There is No Magic Pill

Practical tips for creating an inclusive and diverse workplace.

Almost 3 years ago, the Twitter Design and Research department went from being about 25% women to about 50% women in a little over a year and a half. Almost every time I tell someone this fact, they immediately ask, “Wait, how did you do it?!” with an incredulous look on their face similar to how people gaze upon someone who’s lost a lot of weight. And like losing weight, the answer is always a combination of things done together and sustained over time. For us, it was a mix of open dialogue, company support and passionate teammates that enabled us to tackle what the tech industry thinks is near-impossible. But like weight loss, everyone’s circumstance and journey are different. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. I’m writing this simply to share how our team did it, not to trademark the latest fad “diversity diet” that everyone should try. As we’re all making New Year’s resolutions, I hope that these tips can act as tools to inspire your team reach their inclusion and diversity goals.

Meaningful dialogue

In early 2014, it felt as if each week brought to light a new story of women facing discrimination in our industry. Amidst the discussions that were happening online, we were having the same ones in person. So much so that one of our senior designers Coleen Baik sent an email to the team asking if we wanted to get together and talk about it as a team. She suggested using our weekly Fireside Chat, a time we have set aside every Thursday to have meaningful discussions as a team, to talk about gender in the workplace.

Coleen chatting with design manager Bryan Haggerty

To help guide the discussion, Coleen worked with Liz Ferrall-Nunge, a research manager, to understand current attitudes and perceptions around gender in the workplace. Using a survey, we asked the team how much they agreed or disagreed with statements ranging from, “I would recommend Twitter to my female friends” to “I feel free to express my views openly.” Liz and Coleen then took the results, compared it by gender and shared the key findings to kick off the discussion. The data was eye-opening and provided a dose of reality about the starkly different ways that teammates felt depending on their gender. In our data-driven world, these numbers highlighted a huge opportunity for us to improve the way we worked both within the team and across the broader industry.

However, more powerful than the data were the stories and experiences that both men and women shared about working in the tech industry. It was one designer’s story that really hit home with our then VP of Design, Mike Davidson. The designer shared with the team what a difference having just one other woman in a meeting meant to her. That when things felt inappropriate or isolating, being able to even have a knowing glance was comforting. In those moments she felt less alone, less helpless to what many women deal with on their own.

Mike leading a lively conversation on inclusion at a Women in UX event

Mike has often talked about how hearing this anecdote was the ah-ha moment for him but I know he wasn’t the only one who left that Fireside Chat feeling changed from the stories shared. In fact, it felt as if the fireside was almost comically a mirror of what Twitter is. That when you give someone a platform to have a voice, it can result in meaningful change–whether it’s #BlackLivesMatter or our own team’s gender make-up.

Support Systems

After the Fireside Chat, we had clear executive support from the entire research and design leadership team. In particular, Mike wanted actionable things he could do so that his support was not just lip service to the women on the team.

At an XX+UX event with some of the women on the team in 2014

We started by holding a company-wide sourcing jam, an event where colleagues shared potential female designers and researchers we should hire. Mike put a iPad in to sweeten the pot for whoever could refer the most candidates and at the end of 3 hours, we had over 600 names. Six hundred. Those names were passed along to our team’s recruiter, Jenn Tomoka, with Mike’s mandate that she focus solely on this list for the time being. We would get other candidates coming in through our application process but this would ensure we were doubling down on our pipeline.

Through the help of the sourcing jam, our amazing recruiter and our leadership team’s support, we grew our team by almost 80%, hired women at a 3:1 ratio and ended up with a nearly 50/50 balance. This change in our numbers was an amazing success, but we were still keenly aware of the challenges we faced in creating an inclusive environment.

Team brainstorm to help kick off 2015 Women in UX efforts

To that end, we formed a Women in UX (WUX) group that was open to everyone regardless of gender. It was important for us to create community as a team and to be inclusive. There was no way that we were going to do this without both women and men involved and we strongly believe that inclusion is everyone’s job. We set as our mission to advocate for gender equality at Twitter and in the tech industry.

In the following months, we held our first external event, started a team-wide mentorship program and taught our first UX workshop for Girls Who Code. None of these events and programs would have been possible without the WUXers whose passion and commitment made it happen. There were nights where Erin Moore, Kristina Frost and I worked on user personas for a UX workshop. There were mid-day meetings where Liz and I matched mentors with mentees. The night of our first event, almost the entire design and research team stayed to help facilitate conversations and greet the people who came.

Amber Heinbockel (center) running a Girls Who Code UX workshop in our Boston office

The support we got from each other was, and still is, critical to our success. Because of WUX, we hired a researcher who came to our first event and was impressed by our commitment to inclusion and diversity. We have over half the team involved in our mentorship program either mentoring or being mentored. We started out teaching UX workshops for Girls Who Code and now have increased our efforts to include Inneract Project, CHIME Hack, Berkeley High, Oasis for Girls, Oakland Digital and more. We’ve held over 5 events in San Francisco, Boston and London and we’ve shared our story at both Grace Hopper and Tapia Conferences. The passion of our Women in UX group has helped us go beyond our Twitterverse into the broader world to make change. The support of each other has also sustained our efforts for nearly three years.

Beyond Gender

One of the best things about starting our group has been the relationships we’ve built inside of Twitter with Twitter Women, Blackbirds, Alas, TwitterOpen, Twitter Parents and the entire Inclusion & Diversity team. We’re not the only ones trying to make Twitter a more inclusive and diverse place and we’ve learned that we’re stronger together.

Current executive sponsor of Diversity in UX and VP of Design & Research Grace Kim (second from left) at Grace Hopper Conference

Working with our allies across the company has also emboldened us to broaden our scope beyond gender. Most of the issues tied to gender intersect with other systems like race and class, so mid-last year we begun the pivot from Women in UX to Diversity in UX. We’re excited to see how we can make our team, the UX community and tech more representative of the people we’re building products for.

We’re also going to focus this next year on continuing to share what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. We’ll discuss event formats that have worked and those that haven’t, ideas for different UX workshops, how to set up a mentorship program, what makes for a good sourcing jam and also the logistics of how we operate.

Spark change

Erin Moore (right) and myself with the next generation of UXers

There have been a lot of big and little things we’ve done along our journey that might help you right now. Key to our initial success was:

  • Open and honest dialogue
  • Collecting data on employee sentiment
  • Executive support and sponsorship
  • Holding a company-wide sourcing jam
  • Focusing recruitment on candidates with diverse backgrounds
  • Establishing an employee resource group (ERG)
  • Creating a mentorship program
  • Hosting external community events
  • Partnering with other company allies and ERG groups
  • Partnering with non-profits and outside organizations
  • Passionate employees

Like I mentioned before, there was no single thing we did–it was a mix of all of these things done together. There is no magic pill to take to make a company or industry more inclusive or diverse. I wish it were that simple but it’s not. Hopefully more people will share what they’ve done to make meaningful change in this space so that everyone might benefit.

In the meantime, I hope you continue to follow our journey on Twitter at Diversity in UX.


Special thanks to all the women and men who have helped make Diversity in UX what it is. There are too many to name but you all have made real change.