Event Recap: Is the Future of Innovation Female Friendly?

We gathered on a beautiful summer day in the Smart Design studio, a long-time WIN collaborator, for our second WIN London event to learn all about inclusive design and how we can all work to make the future of innovation female-friendly. But we didn’t stop there. The group quickly reframed and elevated our topic to be inclusive and be welcoming to everyone's needs.

Louise Astley, Managing Director at Smart Design and our amazing WIN London ambassador, kicked off the evening. She set the stage for the event, beginning with a quick introduction to Smart Design and briefly touched on Smart’s work in the field of inclusive design.

In the spirit of inclusivity, we welcomed men as hosts and audience members at this event. As Louise shared in her opening intro, women aren’t the only ones who are going to solve this problem, inclusivity is a wider problem that should be addressed by everyone.

Nate Giraitis, Strategy Director and co-founder of Smart’s original Femme Den (now @GenderNow) gave a short and action packed talk on Femme Den, the evolution to @GenderNow, inclusive design and walk the walk.

 

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Femme Den to @GenderNow

Nate talked about a number of examples through the history of design that attempted to capture female consumers by designing for existing stereotypes of women.

From Dodge creating the La Femme in the 50’s – that came with a matching pink bag and lipstick, to Dell creating a website called ‘Della’ in 2009(!) that offered 'tech advice’ to women, such as how to find great recipes online, Nate took us through really powerful examples. In many ways it seems that design has evolved but design for women seems stuck in the past.

Fundamentally, design is about people not things. Women drive over 80% of all consumer spending and yet the 'Shrink it – Pink it’ model has been the standard way to design for women for decades. Increasing the diversity of design teams and incorporating real user needs are key to designing successful products that fit into people’s lives.

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Inclusive Design

To illustrate how being more inclusive in the design process can result in better experiences for everyone, we discussed the example of Oxo Good Grips. The founder of Oxo, Sam Farber, set out to redesign the humble kitchen peeler when he saw his wife struggle to use their existing peeler due to mild arthritis.

He enlisted Smart Design, to create a new peeler that would not only be comfortable for users with 'low ability’, like his wife, but also be effective enough for ‘high ability’ users like professional chefs. It was critical to design a product that would solve the problems of its users without stigmatising them or their dexterity.

By solving for these extremes, they created a product line that transcended the needs of the niche, extreme users and resulted in better design for everyone. The Oxo Good Grips line of products has grown increasingly more expansive and successful over the last 25 years.

Walk the Walk

It’s not enough to just involve users in the design process. It’s important to set up projects to make sure the internal design process is as inclusive as possible.

  1. Talk to wide range of people

  2. Create mixed teams in both client and agency organisations

  3. Gain stakeholder advocacy

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Breakout Sessions

Anna Soisalo, Executive Director at Smart Design in London, facilitated the interactive, hands on session. She introduced four challenge statements that the audience would tackle over the next 20 minutes. Each group reframed the statement and then identified actions that organisations should start and stop doing to help the reframed statements become true.

Considering the scope and depth of the statements – it is amazing what our WIN community came up with in 20 minutes! Here are, we felt, the strongest two discussions around AI and diverse teams:

Challenge statement: AI is biased because humans are

Reframed: To improve AI, we must improve ourselves.

Machines are made by humans: they hold a mirror up to us just like a child’s innocent questions. The group concluded that AI datasets are the root cause of AI bias and are reflective of the humans behind them.

Consider these examples: Google’s early Image Search algorithm misidentified people of African American descent as gorillas. Microsoft Tay chatbot turned into a racist twitter troll within 24 hours. Therefore, the only solution to improving the bias in AI is to improve the bias in the humans themselves. It’s an opportunity to check ourselves.

The discussion also had some common themes that organisations need to consider in the context of AI. The group left with more questions than answers but also clear that these were the difficult questions we need to ask as designers and innovators, but also as a society.

Define responsibility: Artificial intelligence is already driving decision-making in a long list of parts of everyday life: loan-worthiness, emergency response, medical diagnosis, job candidate selection, parole determination, criminal punishment, and educator performance. Who owns the responsibility for the decisions that AI makes? Algorithms are so complex that the people who designed them can’t always trace the logic of why the AI made certain decisions – which makes the question of responsibility even murkier. In which areas are we comfortable letting AI make decisions?

Create governance: Organisations, and larger systems, need to use smart governance to counteract bias and provide guidance on when and how AI can be used. Who will create this governance? How will it be enforced?

Treat diversity as critical: Today, AI reflects the bias of those who interpret the data and create the algorithms.  However, data science as a field where there is low gender and racial representation – which means there is a lot of opportunity to diversify how the data is interpreted and protect against bias. And, what is the positive role that AI can play in challenging our bias?

Consider freedom of choice: What role does big data in broadening opportunities? We have to analyse the data going in, data coming out but more importantly who is the data being interpreted by? Does big data just keep narrowing us in – refining and fine-tuning our choices based on past choices, putting people in smaller and smaller boxes? Does it take away serendipity?

 

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Challenge statement: Hiring a woman for my innovation team has fixed my diversity issue.

Reframed: Having a diverse (as defined by backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking) organisation leads to a more inclusive culture and improved business outcomes.

In the innovation, tech and startup industries, diversity and inclusion is a key challenge. For example, around a third of the employees at Google are women – only 1% of these women are Black, significantly lower than the general population.

It is important to frame diversity in the context of the positive impact it can have on the business. According to Harvard Business Review, firms with diverse teams are 45% more likely to report a growth in market share over the previous year and 70% more likely to report the firm captured a new market.

The group discussed ways in which the hiring process could change to achieve these outcomes. These included:

Weigh things differently: Current hiring emphasises hard accomplishments (going to the right university, specific skills) but focuses less on the soft/lateral skills that an employee brings to the table such as interests and life experiences.

Ensure diversity of the hiring team: Hiring needs to be a team effort – if the same set of people are in charge of hiring then the same patterns get reinforced.

Stop hiring for cultural fit: Closely related is the idea of hiring for cultural fit. “Cultural Fit” is a nebulous idea that often stands in as shorthand for “this person is like me”. We want to be hiring people who are bringing different perspectives to the table – and hiring for cultural fit might do just the opposite.

Define success differently: Masculine traits have been traditional associated with success. A Stanford study that defined ‘masculine traits’ as aggressiveness, assertiveness and confidence found that ‘masculine women’ received 1.5 times more promotions than ‘feminine women.’ Successful women have often had co-opt these traits to succeed in male-dominated environments. By doing this, women lose out on what makes them unique – Hillary Clinton being a painful recent example. Thus, what is the point of having diverse voices in the team if no-one can hear them? Talent and skill should be considered above these traits.

The final two statements were about flexible working and design research. We concluded that flexible working is personal, relationship driven, relies on trust and should be open to everyone. As for design research, we felt understanding and empathy unearthed invaluable perspective and vision to unlock potential opportunity and avoid wasting money.

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In Summary

Is the future of innovation female friendly? The answer can be a resounding YES – but as we learned from the discussion, we have a lot of work to do. We need to work with each other and our allies to create inclusive spaces for dialogue, discussion and experimentation where we can start to build this brighter future together.

Big thanks to Smart Design London for hosting the event and providing such thought provoking discussion. Smart Design has been a long-time partner to WIN – look out for their July 16th event in NYC, Designing a Gender Inclusive Future.

We’re so excited to kickoff our next round of programming in the fall – look out for more on those events coming soon!

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Written by Sesh Vedachalam, Justine Lai, Louise Astley and Kim Anderson

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