Diversity and Design
Why is diversity in design valuable?
Those in design are in the business of solving complex problems. Diversity is one way to include a wider breadth of perspectives to this effort.
The key insight here is to connect design to the core business. Improving diversity impacts the bottom line and boosts profitability.
To provide more context, when I talk about diversity, I mean:
Diversity of thought (race, gender, age, ability) as well as diversity of experience (perspective, opinions, skills, background).
Although it definitely feels smoother and easier to work with a group of people who for the most part, agree with what you present — I’d argue that the additional challenges brought up by individuals with different perspectives brings valuable insights that might otherwise remain unheard.
One example in design culture, is that designers eventually become “experts” in their chosen field. While expertise is not a negative thing by any means, it can bring several risks:
- Increased concern about looking smart rather than learning
- Avoidance of bringing in novice/those less familiar with the project who may question the status quo
- More wary of any challengers/naysayers
- Less likely to speak up when you think that something will hurt a project’s goals or will make the leadership look bad
- Tendency to hire those of similar mindset/backgrounds due to increasing authority around hiring
All of these behaviors can lead to groupthink, a tendency to make decisions out of a place of harmony and conformity. And groupthink is bad news for design which thrives in critical thinking.
We are facing more challenging problems in the future regarding inequality, economic opportunity and the future of work — these require a space where individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds can come together and work toward the greater good.
So what’s the next step?
Track your numbers. Report it. Share it out.
There’s a saying that “what gets measured, gets managed”. Being transparent about the current state of diversity in design assign responsibility to those in positions of authority to do something about it, and also measure what’s works/what doesn’t.
Set an example from the top
Diversity is often not a pipeline issue (not a matter that can be solved by hiring more, etc.), rather long term changes from around the culture/mindset around diversity promote healthier, more sustainable diverse workforces.
People are tired of simply talking about diversity.
If leadership commits to such efforts and emphasize why it’s important as a asset to the business/bottom line, employees will take note and get valuable examples of how to take action.
Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to be inclusive to members of minority groups, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of equality.
The “Token” may end up feeling more marginalized because they must represent their chosen group. Every action/behavior received more scrutiny.
For example, this may occur when there’s just the one female on the team. The best practice comes through the “rule of three”. Just remember that one is a token, two is minority, three is so called “magic number” when each can function as an individual.
For designers and problem solvers, our natural tendency to be so goal focused that we may overlook opportunities to collaborate with others that might come from a different point of view. However, in order to make long term strategic changes, we must be mindful of our blind spots and thoughtfully change our system so a more diverse design workforce can emerge.
Technology is shaping our future. What is at stake are the important questions of who has a voice at the table and who is excluded.
We must ensure the pathways for opportunities, especially in influential places in design and technology, are not hindered by the outdated stereotypes of the past. Companies and ideas are at their best when we combine our different strengths — and that comes from a diverse team.
As design becomes more global and it’s impact more wide reaching, I hope design professionals takes more personal responsibility to make sure all creatives can enter and succeed in this industry, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, background or ability.