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Tech for All: Inclusion in Innovation – Event Insights

Author: Alice Hodges
Tech for All: Inclusion in Innovation – Event Insights

This month we hosted our final Smart Cookies meet-up of the year, exploring the vital intersection of technology and inclusivity.

Tech for All: Inclusion in Innovation

We were joined by three expert panellists to discover how we can make products and services more inclusive for all. Hosted by our founder Harry, we explored how we can collectively harness innovation to ensure that no one is left behind in this increasingly interconnected world.

Inclusive innovation panel

Meet the panel

Marissa Ellis – Founder of Diversily whose mission is to inspire inclusive innovation and better business. Marissa is an expert in business transformation, digital innovation, leadership and inclusion.

William Britton – Founder of AutonoMe, helping neurodiverse people and those with learning disabilities achieve better outcomes through the power of mobile technology.

Sangeetha Wynter – Diversity & Inclusion Training Manager at Babbasa, Sangeetha’s goal is to equip companies with cultural competency to achieve authentic, inclusive environments to bridge the gap.

Our fantastic panellists shared their insights and experiences of working within the inclusivity and diversity sector with our community.

Inclusive innovation event

To kick off the discussion Marissa kindly shared some of the content from the Diversily Inclusive Innovation Playbook, to help set the scene and explain exactly what we mean when talking about inclusive innovation.

“When we think about diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s not just about recruitment and internal culture. We need to be thinking about the products and services that we’re creating and applying it to our innovations. Inclusive innovation isn’t standard practice at the moment, but it really should be as we know that diversity sparks innovation, and inclusion fuels growth.”

“The idea of the playbook is to look at how we can make it standard practice; what are the processes and practices that we can put in place to change the way that we innovate so that we can create more inclusive products and services?”

“Essentially, it’s about building a better future. Inclusive innovation is about creating equitable solutions that have a positive impact, and our goal when we’re innovating inclusively should be to create an empowering experience, not just for some, but for all.”

So why does it matter?

Marissa shared her thoughts on this:

  • It’s the right thing to do!
  • It’s fantastic for business
  • It helps us increase reach; if we can create solutions that are more appealing and work for more people, we increase reach.
  • It helps us increase impact; if we create better solutions we strengthen our brand and we create equity. 

It also helps us avoid a whole bunch of things that are really bad for business. 

  • Exclusion and harm – not great for your reputation!
  • Under serving customers
  • Untapped talents and insights 
  • Reputational and legal risk 
  • Unrealised potential

Marissa went on to provide us with some real world examples of what happens if we don’t go about creating inclusive products and services.

  • Automatic soap machines that only work for white hands
  • Voice automated systems that don’t work if you’ve got certain accents, or even historically there were some that didn’t work if you were female
  • Crash test dummies were originally created on the male form and it took over 10 years to start testing on female dummies. During this time people were literally dying. 
“The key message is if you’re not intentionally including, you’re unintentionally excluding!”

“The Inclusive Innovation Playbook we’ve created centres on the idea of the three P’s; inclusive principles, inclusive people and inclusive practices.  And if you embed those three things into your organisation, that’s how you can start creating inclusive products and services.”

“The Inclusive Innovation Playbook is free. We want to encourage as many people as possible to start using it to redefine their innovation practices. Please help us by sharing it far and wide. Together we can drive the change that is so needed.”

As Marissa explains, to innovate inclusively there are some key principles:

  • One size doesn’t fit all. If you only build for one persona, you only create products or services that work with one group of people and you will, by definition, exclude people.
  • Challenging inequity. If you’re not consciously thinking about the inequity that could arise from your products and services, the chances are there will be some, so challenging inequity needs to become part of the way that you think about creating products and services
  • Empathy is fundamental. We don’t have enough empathy in business. We need to start building ‘with’ and not ‘for’, involving marginalised people or different groups of users in your processes, will mean you start creating products and services that are more fit for purpose for your audiences. 
  • Be accountable. You can’t just create stuff, hope for the best and make a lot of money and not think about the impact. You’ve got to start building it in, to be thinking about the impact, whatever you’re putting out into the world and it having a positive impact.
Inclusive innovation panel

Key takeaways from the panel discussion

From your perspective what do we mean by inclusion diversity and equity?

