Developing inclusion: 4 ways a diverse workforce influences our products and brand

February 15, 2022 | 5 minute read
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Technology, like anything else, reflects the people who create it. Their life experiences shape the thinking behind development: the conversations between developers, design decisions large and small, and the sometimes subtle ways products look, feel, and work.

When design and development teams lack diversity, it shows. For instance, certain algorithms discriminate against people of color. The tech industry has used terms, such as “master and slave,” to describe devices. And a website might use multicultural imagery to reflect diversity, but still fail to accommodate people with challenges, such as low vision.

It’s hard to quantify how diversity solves such problems, though there’s ample research to show that it improves business performance. According to one study, innovation revenue in diverse companies is 19% higher, while another found that diversity increases team performance by 30%.

“As we build our technologies and help customers on their cloud journey, it’s important to keep end users in mind,” says David Ortiz, senior manager, diversity and inclusion at Oracle. “The more perspectives we have in creating solutions, the better equipped we are to develop intuitive interfaces that yield positive customer experiences.”

     Alonia Daniels

How will Oracle move ahead in ways that include us all? Conversations with employees point to four keys.

1. Inclusive recruiting and hiring

Alonia Daniels, software development manager for Oracle Marketing Cloud, notes that a diverse workforce starts with inclusive hiring practices.

“People tend to gravitate to people who look like them,” she says. “In a former job here in Atlanta where I live, they recruited a lot at Georgia Tech, which is a big engineering school, but there are other schools here too. If you want to diversify your teams, you need to reach out to more people so you can hear different voices. It’s too easy to go through the motions of recruiting from the same places.”

NetSuite Senior Vice President Gary Wiessinger agrees, noting his development teams of more than 500 employees have a long way to go. “We’re geographically diverse because we have developers all over the world, but our US teams should better resemble the communities where they work and live.”

To make that happen, the Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit has created a playbook to help managers be more inclusive in interviews and hiring. The team has also rolled out a mentoring program for employees from diverse communities and promoted employee resource groups (ERGs), such as the Alliance of Black Leaders for Excellence (ABLE).

     Yvette Sermons

As part of Oracle’s growing involvement with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Wiessinger is an advisor to Howard University’s engineering department. “While Howard is a world-class school, the engineering curriculum needs to reflect more of what the technology industry is looking for,” he says. “We’re going to help them modernize and provide more hands-on teaching that helps students thrive. It’s a long-term commitment.”

2. Inclusive experience and skills

Daniels believes the key to valuing diverse experience is to spotlight people from different backgrounds. “If you want to attract diverse employees, you’ve got to have recruiters and executives who look like them and who maybe attended an HBCU,” she says. “That way, you’re demonstrating you value other backgrounds.” Daniels herself went to an HBCU, Jackson State University.

Sean Banks, a manager who trains new hires to sell Oracle solutions, attended Hampton University. “I didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton,” he says. “I couldn’t afford it. I could barely afford Hampton.”

But in navigating “the runaround”—the labyrinthine process of securing financial aid—he developed perseverance, which served him well in sales jobs. “When customers said they weren’t authorized to make a sales decision, I learned to work my way up the chain until I found the right person.”

3. Inclusive language

“My team is responsible for what I call the plumbing, back-end work like making sure we meet coding or security standards,” says Yvette Sermons, software development manager for the Construction and Engineering Global Business Unit.

     Jenny Lam

“They’re usually not front-facing things that customers tend to see, so we don’t have a direct impact on making products diverse. But when the team is more diverse, it does change our conversations and the way we talk about products.”

Beside avoiding offending terms, she adds that product descriptions and instructional guides need to be clear for customers worldwide so more people can use the technology and enjoy the full benefits. Colloquial expressions don’t translate well into other languages, and technical terms shouldn’t be so obscure that users have to Google them.

4. Inclusive aesthetics

The Oracle UX Design team shapes every interaction that customers, partners, and employees have with the company through product interfaces, marketing materials, and more. In 2019, the team launched Oracle’s Redwood design system, a more human approach to UX design that reflects the global community.

“In the design world, and especially in the tech industry, the ideal used to be what’s known as Swiss design—spare, Western, white, and male,” says Hillel Cooperman, senior vice president of Oracle UX Design. “But we have customers and employees from all over the world, so we created Redwood to reflect that. We want Oracle’s story to feel like a global story.”

Jenny Lam, also senior vice president of Oracle UX Design, explained to the Harvard Business Review how this works. “In the illustrations for a lot of companies and brands, the default skin tone had always been light skin. We defaulted to darker skin. The default makes a big difference.”

     Hillel Cooperman

Redwood’s richer, deeper colors and hand-drawn data textures are inspired by African and Asian textiles. In choosing colors, the UX Design team was mindful of people with different abilities. “Every color we chose was tested for contrast standards, because people with vision challenges struggle with low contrast,” Cooperman says. “If you have dim text on a similar background, they’re unable to read it. By using colors with high enough contrast, we made the UX experience more inclusive.”

Improving inclusion was a rigorous process. The UX Design team partnered with Oracle’s Accessibility Program Office to create an 11-point review of design elements, such as icons, keyboard navigation, color contrast, and screen readers. All that hard work was recognized when Oracle won a prestigious San Francisco Design Week award for design that contributes toward a positive social future.

“When customers interact with Oracle, we want them to feel seen,” Lam says. “We want them to feel understood. Rarely do I attend a meeting where there isn’t someone from a different discipline, different country, different background. The more we embrace diverse perspectives, the more interesting the ideas become. That’s where real innovation begins.”

Mark Jackley

Mark Jackley is an Oracle digital content specialist.

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