Design Leaders Reveal How To Build Inclusive And Diverse Design Teams — And Why That Matters

Does your organization want to create an inclusive experience for your customers? Are you following an embedded design process? If the answer to both questions is yes, great! But if you’re like most companies, we’re talking about missing out on an essential element of creating an inclusive experience: an inclusive and diverse design team. It is important to have such a team to unlock the potential of the inclusive design process and to deliver on your commitment to creating an inclusive experience.

Having a diverse and inclusive design team brings benefits to businesses, customers and employees. These teams are better off stopping innovation, recognition and exclusion and attracting and retaining top talent. But despite the obvious advantages, many design teams struggle with how to move towards inclusion and diversity, and lack the best practice to build and manage teams formed around these standards.

What does it mean to have a diverse and inclusive design team?

We interviewed 17 design leaders to understand why diversity and inclusion are important to design teams and how they interact with team building and management. These conversations reveal four key elements to gaining this right:

  • Equity progress. In order to develop inclusion and diversity in a design team, design leaders must constantly advance equity in their team. This can take many forms, including reducing recruitment bias, resolving pay inequalities, eliminating opportunity barriers, and removing unhealthy energy mobility and design processes in teams.
  • Creating a diverse team structure. We often see diversity and inclusion in the context of underlying traits, such as ability, age, gender identity, race, spoken language, or sexual orientation. In addition to these features, design leaders explore other forms of diversity, such as cultural background, education and work experience. Randy Pagulayan, Xbox’s senior director of research, for example, seeks out the unique “superpowers” of each team member. This can include anything from being a fast learner to growing up in a different environment that enables them to see the world through different lenses.
  • Build an inclusive team culture. Create an inclusive team culture where team members listen, share and appreciate different perspectives. This means examining how meetings are conducted, how decisions are made, how feedback is given, and much more.
  • Implement an inclusive design process. Build a habit in your design process and stop eliminating early. This includes tapping into more diverse perspectives in design research, creating ideas, and exploring possible solutions. Learn more tips in our report, The Inclusive Design Imperial.

This graphic consists of three intersecting circles with the following text: different team formation, inclusive design process, and inclusive group culture.  The graphic further highlights the need to create an inclusive experience for all three.  If an inclusive design process is missing, important aspects are not brought out of the design team.  If an inclusive team culture is missing, employees do not appreciate it and leave the organization.  And if the formation of different teams is missing, then the team does not benefit from the ideas and innovations that come with different perspectives.  Equity revolves around three circles.

What are the first steps my company takes to build a diverse and inclusive team?

The design team, and the non-design team, should start by focusing on two areas:

  1. Identify and address barriers to your hiring process. One piece of advice we often hear from design leaders is to expand on where you are looking for candidates. Leesa Wytock, 21GRAMS, EVP of design experience of a real chemistry company, seeks candidates from outside the company’s industry (healthcare) because “you can’t move an industry from the inside.” Establishing an inclusive and fair interview process, where candidates are given the opportunity to ask questions independently and meet a wide set of team members, is equally important.
  2. Create an inclusive team culture. Design employees will be successful and stay with the company while their skills, background and input will be valued and appreciated. One of the best practices is to understand and respect the needs and preferences of each team member. Manjo staff are encouraged to complete a “Work with meDocuments that link to their slack profile and reveal how they like to work with others. Your goal is to create an environment where team members feel safe, valued, and empowered to contribute.

For more advice and best practices from design leaders, read our report: Prioritize Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in the design team to create an inclusive experience. If you are a client, consider booking a guide session with us to discuss how to apply these best practices to your organization.

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