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Promoting diversity in 2021

Although most of us have spent 2020 for the largest part locked indoors because of a global pandemic, 2020 has been an eventful year nonetheless. One of which has been a human rights movement that has been felt all over the globe. Namely the uprising against racial injustice. 

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is an international movement that originated in the African American community in the United States as a response to police brutality against African Americans [1]. While the movement already started in 2013, the Black Lives Matter’s following grew strongly internationally after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis USA on May 25, 2020. This might also have left you wondering: what can I do to help? Because one thing is clear: the actions we take today are of influence on the direction our industry is headed and allows for more diverse and inclusive work environments.

In a survey conducted by the networking group Black & HR, 77% of respondents said their workplace had not addressed what had been happening in the black community [2]. Talent Works, a recruitment agency also working with startups states that they guess a reason for this can be that business leaders may feel awkward about speaking up, out of fear to say the wrong thing [2]. However, they add to this that it is important for companies to understand that this can be an emotional time for their employees and that they need support and reassurance [2].

Desmond Tutu, a famous human rights activist in South Africa puts this need for support nicely into words. He said “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. Meaning that as a leader of a company it is important you lead by example and make sure your workplace is a safe space for employees. Making clear that discrimination is not accepted in your company in a time where these words of encouragement matter the most.

A company can openly push for more diversity goals in their vision, even when they are not there yet. And (if necessary) help to change the mindset of their employees by involving majority-group members in minority efforts. Increasing representation can feel like a heavy burden to carry for the few minority employees in the big group. Therefore it’s important to remember that diversity is not just a “person of color’s issue” or a “women’s issue”, but everyone’s business. Because even if you are as caucasian as they come, you can still play a very important role in enabling change.

But let’s not forget, it’s not only the company’s CEO who has an influence in creating/maintaining a diverse workplace where everyone feels heard! Already in 2017 UX designer Fabricio Teixeira formulated a clear set of guidelines (check them out here) that designers can follow to do their part in blowing a fresh and innovative wind through their company(/department) [4]. 

A clear place to start is of course to stand up if you see or experience discrimination. Discrimination can already happen through small and subtle comments, maybe the speaker is not even realizing their words might be hurtful (e.g. when a project group doesn’t give the member with the accent the chance to speak, or when someone suggests women might have more difficulty to understand a complex technology). If you see this happening you can raise your hand, and invite people to think from a different angle.
But also generally being open to ideas different than your own is not something to immediately cut down. The creativity that comes with diversity can make discussions and brainstorming more interesting, engaging, and fun!

Something you can do to actively promote this is paying attention to diversity in every project group you join. See it as a learning opportunity to work with people who have a different background than you, and help other teammates to appreciate the differences between you all by pointing out the strengths in others.
If you are ever in a situation where you feel groups are too homogeneous (e.g. all dutch and international students group together) you can always talk to a teacher or event organizers about hustling groups in future meetings. Because again like Teixeira formulated so nicely, “the more opinions and different experiences, the more we can unchain our creativity” [4].

But also when working alone you can make steps by actively putting in the effort to remove bias from your design process. Redefine what is “normal” and remember to question your bias in every step of the process. Think beyond designing delicate pink profile pages for women and using bro-language in game design. And be innovative instead. Caio Braga points out in his article about more inclusive design that this can already start with a post-it on your desk to help you remember [5]. But that it is also something you can keep in mind when designing persona’s. Braga writes,“Move away from assumptions and stereotypical information about your audience. Does it really need to be a man? And are you assuming that your persona is not familiar with technology just because of their age? These questions to yourself are also valid for user journeys, task analysis and any other methodology trying to document who the user is and how the user behaves”[5]. And when asking for feedback on ideas, actively go beyond your inner circle to find people who might question your biases.

So how can you encourage diversity? Think about your vision. Set goals for diversity. Speak up about discimination and keep an open mind. Change the status quo and question what is normal. But all in all, if there is one tip you take away from this article, it should be that you are not alone. And can make a change by helping others remember they are also not alone. We can achieve great things together when lifting each other up, instead of bringing each other down.

Did we miss anything and do you have any other suggestions on how you would like to see BLM and diversity promoted in design or your work environment? Let us know in the comments!
Or do you know any designers of color you believe deserve center stage and more recognition for their work? Tell us about them in the comments as well!

text Kyara Fasen

graphics Alain van de Ven

[1] https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter 


[3] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/desmond_tutu_106145 

[4] https://uxdesign.cc/diversity-in-design-what-can-i-do-as-a-designer-today-2b3db03bd409 
[5] https://uxdesign.cc/how-design-can-help-with-inclusion-9d71a60d6359