Today’s news media organisations know it’s important to include Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practices in their business models. Not only is it important socially and ethically, but it is also just good business.
Jodie Hopperton, project lead of the INMA Product Initiative, encourages INMA members to look at The ACT Report, which is an unprecedented effort to transform DEI in tech through public commitments and collective, cross-industry action, for some practical advice on how to incorporate DEI into their businesses.
“The tech industry has so much influence over the products we use every single day and a lot of that applies to news as well,” Hopperton said in Wednesday’s Product Initiative Meet-Up. “How do we reflect our audiences? How do we make sure we’re addressing all our audiences?”
Product inclusion is about creating products and services that reflect the world around us. This is a shift from the standard but outdated practice by tech companies of optimising products and experiences for a narrow set of users. As a consequence, products gravitate toward the average and tend to work well for majority groups and not as well for underrepresented groups.
“But, average is not very helpful to us when we’re looking at audiences because it is normal to be different,” she said. “This really struck a chord with me because we do have these buckets of users, but actually, no user is average.”
Diversity is the norm, in fact, and good product design should respond to that diversity.
Hopperton highlighted four areas in which news media companies can focus on diversity:
Setting the stage: understanding diversity, inclusion, and equity
Cindy Joung, head of product inclusion at Yahoo Inc., joined Hopperton in the Meet-Up to share practical lessons on how INMA members can implement changes within their organisations and products.
She explained the differences in the words many companies are throwing around today:
- Diversity: Everyone is invited to the party.
- Inclusion: Everyone is part of the planning committee.
- Equity: Everyone is provided transportation to the party.
- Belonging: Everyone is able to attend the party as their authentic selves.
“It’s important that you address diversity from what you see and also what you might not see,” Joung said. It includes more apparent factors such as gender and ethnicity, but also potentially non-apparent things such as disabilities, socio-economic status, etc.
Joung also pointed out that equity does not simply mean equality. With unequal access to opportunities, equality means those opportunities are evenly distributed, while equity includes custom tools and assistance that identify and address inequality.
To understand the problem, people must identify what exclusion actually looks like. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, Joung said. When people don’t experience exclusion, they usually just accept their experience and don’t recognise that other people are in fact excluded.
“There are many communities, from different dimensions of diversity, that experience this daily,” she said.
Joung echoed what Hopperton said about there being no “average” person, or audience: “When you try to solve for average, you solve for no one.”
Exclusion and racism in tech abounds. When you don’t have the right people in the room, the most representative and diverse group that you can, you can make up for that by making sure you get user feedback from a diverse, representative group.
An introduction to product inclusion
“Product inclusion, quite simply, is the practice of applying an inclusive lens throughout the entire product development process,” Joung said. “It’s about this culture shift. You have to make sure that everybody that is in the product development process has this embedded in the foundation.”
Product inclusion is also relevant and important to the business case. The focus of inclusion is both the workforce and the users.
“You cannot build effective products that are inclusive and representative of your users if you don’t have that same representation in your workforce,” she said.
The social reason for DEI is to do good. But there are also multiple business reasons:
User growth and engagement.
Protect the business.
When companies create products with inclusivity in mind, they reach more users and achieve higher engagement. This leads to brand love and word of mouth. All of these things lead to innovation, Joung said. Ultimately, this protects the business from the scale of a bad Tweet to a disability infringement lawsuit.
The business case for diversity in executive teams also remains strong. A diverse workforce equals profitability.
“By increasing gender diversity and ethnic diversity in your company, you will see changes to the bottom line, and you will create more revenue and more success,” Joung said.
Consumer diversity also equals the potential for profitability. Proactive inclusion in product development can help companies design useful, accessible products for large, untapped audiences.
“The Black community, the Asian community, and the Latinx community each have a US$1 trillion dollar market [in the United States]. The stats are there to say if you have a diverse workforce, you are likely to create more revenue and it will affect the bottom line. And there is an audience out there that are diverse, that have money to spend, and they are looking to spend it somewhere.”
When companies create products that address these diverse audiences, they are likely to achieve more success.
How to implement product inclusion
“Product inclusion needs to be embedded into the product development process,” Joung said. “It’s not a milestone, it’s not a gate-keeping mechanism. It needs to go as early as you think of an idea, and it needs to follow that trend all the way through to your launch and marketing of that product.”
This is about creating a culture shift, she said, so the product inclusion mindset is something that must be communicated and embraced by each team member. This could include diversity and inclusion training to all departments, from product and design to engineering and marketing.
It isn’t up to underrepresented people to do all this work, she reminded INMA members, but rather it needs to be part of the culture and entire process — both product development but also editorial.
This all goes back to making it a priority to hire a diverse, inclusive workforce.
“It’s so important to have people with lived experiences actually helping to create the solution,” Joung said. “By fostering a more diverse and inclusive workforce, we will have more representation, we can broaden the scope of the addressable market, and also this helps lower the cost of retrofitting.”
Product inclusion helps mitigate the possibility of bringing a product to market that receives negative feedback from underrepresented people and having to go back and change it.
Understanding your users is another vital part of the process, she said.
Understand who is underserved or excluded from your user base.
Ensure feedback loops meet users where they are and are equitable.
Create solutions that can act as digital curb cuts (like the legally mandated curb cuts on sidewalks passed for disabled people).
You can’t improve what you can’t measure, and so having metrics to show how you’re doing in product and workforce inclusion is vital. Joung provided several ways to do this:
Collect data, both quantitative and qualitative. Data will not be straightforward and can present ethical dilemmas. Be transparent and operate with the strictest trust and safety policies.
Create benchmarks. Be specific. Decide if you are tracking certain dimensions of diversity/devices and platforms/product experiences, etc.
Track deltas to understand impact. Recognise what metrics are changing and why. Lean into user research and feedback loops.
Check for bias. Data sets can be flawed, and inherent human bias can be introduced into data and also how we interpret data. Tread carefully.
Joung shares some insights from Kat Holmes, an inclusivity design expert.
Learn from human diversity.
Solve for one, extend to many.