Making Space for Diversity in Tech Every Day
International Women’s Day brought up interesting discussions amongst the GRAYBOX team. While no one here went on strike we all had friends who took action by not going to work. Other GRAYBOXers honored the day by wearing red or attending a women-empowerment themed event. To many of us, the idea of a day to recognize and celebrate one half of the human population was a new concept. Was it necessary? Shouldn’t every day celebrate and recognize the contributions of every human? Most in our office felt our partner, Wildfang, said it best in this open letter they posted on Instagram on International Women’s Day. To excerpt:
“But this movement is about more than today. Fighting for human rights is a 24/7 kinda thing. Every day we hero women. We hero women of color, women of all shapes and sizes, women of all ages. We hero immigrant women, queer women, trans women, and all those women who refuse to be put in a box.”
Being digital consultants, that got us thinking – what does it mean to hero a diverse range of people from a digital standpoint? What about from a workplace and design process standpoint?
End Users: The Everyday Other
Whenever we create digital solutions for our partners, the first thing we do is make sure we’re focusing on the end user. We need to imagine the digital experience through their shoes. This leads us to put ourselves in a variety of shoes – whether the user is a young, urban family navigating the foster care process, a student across the globe seeking an immersive English learning trip, or a C-level executive nearing the end of their career and getting ready for retirement. If we can’t view our digital solutions through the user’s eyes, our solutions will fail. Every day, we exercise this muscle and challenge each other to improve that ability.
From a workplace and design process standpoint, encouraging diverse viewpoints involves seeking a cross-pollination of ideas on projects from folks who are from different departments within our firm. It also means seeking input from those outside the company but whose viewpoint we want to channel. We might conduct surveys, focus groups, or market research to help us understand the perspective of the end user of our solutions.
Grassroots Diversity Initiatives
In terms of our staff, diversity in tech staffing is a widely accepted challenge within the industry – but things are changing. In Portland we have several tech-related groups who are seeking to add more people of color and women to the predominantly caucasian, male tech scene. For example our city has groups such as PDX Women In Tech (PDXWIT) and Techtown Portland who are dedicated to just that undertaking.
The Outsider: Inclusion Before Diversity
Recently, the Computer Human Interaction Forum of Oregon (CHIFOO) invited UI/UX Designer, Ivana McConnell of Customer.io to speak to their group on Inclusion Before Diversity in tech. She kicked off her talk by qualifying herself by explaining she’s been “the nerd, the woman, the gay person, the foreign person” - she’s very familiar with being “the outsider”. I went to see her speak and took away some insights which I found very interesting and relevant to our topic here.
For one thing, it’s good for workplaces to remember that any “outsiders”, as Ivana terms them, coming to your team have spent a lot of time defending themselves. They aren’t used to simply being accepted. They will use careful language to try as hard as possible to be perceived as competent. She advised us to, “Be aware of this and take their input more carefully because they have to try harder to be willing to speak up.”
Ivana also asserted that making space for outsiders to speak up on your team is vital to a company tapping into the full potential of all staff people. “Just because you’ve hired a diverse team doesn’t mean you’ve empowered them to contribute their perspective.” She hates the question - “Who’s the blocker here? Who’s blocking you?” - which Ivana feels encourages you to point at someone. This can call out the outsider and encourage them to be quiet and bury their perspective. “As an outsider I’ve changed how I frame ideas verbally – because I worry that people will get hung up on how I express the them.” If a company is hiring, she encouraged them to “look for a culture add, not a culture fit. Culture has consequences. Don’t expect everyone to come in and just fit into it.”
How can we come to work each day and make sure to not only consider diverse perspectives, but also give them the space to contribute? This question is worth answering when designing digital experiences for a diverse range of users, conducting focus groups, collaborating in team meetings, or conducting workshops. In fact, it’s something we should all be considering every day we come to work. As GRAYBOX’s range of partners grows more diverse, as our staff grows in number, and as we become more engaged with the Portland community through hosting events in our SE Portland office - we will have more and more opportunities to practice making space for diversity in tech second-nature.