Sometimes Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) gets conflated with a list of boxes to check and quotas to meet. And the numbers matter, but so do the people behind those numbers. For SF Design Week, Beyond hosted a panel to learn from industry leaders about how we can create more equity in our communities through design. During this talk, we heard personal stories from leaders living their values around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I). We talked about their challenges, their triumphs, and what actions we can all take to move from inspiration to sustained action on the DE&I front.
These are our takeaways.
#1 — The team should reflect the audience.
As creatives, we synthesize. Monoculture inhibits creativity, and diversity breeds it. If we look at the world in silos, or don’t surround ourselves with people who have experienced a situation we’re solving for, the final output won’t resonate. And if your products aren’t relevant, neither is your business.
Sara Azadi, co-founder of TushBaby, said it best: “I would get up and walk out of a room if I saw all one type of person in there. I would say, ‘we’re not doing this. If we don’t have people who understand this experience, we’re going to fail.’” Leaders and contributors to creative organizations are responsible for being matchmakers within culture. We need to give diverse voices a seat at the table. Then hand them the mic.
#2 — Embrace vulnerability.
Although DE&I has gained significant traction across industries, there are still opponents who reject its value for businesses and communities. “It’s about building a circle of trust,” said Enri Moreno, Creative Director at Beyond and co-founder of Voyd Magazine, “a safe space for each employee to feel comfortable showing up to work as their whole self.”
The circle of trust requires everyone. It can’t just be coming from only one person. There needs to be allies acknowledging their own discomfort. By creating a safe space company-wide, it becomes easier to acknowledge, dismantle, and compensate for lopsided perspectives. Safe spaces create the conditions for us to feel comfortable checking in and being present with one another. It gives coworkers an opportunity to ask important questions, such as what pronoun to address someone by, or the right way to call out (or call in) unchecked bias in our work. That’s when impactful design really happens.
#3 — Enable the pursuit of personal passions.
More than anything, ‘Inclusion’ needs to be continuous across every aspect of your business. For startups and small businesses, there’s an opportunity to implement more mindful processes from the start. But how do established brands reimagine their playbooks without starting over? What are companies in the spotlight doing? Angela Pablo, Staff Interaction Designer at Google, said, “For a company that’s 20 years old, it becomes a behavior change. But it also allows us to look at each other to tackle issues that we’re personally passionate about.”
When your employees feel comfortable, their passions speak louder. They’re able to find like-minded supporters, and find more people who care about that thing they love. As they continue to gauge interests and build affinity, they feel empowered to go out and talk about it or do something to help. Enri Moreno called on designers to use our “inherent creative rebelliousness” to get involved in causes that directly affect us. Inclusivity and belonging at work gives everyone a chance to come together within the company, so they can encourage real change on the outside.
#4 — Build a new pipeline.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is not a one-step solution, nor is it a focus on just one group. It’s important to pay attention to the end-to-end potential. Aubrian Watson, Creative Director at Black Girls Code, raised questions about impact: “How are we creating a meaningful pipeline to young girls, and also how do we get those parents involved?” We need to treat ‘Inclusion’ as a continuous act.
As our industry continues to build a more representative workforce of the audiences we serve every day, we also have to make sure we’re being accessible. How do we go beyond a day of volunteering, to bring in someone who knows more about a situation closer to the solution? There’s a difference between treating communities as spectators, and actually empowering them to become producers, contributors, and future leaders instead.
Create new standards.
The era of diversity as a “check-the-box” initiative is over. Leaders must take ownership and drive accountability at all levels to close the gap between what is said and what is done. Passion can start at the bottom, but action needs to come from the top. We need to ensure we’re not just representing the imagery of other individuals, but that those people are a part of the design process.
Let’s make inclusivity and action the new standards in DE&I. Whether you’re a small business owner, a leader within a global organization, or just getting started — speak up, set your boundaries, and stick to them. I’ll leave you with the wise words of Sara Azadi one last time,“If you’re quiet about it, it’s not going to change.”
*To push the dialogue and take real action, Beyond London recently released The Belong Frameworks: an open source toolkit of D&I frameworks that have helped us create a more diverse and inclusive environment for our employees and in our work. If you’d like to contribute to the frameworks, please email email@example.com.