Sangeetha 

So I guess for me, when it comes to the workplace you can work somewhere that’s diverse, but if it’s not inclusive, then you’re not going to feel that sense of belonging, or feel heard and feel valued. And that’s the main reason a lot of people leave their jobs, and exactly why I left teaching in my niche where I was last working, so being inclusive is really important. Equity is then that next step up, it’s about providing people with the right tools so they can feel that sense of belonging and feel supported, as well as acknowledging differences.

William

At Autonome we are set up and designed to support people with learning disabilities and neurodiversity across the country. We have lots of students with various needs and challenges to accessing education. Our support is based around the idea that people with learning disabilities and neurodiversity are fully capable of following high quality video content to guide them through everyday tasks. So we’ve built really good, high quality content and programmes, that we’ve been able to scale out so everyone can benefit from them, So inclusion, diversity and equity really were the founding principles of the company. 

For me, inclusion has always been about reasonable adjustments; how can I change something that’s going to make this person feel included? That’s always been a real focus for me in regards to creating anything that will truly benefit people.

What is the key when we’re creating new products and services? How do we make sure inclusion is baked in from the very start?

Marissa 

It starts with the people. You need a certain mindset and you need to recognise that this is important and that the way that you interact with your colleagues counts. If you don’t have a psychologically safe environment and if you don’t have diversity within the teams that are creating your products or services, you’ve probably got a few gaps. One of our flagship programmes is our leadership programme, where we start by training leaders about what inclusivity means, how they can build stronger relationships within their team, how to empower their team and how to create an environment where everyone can thrive. 

When it comes to products or services, you want to be thinking about diversity of participation, not just within your team, but also with who’s actually integrating these products and services.

Also how does the product or service fit into your mission? How does it fit into your values and your strategy so that it’s strategically aligned to what you’re trying to achieve?

Ensure you are asking questions around who might feel excluded by this new feature for example. Simple changes can make a big difference. Are you running workshops as part of your design practice? You need to look at all of the different elements of your innovation practices from research to design and testing, and start to think about how do we start to tweak these things so that it becomes just how we operate and how we do business, essentially. 

And my advice would be to start small, don’t be overwhelmed by this. Start with one thing that you can do to make a change and then go from there.

What recommendations and advice would you give about how you put yourself into someone else’s shoes when you’re trying to design something for someone else? What have you learnt from your experiences?

William 

I guess the main thing I’ve benefited from is observing people for a really long period of time, and a huge variety of people with a variety of challenges. I had a wide variety of 80 students a year, every year for three years. It made me realise you can’t create something that’s rigid, it needs to be really flexible because every one of them is an individual and although some of them have similar traits, it was clear I needed to create something that was flexible at its core.

Sangeetha 

“I think that lived experience is also really important, I think to be an inclusive leader you need to be aware of the biases that you have.”

Be prepared to keep learning and to keep putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Whilst you’ll never fully understand what it’s like to be somebody, you can learn a lot from taking the time and working with them. 

You need to be willing to build inclusive practices in from the beginning, for example at Babbasa we didn’t have much money when we first moved into our office, but our CEO made it his ultimate goal for us to have a disabled toilet, and so we made sure we definitely had one because we didn’t want it to be a barrier to the young person coming into our office for the first time or client or anyone we work with. So having that mindset from the offset is really important. 

If we’re going to create more inclusive products and services, one of the things we need to do is make our workforce more diverse and more inclusive. What is your opinion on how we go about that and what are the big challenges we may face?

Marissa

I think it starts with inclusion first and creating a workplace that is psychologically safe. Also ensuring that the existing team understands this and having the correct practices and principles in place (which may include training and reasonable adjustments) before you can start thinking about diversity.

The point is that there are things you can do and those things make a real difference. For example language matters; there was a computer science course degree in America, and the course was originally called ‘computer science’ and after the name of the course was changed to ‘the joy and beauty of computing’, suddenly 50% more women applied for the course. 

