Building Diversity Into Your Products
There is so much going on in the world right now that it can be very difficult to stay focused and prioritized. There is a seemingly endless stream of dire health updates and political, social and economic unrest. I believe the most difficult component is to determine how you can take care of yourself and your family in addition to determining how to personally make an impact on these larger societal issues.
In fact, I mentioned to a mentee of mine the other day, “If I would have told you at the beginning of the year that you were about to manage a business that was suddenly (in a matter of months) experiencing the 1918 Spanish Flu, the 1929 Great Depression, and the 1968 anti-racism protests, would you believe me?” These are uncharted times.
I am proud to work for Rosetta Stone, which has a founding mission that promotes education as a pathway to equity. We believe that anyone should be able to read, write and speak with confidence. As a white man of privilege, I have been going down a path of education and listening. However, I have been personally struggling about what I can do beyond words and intention.
I was raised on the concept that deeds are more important than words. For those of us who represent companies that build products, I believe we are in a unique place to develop products that promote diversity and inclusive design. This is important not only in our products, but also in everything that we do, from developing culture and hiring norms, all the way to advertising. All businesses should develop a set of principles that become part of their scaled framework to ensure that they promote and contribute to a more diverse global economy and planet.
It Starts With A Diverse Team
Of course, diversity by design starts with a diverse team. Tech does not have a great diversity track record. A survey of the design industry demographics has found that almost three-quarters of designers are white. The 2019 Design Census revealed that 71% of those surveyed identified as white, while 9% were Asian, and 8% were Hispanic. Only 3% were black. It is not uncommon to have lower ethnicity representation in the technology sector.
Diversity goes beyond ethnicity. The design industry is dominated by men. While 61% of designers are female, just 1% are in leadership positions, according to the 2019 Design Census. This is clearly a trend that needs to change.
While Rosetta Stone has worked hard to establish a diverse product design team that is nearly 50% female, we always strive to attract and hire a more diverse talent pool throughout our organization.
Then You Need To Codify Diversity Into Your Design
Our company develops and markets products for an extremely diverse global audience. It is critical for us to build diversity into our conscience and to think about it every day, to the point where diversity by design is just a part of every fiber of our business. So how can your company follow a similar path? Here’s a framework we created that you can use as a guideline for all of your teams to adopt.
The tenets of the document are:
1. Respect and reflect cultural uniqueness.
- Communicate an appreciation of varied cultures across the globe (e.g., using inclusionary and welcoming language).
- Reflect your company’s values and commitment to diversity while being respectful of others’ views.
- Create learning experiences that are culturally relevant but still broadly approachable by others outside of any specific culture, to the extent possible.
2. Honor and consider learner uniqueness.
- Use clear language as much as possible (e.g., to support emerging multilinguals, individuals with disabilities, etc.).
- Strive to support different learning preferences, goals and environments in which learners use your products.
- Consider the principles of universal design, and integrate accessible design thinking as you create and communicate about your products.
3. Be reflective of bias, and continuously work to overcome it in the design of your products and services.
- Invite expanded knowledge and awareness of learner diversity.
- Engage in regular training on topics such as anti-bias education and unconscious bias.
- Promote open communication and have a willingness to learn from your learners, community and colleagues.
- Maintain feedback loops that inform the creation of future products, media and services.
4. Avoid creating a social context of in-groups and out-groups.
- Do not resort to using stereotypes such as age, class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, beliefs, geography and physical abilities.
- Do not employ tokenism.
- Do not use exclusionary or loaded language.
- Do not design learning that privileges one group or harms others.
Example Of How We Put This Into Practice
This year we are introducing Rosetta Stone English, which adopts an asset model that focuses on what students can do — their strengths, skills, talents, interests and competencies. Learners’ backgrounds, heritage languages and cultures are celebrated as assets, and not viewed as deficits. For this reason, learners are described as “emergent bilinguals” rather than being referred to as “English language learners,” acknowledging that by learning English they will become bilingual, which is an asset.
No company is perfect, and we should all be striving to do better. Having both a diverse team and codified principles to execute on product design ensures that your company is intentional and thoughtful about building products that truly reflect the world around us.