Do your part: driving inclusivity and diversity as UX researchers

Diversity and inclusion is everyone’s job. That is one of the key messages Farai Madzima discussed in his talk on diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. He emphasized how you, me, we, are the tech industry, which makes us all responsible for a diverse and inclusive environment. No one should feel they “receive more scrutiny because they are the only one of a kind in the room”. But how do we get there?

Me, you, everybody, we are the tech industry. We are part of the problem.”

Farai Madzima

What you, me, we can do right away

 Some suggestions by Farai Madzima:

  • Let’s be less confident. Doubt can be good. It makes us stop and look around.
  • Create an environment that is safe for people to fail. Sometimes you take failure for every one of your kind.
  • Be curious. Be kind. Hold your organisation to higher standards.
  • Practice zero tolerance, with kindness. The moment something happens, address it immediately to send a signal that this is not acceptable.
  • Try not to say things based on assumptions – “Although you are quite young, you are doing good work”
  • Be aware that anyone can be ‘one of a kind’ in a room (e.g. “the only one who is divorced and a single parent” or “the only one who needs to use a wheelchair”). This is not always visible.

What does this mean for our job as UX researchers? What diversity and inclusion challenges do we face and how can we try to solve them?

UXinsight Festival 2020 workshop

As part of the UXinsight festival 2020, 12 participants took part in our workshop on Diversity and Inclusion in UX research. In 2 hours, they collectively came up with possible ideas for the question ‘How can UX research become more diverse and inclusive?’. The participants tried to uncover work-related D&I challenges that they experienced and observed, and then brainstormed on how to solve them.  

Understanding the problem space

The group shared personal challenges first and reflected on what D&I means for them. It opened up a lot of topics, with ‘participant recruitment’ and ‘diversity of ideas’ topping the list.

What does diversity mean?
One of the key learnings was that diversity comes in different forms and also that it has different meanings to different people.

Diversity means different things to different people, and that’s OK!

workshop participant

Not all diversity challenges are (easily) visible. One participant illustrated this very well: “Having grown up somewhere else but moved to a new country, I have assimilated quite well, so people don’t realise I come from a different background unless I talk about it a lot.” With an increasingly international world and field of work, this is an important realisation for many. It is the type of diversity that you can’t directly observe but is no less important than other types.

Recruiting diverse research participants
While most researchers have the intention of finding diverse participants, it is a challenge to recruit them. The challenges might arise in terms of time, budget, access, and even resistance from other colleagues.

“Minority ethnic communities are pretty much always seen as ‘hard to reach’ especially when working in government”

workshop participant

At first, this might seem just a practical challenge for UX Researchers, but it actually has serious implications that reach far beyond our work. If we don’t make efforts to reach out to participants and communities that are not in our close vicinity, what does this mean for the representation of these people in the products and systems we work on?

As UX Researchers we inform teams and organisations that make real-world decisions, that impact people’s lives in ways that are not only beneficial. Including the voices of diverse communities in our research is an important step to design a better world.

Benefit from diversity in ideas
We all agreed that in order to do a good job, we need diversity in ideas. The maturity of the team, the composition of the team, language barriers, hiring procedures, and representation can all influence the (lack of) diversity in ideas. While companies are making efforts to diversify their hiring and having teams with a good mix of international people, stereotyping and personal biases still impact how inclusive the teams are, and how included people feel.

One might even be seen as the diversity hire. This means that this person has to continuously work to be perceived as more than the token hire.

Farai Madzima

Specifically for the field of UX Research, there is one repeatedly mentioned challenge regarding the diversity of ideas: UX Researchers are often the only one in a team or even in an organisation. This puts them in a vulnerable position, from where they might have to work harder than others to have their voice heard.

What steps can we take as a UX researcher?

Some of the solutions we came up with during our brainstorm.

Make sure we don’t feel alone
How do we make sure we as (solo) researchers are also included in organisations? How can we prevent having to prove ourselves more than other disciplines? These questions give hints on how organisations can best organise their research function: solo researchers or small research teams can be embedded in other teams.

Youp has personal experience with this at Randstad, where the UX Research team of 2-3 people is linked to the UX Design function through a UX Chapter. This helps reduce the feeling of being the only one of a kind in the room (from a discipline/expertise point of view), and it provided a stepping stone for the researchers to get a seat at the table.

