The technology sector is getting a widespread wake-up call as it faces a social reckoning that’s long overdue. As an industry dominated by white and male, it’s become increasingly clear that achieving racial equity is one of the most important issues we must address. Tech companies do not sit apart from society. Issues of race, gender, power, and privilege don’t stop at our workplace door. We all must be champions of diversity, inclusion, and a sense of belonging (DIB).
After taking a month-long anti-racism workshop hosted by Dr. A. Breeze Harper and Dr. Keegan Walden, I began to understand that while many organizations have DIB efforts in place, they typically fall into the “non-racist” category, rather than the “anti-racist” category. Non-racism is a passive stance, while anti-racism involves taking real action to change systems and behaviors to promote equity and equality.
To prioritize DIB throughout our organizations, we must begin with the technology and processes we use every day. One of the most impactful ways we can make a difference in our industry is by embedding DIB directly into how we build and deliver products. At LiveRamp, our DIB efforts are the cornerstone of our innovative culture. Here are some ways we can hold our industry more accountable to achieving racial equity.
Establish teams representative of diverse viewpoints
Hiring and growing a diverse group of product managers and developers is a crucial first step towards bringing more equity to our industry and empowering underrepresented communities. When our workforce accurately reflects the diversity of our world, we are more likely to develop products that address all audiences. A mirror to this focus on diverse product development teams would be to ensure customer feedback loops include a diverse range of users. Companies with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues, proving the benefits of having diverse teams within product development.
Rethink terminology associated with products
In addition to diversity in talent acquisition, tech companies should train employees on how to spot and root out inherent bias in products. Some words in our tech lexicon, often used to describe product capabilities, actually have racist undertones. At LiveRamp, we have a heightened awareness when it comes to these historically charged words. For example, instead of using “black list,” we use “block list,” “deny list,” or “exclude.” On the flip side, we avoid terms like “white list” when referring to “allow list,” “safe list,” or “permitted.” By conducting a holistic audit of terminology used throughout product development and adjusting as needed, companies can guarantee a neutral and inclusive communications exchange.
Make products accessible to all
Overhauling website capabilities to ensure product information is accessible to everyone helps everyone feel included. Incorporating text-to-speech technology throughout online product descriptions makes the information accessible to the visually impaired, while closed captioning helps the deaf and hard of hearing access videos. By paying attention to how we develop and present our products to a world with varying degrees of abilities, we enable all customers to make full use of our products.
Monitor how your product is used outside of your organization
It’s important to plan for a product’s usage once it’s left your company and entered the general marketplace to prevent unintended applications. For example, ad servers are embedded with the ability to block ads from websites promoting racist content. This is an important backstop baked into these products. While it’s difficult to control use cases outside your four walls, companies that employ a range of strategies, like constructing thoughtful terms of service agreements and developing specific vetting processes for use cases and partnerships, can push the industry forward.
Don’t expect a quick fix
To actively promote DIB, tech companies must have initiatives in place to develop products and services which are inclusive. Rooting out systemic bias and embedding inclusivity into all aspects of a product is not a qualitative process with a clear right and wrong, and we as a community are still learning best practices. Yet, while these large initiatives may be daunting at first, I approach DIB initiatives the same way I approach building a product: set the vision, then slice it into small pieces to tackle and build upon. Employ agile methodologies to test, learn, and make progress. Only when DIB efforts are reflected in the very make-up of our tech products will we begin to see change.
Tech companies are used to embracing the unknown. For true change to occur, we must welcome discomfort, operate in the grey area, and make mistakes along the way. You aren’t going to get it right every time, yet being vulnerable and taking action towards building a more diverse and inclusive industry will ultimately create meaningful progress.