We left off hearing Dr. Tiffany Polite’s wise words pertaining to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Were you as riveted as we, at DORIS, always are when she talks to us? We hang on her every word over here. 

Now to hear from Meghan Tooman. We lovingly call her Math Meghan here at DORIS, but here’s the thing, we qualitative researchers are rubbing off on her. Little by little. Dr. Tiffany left us thinking about outliers and this has been the topic of many conversations internally at DORIS. Tooman is going to bring you into that conversation.

Outliers… not always out there lying.

As a formally trained statistician, and a previous educator, I have been told time and time again that outliers need to be analyzed with a critical eye. Do we throw them out? Was there an error in measurement? Are they somehow unlike the population and affecting our model and assumptions?

STOP. For a moment, let’s look at all of those questions from the lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. What does it really mean to be inclusive? And if we think very critically about the idea of a truly representative sample, then those outliers may not be ‘errors’, but in fact, may be indicators of something important.

Yep, those qualitative researchers are rubbing off on me.

With formal training and experience in higher education, rigorous STEM training tells us to look at problems in a certain way with a methodology to solve them. When we are asked to broaden our thinking, it can be uncomfortable, not to mention hard!

In a recent conversation with Dr. Tiffany, I asked about resistors; how do we deal with them? (It is important to note that I myself can be quite the resistor at times, some may call me stubborn, I like to think of myself as determined!) Tiffany told me “You have to start questioning yourself. Why do I find this offensive, instead of being defensive.” This aligned well with a recent leadership program in which I participated, Bloombase’s Advanced Women Leaders. OK everyone, I get the message!

One of the epiphanies I had during that training was the idea that triggers, things that make us react, are usually things that push against a personal value. And my personal values might be quite different from the person I am talking to. Taking the moment to step back and realize where that reaction is coming from is huge in allowing ourselves to have hard conversations with empathy; but, it is not easy! It comes with reflection. I usually do not quite realize why I was so upset until later, then, snap! Oh wow, I thought someone was being inauthentic, and authenticity/honesty are really important to me!

Ok, enough about me, let’s get back to those pesky resistors. You see, we can’t just talk at people, we have to listen. They are telling us something, so instead of focusing on the fact that our feathers are ruffled with what they are saying, let’s step out of the place of frustration and stay in curiosity. (My AWL colleagues should be smiling right now, because that is almost a running mantra for our group). Let’s ask why.

In research, we are told to get rid of the outliers, but what if instead of thinking about it as ‘throwing them out’, we changed the narrative and asked, what is that data point telling me, and what can I learn there? This allows for camaraderie, and this is where change can exist. And perhaps, just perhaps this is a step toward inclusion.

As DORIS internally assesses our research process, we are consistently having conversations that make us look through different lenses. Pushing our researchers to look at their own training, but now with a critical eye on diversity, equity, and inclusion. How interesting that outliers have brought such rigorous conversations within our lab. Tooman could talk to you for days, go ahead, reach out to her, she will!

Takeaway #1: Don’t dismiss those outliers, while it may have an effect on a perfect bell-curve, it is important to assess what they are signaling. Innovation may exist in that direction.

Takeaway #2: Take a moment to listen. It is in curiosity that we can find common ground and maybe even create change.