

The event began with a People Analytics Expo, which included a research paper competition, a student case competition, and a startup competition. PLASTARC is proud to have been a finalist in the startup competition, and our team thoroughly enjoyed sharing our workplace and data philosophy with other attendees and participants, many of whom excitedly engaged with our analog workplace survey (see image).

The first day closed with a powerful keynote conversation between Malcolm Gladwell, New York Times bestselling author and staff writer for The New Yorker, and Adam Grant, Saul P. Steinberg Professor of Management at the Wharton School. The two discussed power and speed as variables in workplace performance, with Gladwell arguing that, depending on the profession at hand, a slow, neurotic "tortoise" can perform better than a fast-moving “hare.” He urged the audience to be critical of the basis of their performance evaluations and to exercise more humility with regard to what can and cannot be measured.

The second day began with a powerful presentation by Maxine Williams, Global Director of Diversity for Facebook. Williams’s key message was that cognitive diversity is key to innovation and performance, and that PA professionals need to scrutinize the data they collect and analyze on this topic. She pointed out that data-informed talent decisions are problematic because there is not enough data on underrepresented people: by definition, their sample size is too small to draw conclusions from. This results in the very frustrating problem of needing more underrepresented people to know why there are so few underrepresented people.

The conference continued with panel discussions and presentations on a wide variety of topics. Highlights included a discussion about analytical perspectives on diversity with Laura Liswood, Joelle Emerson, Derek Avery, and Corinne Low, who discussed barriers to inclusive talent decisions; a presentation on management research and case studies from Microsoft, presented by Dawn Klinghoffer and Ryan Fuller; and a panel discussion on the future of big data with Matthew Salganik, Keith McNulty, and Peter Fader, which proposed a combination of social and data science. R. Luke DuBois, an artist and engineer, added a unique perspective to the day’s proceedings by sharing some of his data-based artworks and imploring attendees to remember that we are not just dealing with numbers: there are people behind each data point.

The conference concluded with a keynote conversation between Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America, and Adam Bryant, author and New York Times columnist. The two discussed the qualities Teach for America looks for in its candidates, focusing on what types of questions to ask in interviews. Elisa’s top question: What was your biggest mistake? She finds candidates’ answers show their aptitudes for self-reflection, responsibility/ownership, and critical thinking.

Adam Grant’s closing remarks looked to the future, arguing that PA academics and professionals both should strive to use data analytics not only to eliminate bias, but also to help promote empathy. This point really stuck with the PLASTARC team, as we are advocates for user-centric data and design research. By focusing on the user, we can design workplaces that improve performance and wellbeing, which is empathy in action.

For a peek inside the event, search for #WhartonPAC on Twitter.

PLASTARC is dedicated to putting the user at the center of workplace research and advocating for the use of social data to optimize workplace design and performance.