Developers of new technology are supposed to solve problems, not create them. That’s the name of the game: identify an unmet need or a problem that users are having and design a solution to meet that need or solve that problem.
To do that successfully, tech companies need to understand their customers. Obvious enough, right? The problem is that when everyone in the room at a technology company looks the same, there are countless customers whose needs go overlooked.
Here’s why diverse viewpoints matter in technological development.
What Happens Without Diversity?
Without diverse workplaces, tech designers can make mistakes that inadvertently exclude or even harm users.
Like Facebook, whose “real name” policy was written with only Anglo-Saxon names in mind. The result? Many Native American users had their profiles blocked or disabled because their true legal names were deemed fake.
Or YouTube, whose mobile application initially uploaded about 10 percent of videos upside-down. Why? The right-handed design team didn’t realize that left-handed users tended to pick up their phones differently.
Then there’s Apple Watch, which lauded its fitness-tracking capabilities—only to learn that it had difficulty detecting the heart rate of users with tattoos and potentially anyone with dark skin.
Perhaps the worst example comes from early airbags. Designed by an all-male engineering team, airbags didn’t adequately account for the smaller body size of women and children—leading to injuries and even fatalities when those airbags deployed.
With more diverse perspectives in the room, these problems might have been avoided. And that’s not all diversity can do for organizations.
Diverse Viewpoints Promote Practical Innovation and Raise Earnings
Recent research shows that companies with policies encouraging diversity are more innovative, as measured by new products, patents, and patent citations. And this study found more than just a correlation between diversity and innovation: it found a causative link in a range of different industries. In other words, increasing the diversity of your workforce can help a company come up with more and better products for a broader range of potential customers. Who doesn’t want that?
But wait, there’s more! A 2015 McKinsey report based on an assessment of 366 public companies concluded that those with the most ethnic and racial diversity in management roles were more financially successful too. Those companies in the top quartile for diversity were 35 percent more likely to have higher-than-industry-average financial returns.
Increasing Diversity in the Legal Technology Sector
Despite these benefits, 76 percent of technical jobs are currently held by men. Of course, companies protest, they can’t hire diverse employees who aren’t qualified. Unfortunately, most computer science majors are still white males, and their ranks continue to rise as other demographics flatline.
That’s why, as an industry, we need to encourage technological education for women and racial minorities. Nor should those efforts be geared solely toward traditional four-year college programs. Many of the skills needed for tech development jobs can be gained through practical hands-on education that’s more accessible and inclusive. Those skills may be self-taught or learned at boot camps or through mentorship programs, if we’re open to these opportunities. For example, we’re heartened to see the efforts of Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, and dozens of other local and regional organizations encouraging and enabling technological skill-building for women and racial minorities.
But there’s another problem with diversity: most leadership roles at tech companies are still held by white men. The reality is that it’s not enough to improve hiring practices—tech companies also have to retain and promote their diverse employees. To that end, it’s important to build a supportive culture that encourages people of all backgrounds and promotes advancement across the board.
The bottom line: to innovate more, and more effectively, tech companies should actively seek out and nurture all forms of diversity. If everyone at a company looks the same, has the same experiences, and thinks about problems in the same way, that company will miss out on the varied viewpoints, problems, and questions posed by the more diverse base of potential customers. After all, you may not even recognize that you’re thinking inside the box when you’re all in the same box!
At iDiscover, we strive to incorporate as much diversity—of backgrounds, demographics, life experiences, and perspectives—as we can. We think it’s part of what leads us to develop best-in-class eDiscovery solutions. Please contact us to learn more.