The world today is undergoing its biggest transformation, over the last few years, it has become accustomed to the need for acceptance and empathy and most importantly equality. However, we are also living in a world where there has been resistance to openness and inclusion. We have seen those in a position of power share views that encourage the unequal treatment of human beings dependent on their race, status, and beliefs.
As designers, we do more than just live this in the world, we create experiences that directly impact the lives of others and ourselves. As designers we spend vast amounts of our time, imagining and building experiences that when combined take up a big portion of peoples day, and also affects the relationships they have with the people around them. But many like me chose this profession because we thought that this may be our opportunity to positively impact on some of these lives around us.
Unfortunately, when we are seeing ads like the most recent one from pepsi or Labor’s ‘Australian First’ campaign, it’s an undesirable realization that not only does society have a long way to go in understanding diversity but so does the design industry.
There is, of course, many different ways we can effectively start to impact diversity however we need to ask and answer the question of ‘what can I do today, as a designer, to contribute at a more diverse industry and a more inclusive work environment?’
As an individual
Stop referring or hiring your friends.
Your friends are your friends because often you have something in common with them; it maybe your history, an interest you share or most likely you have similar views and opinions to them. By putting your friends forward for a job you are encouraging leadership to hire someone who is likely to have a similar vision, a similar way of thinking and who may even have a similar design process. By hiring our friends we prevent the opportunity being shared with a wider demographic and exclude those that potentially have alternative views and processes to step into the role. By hiring outside our social circles we are increasing the likelihood of finding candidates with different opinions.
“If you want diversity of thought, you have to bring in people around you who have diverse experiences.”
Victoria L. Brescoll, Yale School of Management
Be open to alternative ideas.
Diverse cultural perspectives can inspire creativity and drive innovation. It’s easy to feel safe when surrounded by like minded individuals; often confidence in sharing ideas is heightened when surrounded by those who you consider similar to you. But the feeling of security is a big price for innovation. For teams, diversity helps to avoid group thinking, discussions instead become contested and as a result the team needs to work harder to create more innovative results that satisfy the entire team.
Creativity is concentrated by diversity. Diversity challenges process in a positive, more interesting and highly engaging way. As a designer when you hear an new idea that sounds strange and different from the ‘norm’, give it and yourself some time before judging whether the idea is a good one or not. Ask yourself, is this good? Does this answer the brief? Rather than, is this what I would do?
Become a mentor
Being a mentor requires a commitment, a dedication towards another individual and time. The outcome is an invaluable opportunity to professionally develop yourself and that of another. If you do choose to become a mentor, try to choose someone with a different background — this can be ethnicity, gender, nationality, age, race or culture. Being present around that person will teach you a lot beyond just design, it will open doors to alternative views and opinions. Mentoring can also be great networking opportunity, giving you access to a diverse range of potential candidates.
Knowing where to start on becoming a mentor can be quite complex, Anne Higgins, founder of Career foundry has written some great tips on how to be a great mentor but also runs career foundry with aim of connecting fresh designers with experienced individuals. Alternatively try a find a program in your local area, or your Your local UX/IxD/design association. Local colleges and universities are often in need of local mentors for either their current students or alumni.
Stand up to discrimination
It can be daunting to see discrimination and speak up about it, and sometimes it’s not even obvious (e.g. when someone makes a comment on a pronunciation due to an accent or a suggestion that a woman may not be technically capable), but speak up and don’t the let the incident pass by. Raise your hand, offer up an alternative point of view and ask for others to share their viewpoint. People may get defensive if you are combative, instead promote a healthy conversation around the subject, increased understanding of the subject helps peers confront the topic and be open to new opinions. If you witness discrimination you may feel the need to report it. Seek advice on who best to talk about the subject and explain the situation rationally and without bias.
Implement flexible working life policies
Many companies have introduced flexible work policies either through necessity or choice, but often employees are stigmatised if they choose to utilise these policies. Often it is a diverse range of people using these schemes, single parents, carers or even those going through further education. Companies will have processes and goals for promotions, unfortunately often they are not ‘policy’ friendly and require a large amount time and dedication from the employee to the company. Therefore it is common to find those who have to work within these flexible policies will stagnate or quickly move on, however often it those people that challenge the processes, bring refreshed ideas to the table. Ultimately then we need to make sure these flexible policies are not penalising employees who rely on them to achieve better work-life balance.