Building for Everyone

Google’s Head of Product Inclusion & Equity shares an excerpt from her recent book

As a Black woman, I’ve often felt like pieces of the world were not built with people like me in mind. I remember, for example, walking with my Mum to go to my very first ballet class, in light pink tights that were supposed to be “flesh” colored. Even as a little girl, I was deeply aware of how the pink did not match my skin and made me feel othered. So while this work is of both human and business importance, it’s personal, too.

In the second installment of our Bookshelf series, Head of Product Inclusion & Equity Annie Jean-Baptiste shares an adapted selection from Building for Everyone: Expand Your Market with Design Practices from Google’s Product Inclusion Team.

At Google, we build products for the world. The people we design for come from different races, places, ethnicities, socio-economic positions, abilities, and more. Equity is not a moment or a point in time—it should be embedded into everything we say, do, and build. When we’re intentional about creating infrastructure to build for everyone—with everyone—that’s when product inclusion happens.

When creating products I recommend you always ask: Who else? Who else should be involved? Whose voice needs to be a part of the process? As designers, developers, marketers, and creators, we have an opportunity to create products and services that make people feel seen. In order to do that, we must admit that we don’t know everything, and ensure that we include diverse perspectives, particularly the historically marginalized, at key points in the process—ideation, research, design, testing, and marketing. A human-centered approach means being humble, asking questions, and letting those with the lived experiences guide the way. Center the experiences of underrepresented communities, and build with, not for.

Across industries, we’ve heard that inclusion is “the right thing to do.” Good people and ethical organizations believe in and practice diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is certainly true, but it oversimplifies the reason why people and organizations should care about and embrace these virtues.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion matter for two reasons. The first is a human reason—people matter. Diversity enriches the world with different languages, perspectives, customs, foods, clothing, art, innovation, and much more. Equity and inclusion are essential for making people feel welcome, appreciated, and empowered; in a way, they enable everyone to flourish and to contribute in all ways that make them unique.

The second is a business reason—diversity, equity, and inclusion are good for business and for all productive human endeavors. Organizations that engage with people representing a wide range of demographics reap ideas and innovations that vastly improve their products and services and even open their eyes to new markets and entirely new businesses. As a result, they grow their customer base, increase innovation, and build momentum—gaining a competitive advantage over less inclusive players.

To create for the world we live in, we must build in an environment that reflects that world. We cannot build for people without understanding them, their needs, their preferences, and what disappoints and upsets them and makes them feel excluded. The world is changing, and this change is accelerating. You can witness it happening around you—in the news and entertainment programming you tune in to, the advertisements you see, and hopefully in your neighborhood and workplace.

I encourage you to embrace this change, and I challenge you to take the lead in promoting this positive transformation by creating products and services that represent the makeup of this ever-evolving world. The first step is to develop an understanding of your users (customers or clients)—who they are, where they come from, what’s important to them, and how their core needs align with your organization’s and your work’s mission. Having this understanding is the key to unlocking value, thereby opening the doors to growth and innovation.

A team approach

On our diversity and inclusion site, we say “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. When we say we want to build for everyone, we mean everyone. To do that well, we need a workforce that’s more representative of the users we serve.”

When we build products at Google, we think in terms of building for everyone, with everyone. This is hard work. We all have biases and can’t understand every culture, preference, and individual need. We’ve all made mistakes and will likely continue to do so, but when we commit to striving to do better, to bringing in different perspectives, to calling out bias, and to owning our mistakes, we can begin to design and build more inclusive products. It’s a journey, and we’re committed to learning and improving.

While our work focuses squarely on the human factor and is representative of work being done not only inside Google but within many other companies, tech and non-tech, it’s decidedly unique in that it’s deeply rooted in product and marketing. It’s also grounded in business metrics and data around improving the bottom line across multiple dimensions of diversity and the intersections of those dimensions.

At Google, we also work hard to get everyone, at every level of the organization, involved in the process, and I recommend that you do the same. Whether you are a business leader, product manager, program manager, marketer, or designer, or you work in an industry that isn’t tech, you can contribute significantly to the success of your product or service by leveraging insight from your own background and experience and by viewing your work through a lens of inclusivity.

