Design Leadership Requires Diversity

By Jane Motz Hayes

Diversity is a pressing issue with political salience in today’s world. We are living in a time where the ways in which we speak about diversity and inclusion have an impact on thought, creativity, competitiveness, and market share. As globalization continues to bring the world together, we need to think about how the digital products and technologies made in one context shape and impact individuals in another.

Much has been said about diversity and representation in tech, but what specifically demands more attention is the need for diversity on design teams; we need to hire diversely, we need to include all, and we need to empower each and every person.

However, and all too often, creative directors and hiring managers engage in the same hiring practices. They source from the greatest design school in the city; there is a case-study, the candidate whiteboards a solution, they do a portfolio review, they’re tested and measured. This process is ineffective and can be reinforced by unconscious bias. It’s not working for the designers who are nothing like the hiring manager, it’s not working for the business, and these ‘design tests’ put forth candidates who excel at interviewing, not the creative thinking that drives innovative thinking. My preferred method? Ask candidates to tell me their story. What story they tell, with what details, and what they decide to surface in showing their work is the interview for me. Hearing personal narratives allows for that range of thought and perspective that I value in a designer.

Design teams need to be diverse. The net must be cast wide to capture those with varied lived experiences, perspectives, and approaches to designing the products and services for tomorrow. Creative directors and hiring managers need to address that unconscious biases are real and deliberately make meaningful change in hiring practices to address them.

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We are building a strong and diverse team at TribalScale — a global innovation firm that is delivering products and transforming organizations that are meant to serve the world. To execute on such a vision and to innovate and design for tomorrow, we need to think about how our work is situated in a global context. If we want to attract new markets and if we want to compete on the world stage, then we need a global and diverse perspective informed by many viewpoints. It is, therefore, a business and moral imperative that designers think across a spectrum of thought — and for my team, we have so many viewpoints and experiences, but there is still much more to do.

That’s what I’ve worked to achieve at TribalScale. Together, the Product Designers at TribalScale speak 11 languages and come from every corner of the globe. We have different lived experiences, world-views, abilities and challenges, each of which informs the products we create, intentionally or not. I am cognizant of this and the individualized modes of support and needs of each, because not only is it my job to enable them in their work, but to ensure their varied experiences are valued for the sake of our collective progress and innovation on a global scale.

For example, an employee working towards permanent residency will have unique needs and personal commitments that must be accommodated; a newcomer is not only new to the role and to the company, but to the country. It is thus essential that a manager respects this and fosters an atmosphere that is welcoming, flexible, and understanding. Then, the workplace will provide much more than income, it can be a source of friendship, community, and support — a livelihood beyond financial means.

The servant leaders that practice this have an open management mindset; it is what I strive for in building and guiding my team at TribalScale. After all, I want to empower each individual to do their best work and to achieve their fullest potential. And with different needs, backgrounds, and lived experiences, we collectively enrich each and educate one another at TribalScale. Through our design pairing process, we are encouraged to think differently. We challenge each other, we explore new perspectives, and employ fresh approaches in our work. An open mindset to design and an open mindset to management enhances our overall approach to innovation at TribalScale. We can be sure that our products reach and resonate with all individuals.

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About the author

Jane is the Director of Design at TribalScale. Jane leads the design thinking practice at TribalScale and has over 10 years of experience in user experience design, information architecture, and leading design teams.

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