7 subway car pulled in to a crowded platform in Grand Central
PHOTO: Victor Rodriguez

I am being asked more frequently about my stance on diversity and inclusion from senior executives — which is a really good thing. But I still can’t help feeling something is missing from these conversations. Too often, diversity and inclusion discussions tend to fall into one of two categories: Sheer recognition that it’s important or a list of stats with no clear ties as to how it’s changing business or culture.

I am too often one of the few (sometimes only) minority women in executive level meetings. As such, I tend to field many questions about diversity and inclusion — and, wanting to be more informed, I began to ask the people and companies who have moved the needle to get guidance.

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How to Ensure Diversity and Inclusion Doesn't Stop at Recruiting

There is a huge focus on non-bias and representational recruiting. And there should be. Recruiting diverse talent helps to ensure new ideas enter organizations to help them compete. But this doesn’t automatically translate to the organizations thinking differently or fundamentally evolving. A core reason seems to be the new ideas are not actually woven into the fabric of how a company operates. Most companies have many different types of teams (initiative, management, executive) that are running in parallel at any given time. Diversity and inclusion efforts tend to be measured at the macro level — without ensuring each team within a company is diverse.

For example, a team has been brought together to improve sustainability. This team is a highly diverse group focused on creating environmental programs for a large corporate entity. On the other hand, the facilities team is a legacy team that has not been challenged in many years (skews older and has almost no diversity). The success of the sustainability team depends on the facilities team being open to their ideas of change.

The net result is obvious. Even if you evolve your recruiting processes, and meet certain statistics, you need to ensure the sphere of influence of diversity and inclusion initiatives impact every layer of the organization, especially the layers that have the highest degree of influence. 

Start small: identify a handful of teams with high visibility and big business impact. Then, share your intention to create diverse teams within the organization. Explain you want the teams themselves — not just your employee base — to be representative of the customers you serve and the world you operate in. Saying it outright will allow people to see the opportunities across the organization and raise their hand to be considered for a larger variety of teams.

Before the teams kick off, pause to look around the room and ask yourself, “Is the group assembled the best group possible to solve the problem at hand? Is it representative of different genders, backgrounds, skills and belief systems?” If the answer is yes, you have done your job. If the answer is no, don’t move forward. This will be the hardest part. Once the team starts, progress should be heavily communicated out internally, with a focus on tangible results.

And it is not just about a minority perspective. It is about making sure you are accounting for as many viewpoints as possible. I was once in a meeting with two other female business leaders who realized we were missing a technology perspective. We actually paused the discussion to find better representation, and in this case, we had the added benefit of adding a male perspective to the mix. By doing this we avoided operating within an echo chamber, had more balanced discussions, and ultimately, better outcomes as measured by adoption.

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Diversity Complements Design

Diversity breeds better results across departments, but it is especially important for design and experience teams. Examples of what not to do abound, like when a group of men designed a car for women, the Dodge Le Femme. It even came with a matching lipstick. Shocker — it insulted, rather than enticed its intended audience.

But when you have a team of diverse thinkers, good things happen. As an example, our experience team recently worked with an entertainment company. Different locations had different customer bases reflective of the region and the attraction. In this case, tasked with designing and building digital experiences for a vast audience, we deliberately assembled a team of various experiences (in both skill and background) and spent time with audiences that were not well represented through research. This empathetic view of design allows, for example, a younger designer well-versed in emerging tech to propose using VR to simulate the rollercoaster experience for the elderly and people with physical limitations. If we did not have a diverse team with design empathy built into the process, we may not have been able to get to the more innovative ideas.

When you come at a problem in a variety of ways and evaluate your solution against countless scenarios, you have the opportunity to go beyond better ideas and move a design so intuitive and precise, it feels like it couldn’t have been built any other way. Inevitability in design is very hard to achieve, but would be an impossibility without intentionally assembling a diverse team.

Homing in on a few key teams that are intentionally designed should make the lofty task of enacting organizational change more manageable. It is the next phase of the diversity and inclusion discussion.