A digital illustration TKTK

Expanding diversity and inclusion to products and services

Traditionally, diversity and inclusion have focused on culture and representation within an organization. Product inclusion expands on that notion and focuses not only on building inclusively, but also on framing diversity and inclusion not only as “the right thing to do” but also as a sound business practice. As an old adage advises, you can “do well by doing good,” and one key way that organizations can do good is by treating people equitably in their hiring practices and in their product design and development processes, which go hand in hand.

The concept of doing well by doing good is evident in the data. In August 2019, the Female Quotient partnered with Ipsos and Google to survey 2,987 US consumers of various backgrounds to better understand perceptions surrounding ads they consider to be diverse or inclusive. According to Virginia Lennon, Ipsos Senior VP of the Multicultural Center for Excellence and one of the lead researchers on the study, “The purpose of this study was to help us better understand how consumers see authentic representation in ads, images, and within organizations.”

The study asked participants about their perceptions with respect to 12 categories related to diversity and inclusion in advertising. Specifically, they were asked to think about which of the following, if any, they believe are important for brands to be conscious of in order to be inclusive and diverse in their ad campaigns: gender identity, age, body type, race/ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, skin tone, language, religious/spiritual affiliation, physical ability, socioeconomic status, and overall appearance.

Then, the participants were asked about what actions, if any, they’ve taken related to a product or service advertised after seeing what they considered to be a diverse or inclusive ad campaign. The eight “product-related” actions people could select were:

  • Bought or planned to buy the product or service
  • Considered the product or service
  • Looked for more information about the product or service
  • Compared pricing for the product or service
  • Asked friends or family about the product or service
  • Looked for ratings and reviews of the product or service
  • Visited the brand’s site or social media page
  • Visited a site/app or store to check out the product

The study found that 64 percent of US consumers said they took at least one of the eight different product-related actions after seeing an ad that they considered to be diverse or inclusive with respect to the 12 categories discussed in this study. And this percentage is higher among specific consumer groups including Latinx+ (85 percent), Black (79 percent), Asian/Pacific Islander (79 percent), LGBTQ+ (85 percent), millennial (77 percent), and teen (76 percent) consumers. Of the various groups surveyed, LGBTQ+ and Black consumers expressed the strongest preference for diverse and inclusive ads.

Overall, the results of the study reaffirmed that the general population and historically underrepresented consumers today are highly attuned to authentic representation in ads—and their rising expectations surrounding diversity and inclusion influence their choice of brands, products, and services.

Below are some additional insights from the research:

  • 69 percent of Black consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand whose advertising positively reflects their race/ethnicity.
  • 64 percent of Black consumers say they are more likely to buy from a brand that hires women, minorities, and underrepresented people to build its products or services.
  • 71 percent of LGBTQ+ consumers are more likely to proactively seek out a brand whose advertising authentically represents a variety of sexual orientations.
  • 68 percent of LGBTQ+ consumers would be more likely to purchase from a brand whose advertising positively reflects a variety of sexual orientations.
  • 60 percent of LGBTQ+ and Black consumers say they think companies that hire women, minorities, and underrepresented people create better products and services compared with those that don’t.

As Virginia says, “We now have generations of consumers who are increasingly multicultural through the intersectionality of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. This study clearly told us that these consumers expect brands to be inclusive and reflect the reality of their lives in advertising.”

Similarly, additional research we’ve conducted at Google shows that a majority of consumers overall want companies to prioritize inclusion.

Collectively, the data reveal a huge opportunity for businesses to meet consumers’ rising expectations for diversity and inclusion. And because diversity and inclusion are interlaced with culture and representation and the fact that inclusive design produces superior products and services, the “right thing to do” is inextricably linked to the business case for diversity and inclusion.

Adapted from Building for Everyone: Expand Your Market with Design Practices from Google’s Product Inclusion Team by Annie Jean-Baptiste. Published by Wiley, September 2020. Copyright © 2020 by Annie Jean-Baptiste. All rights reserved.