Demanding a Solution to the Design Diversity Gap

Colleen Shifflett
Colleen Shifflett
July 29, 2021


According to Forbes
, 93% of C-suite executives are focused on prioritizing diversity, but a mere 57% have established a clear recruitment strategy to attract more diverse talent. There’s a disconnect there, and it’s not just about a lack of action.

It can take a long time to build a DEI-focused recruitment strategy. And the issues begin with how you were hiring in the first place. About ⅓ of all hires are employee referrals. That’s great, right? Someone who already works at the company knows this person and vetted them. However, this is problematic because only hiring people from within your current organization’s network stifles diversity.

When such a large percentage of hires are coming from within the social and business networks of people who already work at a company, that contributes to a more homogenized environment. Many organizations point to the money saved from employee-referred hires as being beneficial to the company, but what are you losing in culture, diversity, and innovation to save a few bucks?

So does a hiring process that encourages diversity cost more? McKinsey reports that gender diverse companies are 21% more likely to outperform their competitors – racially diverse teams even more so, at 33%. It may be harder to put a number to this performance, but the ROI on diversity is not to be overlooked.

If you’re looking for a change, taking a look at how your business has been filling roles is a good place to start. One argument you’ll probably hear is “well, we just didn’t get enough diverse applicants.”

If that’s the case, it’s time to examine the application process. From the job announcement to where and how it’s posted, you are excluding and favoring certain candidates without even realizing it. Want to check that out for yourself? Try running some of your recent job postings through this job posting bias test.

There’s More Than One Path to Diversity

It takes some time to make changes to your recruitment process to improve diversity in your company, but using diverse suppliers helps as well. At the very heart of your enterprise are systems that keep everything moving along. If Conway’s Law is any indicator, every new integration within your system offers a unique opportunity to bring in a fresh perspective.

Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure.— Melvin E. Conway

By adding diverse suppliers to your chain, you not only support minority-owned businesses, you support the growth and innovation that comes with a team that better represents the global audience you serve.

This concept isn’t new, and companies like CVS Health are working to help diverse suppliers learn how to better serve large enterprises. The efforts of their commitment to diverse suppliers are paying off. In 2019, CVS Health’s engagement with small and diverse businesses led to over $5.6 billion in contributions to the US economy and sustained 35,746 US jobs.

Breaking Down Barriers to Opportunity

Simply hiring more diverse people and supporting diverse suppliers isn’t enough. Efforts must be made to level the playing field of opportunity.

The reality is there is simply a smaller pipeline of people and suppliers available to offer goods and services to enterprise companies. This inequity often starts with education, which isn’t equally accessible to everyone in the population.

We identified this problem as we started realizing our own vision of building the middle class in Africa by helping top African designers work on substantial enterprise projects. That’s why a big part of what we do involves building a community of designers who are continually upskilling to reach their full potential. We do this through technology that helps people reach their goals for hard and soft skills to become the best designers possible.

Greater Designer Diversity Leads to More Inclusive Designs

Think about the systems that people currently use to communicate and learn digitally. Currently, these are being designed mostly by certain groups who don’t represent the population that use the websites and products. This limits accessibility for underrepresented groups.

Typically when we think about accessibility we consider physical differences that consume the way people interact online. But there’s a great deal more to consider.

Cultural differences can also limit accessibility, which means that certain groups can unintentionally be excluded from knowledge and experiences. This broadens the gap to opportunities for these populations.

The Future of Diversity and Design

With machine learning and artificial intelligence, engineers are making advances every day in possibilities when it comes to user experience. Perhaps one day there will be a way for user interfaces to adjust on the fly, viewing people as an individual to ensure that they have the intended experience no matter where they’re coming from.

Again with this, we encounter the issue that if these advanced technologies are being developed by an elite few, they’re unlikely to address the needs of underrepresented populations. That’s why it’s so important to seek out, invest in, and champion diversity in design. Our world should demand it.

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