Diversity and Inclusion in Tech and Design Part 1: Fostering An Inclusive Environment

By: Brandon Paul

People of all backgrounds, cultures, genders, and sexual identities use technology to simplify tasks and solve everyday problems. So why is it that most digital products are overwhelmingly created by white men?

In January, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published a report revealing a staggering disparity within the high tech sector. Its researchers found that 68.5 percent of the industry’s workforce is comprised of white people. Not surprisingly, the report also claimed that 83.3 percent of executive-level positions are held by whites, and 80 percent by men. When it comes to the design industry, things aren’t much better… Earlier this year, the AIGA surveyed 9,602 designers from around the globe and discovered that 73 percent of its respondents identified as white.

Diversity Depends on Inclusivity

While increasing diversity within a company starts by bringing a variety of people and perspectives to the table, a company must also foster an inclusive work environment to ensure employees from underrepresented groups feel supported, valued, and respected. Building a diverse staff is only half the battle; creating an inclusive space makes those efforts sustainable.

As a participant in Citizen’s summer internship program, I’ve been given a platform as both a black male and visual designer to discuss what it means to create an inclusive work environment, so I’ve outlined four ways we can all make a positive impact by being more inclusive toward our co-workers.

Four ways to help build a more inclusive workplace:

1. Lead with Empathy

The easiest way to make your company an inclusive one is by leading with empathy. Try to understand the people you work with on a molecular level. Talk to them with curiosity and humility. While this might seem like common sense, an empathetic mindset will help you understand their wants, needs, and overall personality.

2. Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Just like we ask our colleagues questions when we don’t understand something in our jobs, we should feel equally empowered to ask questions when we aren’t familiar with another person’s experience or perspective. Less inclusive workplaces can make the diverse members of the staff much more uncomfortable, so find a way to help them feel more at ease.

Try asking the most underrepresented person on the team what they would improve. Take time to understand and try to implement the advice. Then, ask yourself what you could do better, nothing held back. Whether you’re running a company or a part of the company’s workforce, there is always something you can improve on. A new perspective can help fuel your self-awareness and improvement.

3. Give People a Sense of Belonging

Underrepresented people are more susceptible to a feeling called “imposter syndrome”–a phenomenon that causes people to believe they don’t deserve or haven’t earned their position or the resources available to them. But imposter syndrome is easily fixed by giving your colleagues a sense of belonging. Make everyone, especially those who are underrepresented, feel valued. When they make a suggestion or offer insight, trust it, believe it, and push for it.

4. Understand Dominant Culture Thinking

The dominant culture represents the most powerful, widespread, or influential group within a social or political body, which includes a person’s workplace. So, by default, dominant culture thinking has an influence on employee mindsets. This is problematic because it can cause a sense of “false meritocracy” among colleagues. False meritocracy occurs when those who are part of the dominant culture believe their underrepresented colleagues are held to the same standard or have access to the same resources, as themselves. However, when their underrepresented colleagues don’t make it to the same place or position as a member of the dominant culture, it’s perceived that the differentiator is lack of skill or drive. But the real reason is often because of systematic inequity and an unbalanced allocation of resources, connections, privilege, or respect.

Understanding dominant culture thinking is a great first step toward understanding your own unconscious biases. Not only will it help you see, and block, any perceptions you may harbor that are informed by false meritocracy, it is a necessary awareness to have for an inclusive workplace.

So be cordial and caring, and dedicate yourself to your fellow employees, no matter what differences they may have. This will not only allow them to have a better, more open work environment while delivering a better product or service for your customers, it will also broaden your perspective on a personal level.

This is important because we need diverse and inclusive teams within these industries in order to create even better technologies and designs that are more effective at addressing the particular needs and desires of people from all walks of life.

In this series, Citizen’s summer interns are exploring the different perspectives of people in design and tech, and connecting them with strategies to promote diversity and inclusion.