Connection with a design function can make sense, but you can also think of connecting with other research functions. If you are a team of one, try to find a team whose rituals you can join. Find stakeholders through whom you can maximise the value you bring.

Explore what diversity means to us and our team
To be able to understand each other better we need to share our experiences and listen to each other. As UX Researchers we already have tools for this, so it is a unique opportunity for us to contribute. For example, we could share our knowledge of how to research experiences. We can help with sending out surveys, facilitate workshops with the team, and collectively understand what diversity means.

Research diversity at the company!

workshop participant

But what does it mean to turn these tools inwards to ourselves and our colleagues? How comfortable are we with opening up about our own experiences? What does it mean for the relationships we have with our colleagues? And how will it affect the way we look at our own work? We think that we will not only get a more diverse and inclusive world but that we will also grow as individuals personally and professionally.

Create a safe space to share and experiment
To facilitate ourselves and our colleagues to share their experiences and experiment, we can introduce initiatives in our work and organisations which can help create psychological safety to open up and learn from each other.

For example, one team pitched their idea to introduce “experiential learning of what might include sexist behaviour.” To solve the challenge of women to “(…) feel hopeful, acknowledged and included”, they envisioned the “anonymous sharing of sexist experiences paired with role-playing semi-scripted scenarios.”

Another team that focused on diverse hiring of employees, proposed for teams and leadership to experience their own way-of-work. They said to “not create processes without ‘dogfooding’”.

There were also bolder reflections such as calling out people when witnessing stereotypes or speaking up when they spot exclusion. Usually, silence or laughter prevails in such awkward moments. And a classic action item which we all must do more of – listen more. Actively listen.

Create rituals
In addition to safe spaces, one team thought of forming habits. They came up with the idea to “create a ‘safe’ sharing space/moment” and make this a “team ritual every month focused on invisible diversity/needs”. To get a better understanding of each other, this ritual could include “storytelling sessions from different experiences/backgrounds.”

We believe rituals can be a strong tool to fight D&I challenges. One-off solutions can help make steps, but we all should be wary of falling for the idea that D&I is achieved at once.

Reflect on participant recruitment habits
While the above ideas revolve around us and our teams, participant recruitment falls directly under our core expertise and seems to be more in control of UX researchers. However, we don’t recruit in isolation – our stakeholders are involved as well. They might have their own beliefs about who to include and who not.

In our personal experience, we have received pushback on recruitment profiles. Sometimes it was even a reason for stakeholders to disregard research findings because they felt it wasn’t done with the right people. One workshop participant thought of a “peer review of recruitment”. This could help with reducing our own blind spots as researchers, but also with presenting a stronger case to our stakeholders.

Closing thoughts

We were happy to see that the topic of D&I was part of the UXinsight festival. However, coming together for this workshop was only a drop in the ocean. There is still so much to do – there seems to be a need to start somewhere and soon. We hope that sharing this with you all might inspire you to take action and share ongoing initiatives with the community.

We all need to up our game to drive a more inclusive world. We can start by asking ourselves: what is within my influence? There is probably more we can do than we would think at first. Whether it is hosting a workshop, creating rituals in our organisation, or simply listening better to the people around us, together we make this world a more inclusive place.

Do you also want to bring together your (local) community in a workshop? If you want to see how the workshop was set up, you can find the miro board here. Feel free to reach out to us to discuss ideas!

Bindu Upadhyay at UXinsight Festival 2021

Bindu Upadhyay

Bindu is passionate about people, their behaviour, and the ecosystems in which they interact.

At Mendix, as a Service Designer, she brings in a holistic and collaborative approach to product design and development. She confesses that leveraging the knowledge of a multidisciplinary team has led to successful projects.

Having moved from India to the Netherlands, she feels that diversity alone doesn’t lead to inclusion and is always up for a conversation around this topic.
Say hi on Twitter at @UpadhyayBindu

Youp van Veen

Youp is a Netherlands-based UX researcher who loves what he does: bringing people, services and technology together in a sustainable way. It is an ultimate combination of his background in cognitive psychology with his interest in (digital) systems.

He works as a UX Researcher for Squla, to contribute to their mission to make education fun for kids.

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