How to embed inclusion in your tech company

two women looking at computer

Written by Sheree Atcheson, Award-winning Leader and Consulting Inclusion Lead, Deloitte UK

Inclusion and diversity is crucial to driving successful business growth and increasing the bottom line. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity outperform their competitors by 15% and those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity outperform their competitors by 35%. Organisations prioritising embracing talent from all backgrounds are ultimately, doing better than those that are not. Ensuring inclusion is top of the agenda for technology companies is crucial – without inclusion of those from all backgrounds, it is unlikely the solution being formed will work for society, in its entirety.

What happens when inclusion is not prioritised

There are real-life consequences when organisations do not consider how to form a solution which works for all, with the different lenses that society includes and requires.

Facial recognition software is becoming more and more commonplace, however it consistently has issues when recognising people of colour. In a recent study of using recognition software to identify gender, the error rate is significantly higher if the subject is a person of colour. When the person in the photo is a white man, the software is right 99 percent of the time. But the darker the skin, the more errors arise — up to nearly 35 percent for images of darker skinned women.

Many voice-recognition technologies at first did not recognise female voices (despite many AI assistant’s voices being female) because the design teams did not include women. Many voice-recognition technologies today do not recognize different accents because they are designed by native English speakers, and were not made by a team with different backgrounds. If we build diverse representation into the teams making our ground-breaking technologies, then we are more likely to have a successful business.

How to weave inclusion in all stages of tech creation

If we continue to form systems and solutions without diversity, then the bias which exists in people will be coded into our systems and the cycle of privilege and systematic issues will continue. Here are some actionable changes to begin and continue to embed inclusion in solutions.

1. Form teams representative of society

Society has a multitude of variations and forming solutions that meet and match the needs of an extremely varied group is not possible without viewing the external perception of others.

To alleviate this risk, gather requirements with different lenses. Will the software affect women, people of colour, different age groups, those of different sexuality etc differently than the majority demographics represented in technology teams? For example, does the solution allow people to appropriately select their gender without potentially making members of the transgender community feel segregated? Is the web form culturally sensitive and allow those with certain names to be entered as expected, or do they get an error on submission because they do not abide by the normal convention of naming that the team of developers are accustomed to? How accessible is the solution for those with disabilities? Does it map appropriately to a screen reader? Is the colour scheme jarring for those with eyesight problems? Consider a solution outside of the leadership and team’s own lived experiences.

Having diverse teams makes better products. An inclusive organisation is two times as likely to exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be agile and innovative, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. Having team members that challenge viewpoints, ideas and most importantly, assumptions creates better solutions because it avoids echo chamber development. If teams have only one or two lenses of impact, the solution will not meet the needs of those who fall outside of those boundaries as they will likely have little awareness of those needs.

2. Openly hear feedback from all in leadership sessions

Embracing diversity without fostering inclusive environments is futile and actively detrimental. People must and deserve to be heard – all voices provide unique insights. Typically, in industry we see the representation of underrepresented groups are higher in junior and mid-tier roles. This then means that the voice of those from underrepresented groups are likely to not be heard at C-suite/leadership level.

Diversity must be intertwined and threaded through your organisation at all levels. To truly embrace diversity and those from different backgrounds, these voices and inputs must be heard in leadership meetings – to provide insight, and challenge when relevant. If there is not representation at leadership level in your organisation, firstly consider why that has happened. Why have people from underrepresented groups failed to succeed or thrive to the same level as majority groups in your organisation? What needs to change?

Secondly, create a stop-gap solution whilst you determine how to change in the long term. Can you invest in junior/mid-tier employees from underrepresented groups (who are interested in being involved) to attend leadership meetings and voice their experiences, concerns or ideas? The key here is not to assume all women, people of colour, members of the LGBT+ community, those with disabilities, those of differing economic background, etc want to get involved outside of their day-to-day role. Not everyone is comfortable offering lived experience as insight. Ask, and build support around them – do not bring these voices into a room if leadership will disregard them. Deloitte research showed that 92% of 3000 surveyed people identified as allies, meaning they feel dedicated to supporting individuals or groups who are different from them. Yet, when asked how they responded to bias, nearly one third said that they ignored it. If that is a risk, uncomfortable conversations should be had with leadership to understand why this view exists, how to alleviate it and ensure that people understand their role as allies in the industry.

3. Ensure user personas are diverse

One way companies test their solutions is through user personas. Personas are fictional characters, created based upon research to represent the different user types that might use the service, product, site, or brand in a similar way. Creating personas should help the team to understand users’ needs, experiences, behaviours and goals.

To ensure the team is considering how the solution maps to others, form user personas which have diverse representation from different genders, ethnicity, sexuality, races, religions, abilities, backgrounds and more. Forcing the design, development and testing teams to actively consider how the solution maps to others will help form inclusive offerings.

4. Actively seek to be challenged and become comfortable doing so

No one person has all of the answers. That means leadership and teams must become comfortable with being challenged in their ideas of what the best outcome and solution looks like. Actively seek out those from differing viewpoints to cast this lens onto your work. It is potentially unpleasant to hear the initial idea drafted is not the correct one, however use this as a learning experience – understand the criticism, the reasoning behind it and how it can be proactively fixed in the solution. Be transparent about mistakes and the fixes on them. Transparency shows a willingness to truly change and help others in the industry to avoid making the same as you, whilst highlighting the journey you are on in creating an inclusive solution.

Diversity and inclusion is not a HR-remit. It should be integrated, weaved and considered in everything – business analysis, requirements gathering, development, testing, deployment and support. By doing this, we create more profitable solutions, whilst also ensuring our result reaches everyone, not just a select group.

Inclusion, in its truest form.

Follow @nirushika

Originally published here.

Image from UKBlackTech.

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