You’ve got to create an environment that people want to be in, and connect it to who you are as an organisation which can require a level of introspection to make sure you’re being authentic. We need to start from within, understand our own privileges and have those uncomfortable conversations in order to make us better at building stronger relationships.

As leaders in business, we get very fixated on trying to measure something, because if we fail to measure it, we can’t manage it. Do we need to measure the impact of inclusion? And if so, how do we go about it?

Marissa 

Yes definitely, we have something called our institution health check where before we work with any client or undergo any training, or any recruitment we get them to fill the health check out so we can see where they’re at and then find some recommendations.

Also employee poll surveys offer people the opportunity to have that anonymous space where they can actually share that sense of belonging. We ask questions like – when was the last time you felt a sense of belonging? Do you feel that your Managers are good role models? Are you confident when it comes to having conversations around EDI? And other really specific questions to tease out that information. From that you’ve then got something to work from and build on.

“We have diversity inclusion and equity metrics to measure both our current employees sense of belonging and also the opportunities we are creating.”

I think it’s also important to include a metric around advocacy and how our staff are playing their part in being supportive.

If we translate that to what we’re talking about today, products or services, your diversity metrics are essentially a representation of your users. So what does our user-base look like and how does that break down? What are the different user groups and what are their different experiences? For example, is the female experience of our product or service equivalent to the male experience? Where are users dropping off at different stages? If you don’t break it down, you don’t ever know. 

William

For us we work with a cohort that has always had incredibly poor outcomes in health, social care and education, and so the first thing we do is we get to know each individual from an initial assessment and that’s the starting point for working with us.

Then we’re basically working with that individual to make progress from that point. The progress will differ between individuals, and is based on various things like their family circle, where they are in life. But that’s what we sell, life progress, we’re going to help you make progress towards employment, to sustain a job, to cook at home etc. and we’re constantly measuring against that starting point to look back at that individual. Ideally, the end goal is you want that individual to say, “go away, I don’t need you anymore because I’m so independent”! That would be the best outcome for us.

What would be the panel’s advice on what everyone should take away from today to try and convince others of the benefits of inclusive innovation?

William

In my opinion, I believe everyone wants to do the right thing, but there are people out there that simply don’t have the correct knowledge or experience, and the worst thing to do would be to point fingers at them and say you’re not inclusive enough. It’s more important to educate, explain and look at the opportunities. This is a much better approach in my experience. 

Sangeetha 

I would say for companies and organisations to take this seriously, otherwise you will get left behind.  Gen Z and young people today increasingly want to work in sectors which are more sustainable and more equitable, and are less likely to stay in the same job for 10 – 20 years like previous generations. So if your organisation doesn’t have social value etc. then you will get left behind.

I think also connecting with organisations that exist already in the community and partnering with them. We have a number of organisations that we partner with at Babbasa, and we’ve had some amazing success stories of young people doing amazing things.

Marissa 

I think the message is you’ve got to meet people where they are. We’re not going to create a better future for everyone by blaming people in the past so we need to find a way to move everyone forward together. No one changes their mind by you walking in and telling them they’re wrong and telling them to change! We need to be more aware, and we see this all the time in our leadership programmes where we deliver a leadership programme to an organisation, we’ve got a great relationship with HR, and then when we start to roll it out across the organisation you meet people at different stages of the journey. You need to create a space for people to explore where they are, why it works for them and what their next steps are. So that level of humility is really important.

“I think in terms of driving things forward and as advocates for this, we need to speak up. I think this will be the way of the future.”

The workforce of the future is demanding, our customers are demanding and so the drivers to change are increasing. Make sure you are speaking up. Raise it, and if you’re involved in a conversation just ask the question and then keep injecting it into the conversation. Don’t give up and keep going. We need to work together, we need to build momentum and we need to show the benefits.


Resources

The Inclusive Innovation Playbook mentioned in this article is a free, essential guide to creating more inclusive digital products and services. It’s the perfect resource for product designers and innovators who are ready to play their part in creating a more equitable world.

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