Diversity, equity and inclusion are climbing the agenda. Businesses are starting to realize that having diversity of thought (and creating inclusive environments that empower employees to share and debate ideas) is good for their bottom lines.
Unfortunately, one sector that is behind the curve on D,E&I is technology. Despite being 50% of the global population, Capgemini found that women make up less than 30% of the tech workforce. Ethnic minorities make up just 22% of global tech company’s employee population, while Glassdoor found that LGBTQ+ workers represent just 11% of tech employees.
This lack of diversity is having a knock on effect on the products tech companies produce, which we all rely on in our personal, as well as professional lives.
Technology can be a particular enabler for people with disabilities – it can provide them with independence in their personal and professional lives.
But, it is essential that devices and software are designed with users’ input (and therefore their needs) front and center.
What must tech employers do to ensure the hardware and software they produce is accessible to all?
Lenovo’s Ada Lopez, who is program manager in the product diversity office, shares some insights exclusively with UNLEASH.
Allie Nawrat: What is being overlooked in making workplace technology accessible, and why?
Ada Lopez: Diversity in the technology industry has been a problem for years.
More specifically, we’ve often seen a bias against women, people of color, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities.
Although many tech companies recognize the need for change, diversity continues to be a key challenge.
Lack of diversity is also reflected in product design. Companies need to understand that their customers come from across the globe and from vastly different backgrounds, which is why it’s so important to think about inclusion.
For too long, companies have designed products without considering the unique needs and attributes of all potential users—especially those with disabilities. Technology must be designed to help end-users, rather than becoming a barrier for those who use it.
On a hopeful note, workplace technology is starting to become more inclusive, and the topic is generating greater awareness.
As more people work remotely in today’s hybrid economy, the importance of inclusive technology has become crucial, and the public will continue to push for progress on it as well, demanding more from technology vendors.
AN: Why is it vital that tech products are accessible to all? How can they transform the world of work for the better?
AL: I see two interrelated issues here, one idealistic and the other pragmatic.
The first is a matter of ethics and fairness, [providing] products that allow all users to achieve their full potential—regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, disability and so on. This isn’t a question of avoiding a lawsuit. It’s about doing the right thing for our users.
But as is often the case, doing the right thing ethically also makes smart business sense. The global market of those with disabilities includes over 1 billion people with a spending power of more than $6 trillion. Research by the Pew Foundation suggests that the latter number will rise, but only for companies that make their products more inclusive.
Currently, just 62% of Americans with a disability own a desktop or laptop computer compared to 81% of those without a disability. At Lenovo, we’re convinced that the lower number will increase as we offer products that better meet the needs of all users.
As for how they can better the workplace, think how much our collective wellbeing will improve when we harness the power of a billion minds that are currently blunted because they lack the tools to pursue their passions to the limits of their abilities.
AN: What steps should other organizations take to make their tools more accessible?
AL: The status quo exerts a powerful influence. Product leaders don’t always want to embed new concepts into their existing processes. Companies have their own procedures, and they tend to stick with them.
Companies need to adapt and look to embed inclusion into product systems to maximize managers’ innate desire to innovate.
Of course, no team is the same, so it’s important to work with each of them differently, depending on their product and need. Even when one looks at something as simple as hardware versus software, the factors that we’re considering are not the same, so the approach shouldn’t be the same.
I should also stress that—to achieve maximum results—companies should follow Lenovo’s lead by making accessibility an organization-wide effort rather than the province of a single team. This will develop an ethos and culture that is conducive to fresh perspectives and therefore creative innovation.
Business leaders must also consider the use of language if they want to make their products more inclusive. Something like the absence of appropriate gender options can be extremely alienating.
In addition, using bad fonts and backgrounds for people who visually impaired can be alienating and prevent people from accessing the tools and information they need to succeed.
AN: Could you tell me about what is Lenovo doing to improve accessibility in tech?
AL: We’ve taken numerous steps on several fronts to improve accessibility. One of the most fundamental issues is the stage at which accessibility concerns are integrated into the product-development process.
Lenovo’s Product Diversity Office (PDO) seeks to integrate inclusion and feedback from diverse groups early in the product development process to ensure the technology we introduce is truly smarter and designed for everyone.
By managing, implementing, and validating diversity practices and processes throughout the product lifecycle, we can make the necessary adjustments to meet the special needs of users.
[This is contrast to previous approaches where] PDO often had to come in at the back end of that process, trying to retrofit product modifications.
This after-the-fact approach is a bit like building a car and then trying to figure out how to cram the airbags into a dashboard designed without that safety feature in mind. It puts a strain on engineers, throws off production schedules, and too often ends up delivering the customer a less-than-ideal product.
As for specific products, digital voice assistant Lenovo Voice was the first product to go through the PDO process. The development team was responsible for running a self-assessment to determine if the product could pose problems for people with different accessibility levels or disabilities. The team ensured the technology could be used by all; disabled users helped to validate and test these various solutions.
Additionally, camera app Smart Appearance allows end users to modify their image, blurring backgrounds, removing facial blemishes or scars when on video calls. Testing was carried out by people from different ethnicities to make sure all skin tones had access to this feature.
AN: What is Lenovo doing to ensure you’re innovating and providing even more accessible technology in the future?
AL: PDO researchers specialize in diversity testing and understand that people with disabilities are experts on their own needs. They can provide the most valuable insights for inclusive and accessible design practices.
Research teams conduct direct user testing and even mixed-method research methods consisting of face-to-face moderated interviews and online surveys.
The team also partners with community organizations that serve people with disabilities—such as a school for the blind. Lenovo employees volunteer time and products while learning how people with vision impairments experience our technologies. They gather feedback to share with development teams who further improve our products.
Each year, PDO researchers conduct an extensive study on a specified disability and share the findings across the company. We hold focus groups and elicit feedback internally by leveraging our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).
The PDO [also] adds a new course to Lenovo’s company-wide learning management system. By educating stakeholders on how different people use technology and involving them in our process, the PDO scales its efforts.
Moreover, the PDO hosts an annual Innovation Event aimed at improving the life of people with disabilities. Results can be embedded into our portfolios to drive Lenovo’s continuous improvement. Highlighting these diversity and inclusion-focused projects improves accessibility for Lenovo’s staff and enhances its collaborative culture.
Lenovo also recently set a goal to ensure 75% of Lenovo’s products will be vetted by inclusive design experts to ensure they work for everyone, regardless of physical attributes or abilities.
Lenovo believes in “Smarter Technology for All”, and we are committed to embed the “Diversity by Design” process within all our business units.
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