Vive la différence!
For many, the topic of Diversity is just about everywhere but more so in the space of technology. In 2015 some companies began reporting on their numbers, verifying what those of us in technology have seen and experienced. Google and Yahoo disclosed their 1% number of black employees for example, while Twitter at the time of the release was 0%. and Facebook only 2%. While these numbers represent an American snapshot, the same holds relatively true for Canadian tech environment. Personally, I have worked in the US, Europe, and Canada, and the numbers seem correct from my own experience.
The glaring social media example of political bubbles attests to what can happen with the lack of diversity of human experiences. The world watched in 2016 as social media exposed the partisan divide of the US political scene. It illustrated what can happen when people remain in comfortable bubbles, not engaging in views not their own or seeking discourse outside their comfort level. This phenomenon, amplified by social media created an atmosphere for targeted messaging that allegedly skewed the outcome of the US election.
As an avid reader, I have always sought out different positions to make up mind about specific topics. Like many, I was academically schooled to believe that "the truth lies in the middle." And to quote the French philosopher Jacques Derrida
"Vive la différence!"
In this article, I want to pivot and focus on what I know, and that is Design - more specifically the field of Product Experience Design and to shine some light on the area as a place lacking in any form of ethnic diversity.
Product Designers are not merely creatives creating without logic. Much of our work utilizes pure research. For example, before we can design we need to ensure that our research uses a valid sample set to reflect our target audience. When we set out to conduct focus groups or usability testing to come to conclusions about a design direction, we have to determine - how many people do we need to interview to give us valid data that reflects the views of the wider audience? For many designers, we can all rhyme off some of these long-held numerical beliefs. In other words, our goal is to find out at what point do we believe we have "reached the middle"? - That "middle" is the perfect design for our target market - a synthesis of some level of diversity.
Designers also come in all academic shades. There are designers whose focus is to determine a designs' psychological impact on humans - designers to envision a flow of screens and organization of a designed system - and designers who add an inviting visual applique. It takes a diverse group of designers to create a design for a given context. Given these two process examples of 1) diversity in user data and 2) diversity in designers, I have rarely come across an ethnically diverse Design team over the span of working in Canada, Europe or the United States.
For many years, I firmly believed that I was the only woman of color in the field of User Experience in the US and Canada, combined. It was not until a few years in my career I realised I was not alone; I was fortunate enough to have my presentation accepted at a design conference in New Orleans. As I stood on stage and surveyed the audience, I was momentarily frozen to see another black woman in the audience. I knew she knew I was looking at her. After my talk, we sought each other out and exchanged stories like old friends. My experience in Design and technology was not an isolated case, and sadly it remains the reality in many institutions in 2017.
The need to feel included and not feel alone in the workplace is critical, especially now as technology consumption is global and growing every day. Ethnic minorities are finding ways to connect to empower each other and fill the void. For example, Erika Jefferson is the President and Founder of Black Women in Science and Engineering (BWISE), sits at the forefront of a growing movement focused on creating platforms where black women can connect and network with each other. While her initiatives cover a broad base of women professionals, approximately 25% of these women work in technology, in general. Details of the breakdown by the function are not readily available but speak to a need for more diversity in our field of technology - be it design or other.
Other voices amplifying diversity messaging are everywhere and so for a good reason. Black Tech Unplugged is an initiative by Founder Deena McKay that seeks to cultivate a tech culture of inclusion.
What then does that mean for the outputs of our work if diversity is only partially achieved at stages of input?
More pressing for my interests as a designer is not only the imbalance of variety in the people designing for the world. As leaders and companies we need to reassess this fact on the merit of this fundamental ideal - how can we create products for the people whom we have yet to include in the process of the design?
Today companies rush to mitigate the growing backlash of this human disservice of a lack of diversity. There has been a flurry of by hiring by many fortune 500 companies to hire Diversity and Inclusion talent to help solve this; however, lip service alone does not address the problem. Action speaks louder than words as those of us on the outside watch and at the same time mobilize to advance our collective goals of inclusion.
We seek diverse user input in our work - we have different designer types to achieve a good design, but we lack any form of visible ethnic diversity. While I have felt proud to be part of various design teams over the years, I cannot but imagine what design driven by full and comprehensive ethnic diversity could achieve? Imagine not only ethnic diversity but diversity across sexes, ages, abled and disabled as well as ethnicity. In a world where Diversity is king, homogenous teams will create homogenous solutions; diverse teams will flourish and touch the hearts of users who can feel instinctively included.