Why diversity matters in technology

 

Why diversity matters in technology should be fairly self-evident. In any business,diversity in any business has a clear, economic, and measurable dividend.
diversity
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Businesses with greater gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to outperform the industry median financial output in their sector, and for businesses with ethnic diversity that statistic rises to 35 per cent (McKinsey 2015).

Thirty-five percent more likely to outperform your competitors – and guess what? The McKinsey report also suggests that even making more of an effort to head towards greater representation within your business has positive financial implications stating:“In the United Kingdom, greater gender diversity on the senior-executive team corresponded to the highest performance uplift in our data set: for every 10 per cent increase in gender diversity, EBIT rose by 3.5 percent.

The business case for diversity is obvious because it has a direct impact on your bottom line, but diversity isn’t just about profit, it’s about how you spend your money too.

If you’ve ever designed or commissioned a website, leaflet or experience, diversity should matter to you. Unless, of course, you were planning on designing for a monoculture. The current Captcha I keep being served by Google requires me to identify something within an image (presumably to help build Google’s AI rather than to confirm I’m not a robot).

Imagine that something is a piece of rock from Mars. Now, having not been to Mars, I cannot differentiate Mars rock from any other type of organic matter. If Google had implemented the Mars rock Captcha and tested it exclusively with the team at NASA, some world-renown geologists and maybe the Mars robot itself – they might have passed the usability testing and now everyone is required to perform to the same standard. That doesn’t sound incredibly fair.

Obviously, that particular example is a tad stretched, but it speaks to the point that the user experiences we’re creating have a level of bias that we need to be conscious of in our design practice. Here’s another example: say you’re developing an online voter application tool and you’ve chosen to focus your efforts on delivering an awesome user experience on mobile.

Let’s go one step further and say that your intended delivery platform is the latest iOS, but you’ll also make it work on Android because you kind of have to. My nana can’t use your system. Why? Because she’s got an old Windows phone with a big button display that’s perfect for her – but not for your website. Despite being pretty tech-savvy, my nan now needs to go down to the local post office to register to vote. Is that an accessible, good experience? Not really.

So how do we design for diversity? We make sure that diversity is represented at the table. Either within your team, so the Windows phone owning developer can bring everyone’s attention to this hurdle, or in your QA process, or in the audience personas you’re designing the experiences for.

Or better yet, all of the above. Principles of diversity and inclusivity should run throughout design and development, otherwise we’re heading for a future that propagates existing structures of unconscious bias and segregates minority groups.

When we’re creating technology, as much as when we’re creating art, we bring all of our inherent biases along with us, and there’s a pretty neat reminder in most of the code we write. If you’re reading this, the chances are high that the code on this site is all written in American English. The majority of open source code is.

There’s also specific character accents that are common in Latin languages such as ‘ã’ which tend to throw our software completely off kilter (the removal of these being required to fit into 7-bit ASCII for the techie readers), needing to be replaced by an Anglicised version. So if you’re a Spanish developer, conscientiously commenting your code, there’s every chance you’re coming across these little biases every day. And if you’re committing code to an international organisation then you’ll probably just be asked to do it in English. I can’t help wonder whether inclusion and diversity standards within the foundations of our programming languages would have empowered us to create more flexible systems to begin with.

The people you are building for are diverse. The future you are building for is even more diverse. And your bottom line stands to benefit from diversity.

If you want to start by recruiting more women in tech, I’d recommend reading this.

About the author:

Natalie Lloyd, Brand Thinker/Strategist at Pixeldot

With a careermentor natalie lloyd that runs the gamut of the creative and digital industries, Natalie has been making her mark in the UK and abroad for the past decade.

As Strategist at Pixeldot Creative, Natalie draws on her experience to help businesses reach their full digital potential. Spanning the UK, New York and Montpellier, previous roles include Director of MOHARA (formerly Say Digital); Curator and Producer of TEDxBrighton; Director of Marketing at Orange Logic; and creative consultancy for high-end photographers in New York and the UK.

A seasoned speaker, Natalie regularly gives talks on management, startups, innovation, creativity and women in technology. Other projects include Manner, SheSays Brighton, iSPY Visuals and What Women Want 2.0.