What is Science Without Diversity and Inclusion?


Matt Wallaert




Volume 1, Issue 2

Matt Wallaert is a Scientist who has applied Behavioral Science to start-up companies, including some that are listed among the Fortune 500 companies, as well as tackled multifaceted social issues to make an impact. He is the first Chief Behavioral Officer at Clover Health where he leads one of the world’s largest behavioral science teams which includes: qualitative researchers, project managers and quantitative researchers. Prior to his role at Clover Health, he worked as Microsoft’s behavioral scientist and he was also a director at Microsoft Ventures. 

In his book, “Start at the End: How to Build Products That Create Change”, Wallaert integrates humor, anecdotes, personal experiences, research and issues related to diversity and inclusion to capture how to drive behavioral changes within organizations. He has conducted multiple diversity and inclusion projects that include: I Asked Her, Why Men Attend, Get Raised, Thrive, Salary or Equity and many others. 

Walleart collaborated with Data Scientist Tyler Burleigh to research the Peculiar Psychology of Mediocre White Men and found out that, “White men feel more competent and more psychologically safe at work than people of color and women” and that “if we want to make work better for women or people of color, increasing psychological safe spaces holds more promise.” His brainchild, GetRaised.com, which was driven by the frustration of the wage disparities in relation to gender has brought about an average salary raise of $6,500 totaling over $3.1B. Here, I spoke to Wallaert about his background, interests and the intersection between Behavioral Science research and diversity and inclusion. 

Kazembe: How does Behavioral Science intersect with diversity and inclusion?

Wallaert: So there are two ways to talk about Behavioral Science and diversity and inclusion: The first one is in terms of how diversity and inclusion empowers Behavioral Science. So, Behavioral Science is about how we change behavior. Think about bigger structural changes that you can’t do without diversity. Science requires diversity for a couple of different reasons. One, if you get a bunch of White people in a room they will likely generate behavioral change strategy that generates behavior for White people, so if your goal as a Behavioral Scientist is to change the behavior of a large population of people, which it usually is then you need to have representation of a large population of people in order to produce the behavioral science that would likely work. That’s one piece. Second, it requires the diversity of thought, disciplines and backgrounds because the wider we cast the net the better. So if you think about behavioral changes like a tabletop you want as many as possible and as far apart as possible and you want optimal distribution. If you had a table with one leg that would be a failing table but similarly if you had one leg and all the legs were in the center that would also be a failing table. You need a diversity of perspectives in order for the table to be stable. So message one is that Behavioral Science requires diversity and the second one is more about how Behavioral Science can actually work to increase diversity and inclusion by increasing those behaviors. We need diversity to do our work but we can also produce diversity through doing our work. 

Kazembe: What leveraged your interest in studying the intersection between Behavioral Sciences and diversity and inclusion? 

Wallaert: I am interested in diversity and inclusion because it is one of the places in which we have the most ability to actually change behavior. Issues in relation to diversity and inclusion and equality are things that we can and should change. We do have an ability to change behaviors. I am not saying it’s easy. I am not saying getting people to be inclusive is easy by any sort of imagination, but it is possible. 

Kazembe : What inspired you to come up with the Get Raised project? 

Wallaert: I got access to peoples’ financial data through my previous startup, Thrive. Through that startup, I got a first-hand look at the fact that women were actually better at managing their money but are dramatically underpaid. The wage gap is not only isolated to gender but it also intersects with race. For example, White women are underpaid by 30 cents whereas Hispanic women are underpaid by 50 cents so there is a huge difference. So, I got interested in finding ways to actually increase women’s pay. 

Kazembe: Why do you think there is a disparity when it comes to salary? 

Wallaert: Well there are a lot of different factors. Some of it has to do with training and educational attainment. Some underrepresented groups are less likely to get high quality education. We need to recognize that underrepresented groups such as African Americans face more barriers in comparison to white Americans. Fewer African Americans are able to go to college, fewer African Americans have access to healthcare. Another major factor that causes these disparities is systematic racism that underrepresented groups face at young ages. Systematic racism limits potential. Another factor is how as a working adult there are some limitations for underrepresented groups within the job market that don’t adequately compensate for the potential that does exist. In order to address this, the first step is to find ways in how to make sure that underrepresented groups are set up to succeed. Step two is finding ways to ensure that people succeed. Another issue is that African Americans and other underrepresented groups are not getting hired at the same rate as White Americans. They are also not promoted at the same rate. Actions by underrepresented groups are also not interpreted in the same way. For example, with gender, when men take certain actions it's interpreted as leadership whereas with women those actions are interpreted as being bossy. There are other examples of structural inequities where people interpret the same information differently depending on the source and that contributes to inequities. That is something that has been corrosive within American society. It has gotten better but we are not anywhere near good.

Kazembe: Why do you think diversity and inclusion is important within the workplace or institutions? 

Wallaert: Well, I think that there are lots of reasons. One, I think it’s a moral imperative. It is about treating people with dignity and respect and about giving people opportunities to help them flourish. It is something that humans are born wanting to do. We want to help other people as humans. It is our nature to try to create diversity and inclusion when we can. Even beyond that we know that diverse businesses are a lot more profitable. It’s a rule of numbers. The larger the perspective of the pool of talent the greater the collective talent. Right? If you only hire White guys, then you will lose out on a lot of people who are really talented. So I have a ten person team here at Clover Health and there is only one other White person on my team and  everyone else is a woman of color. And that gives my team tremendous resilience and it brings unique things to my team that other teams don’t have. My team is a very high performing group. Again, with diversity there is a moral imperative but there is also a profitable imperative.

Kazembe: How has your background and experience prepared you to be effective in social projects that are committed to diversity and inclusion?

Wallaert: Arguably my background and experiences haven’t prepared me because I am a White man. As a White man I am the most distant from the experience of being an underrepresented person. On the flip side, as a White man, I have gotten a tremendous number of opportunities that most people from underrepresented groups would not have gotten and that has allowed me to make changes. So, I have the power but not as much of the knowledge. So it’s a hard plane. I went to a UWC in high school, so I got to go to school with students from all over the world. I am a first-generation kid. When I went to school I also felt out of place. I am lucky that as a White male I still got a lot of resources and messages from society that even though I felt out of place I could still be successful but it was hard for me as a first generation college student.

For more information visit https://mattwallaert.com/