Relying on policy alone to create an inclusive culture and more effective workforce misses cultural subtleties that can damage the individual and the industry, lessons from User Experience can help us progress towards real inclusivity, writes BBH UX Strategist, Amy Andrews.

Photo credit: Gerome Viavant on Unsplash

Advertising and tech are historically exclusive industries. But this is not necessarily about diversity- whether or not Adland has effectively diversified the workforce is covered here.

This is about finally arriving in the building, only to suffer something policy apparently cannot reach. Perhaps it’s not getting invited to important meetings. Or being talked over by a louder colleague. These are the building blocks of exclusion culture; something that can be worse than bullying, even comparable to physical pain. Whilst policy is definitely necessary, enforcing it in isolation doesn’t account for the subtlety of most unconscious exclusion behaviour, culminating in stunted effectiveness and resistance. By only using top-down inclusivity initiatives, we risk preaching to the converted and, ironically, excluding those who need to change their behaviour most, those who are ‘fatigued’ by diversity.

Working in UX, you learn pretty quickly that there’s never one solution for all of a user’s frustrations. How a user experiences a website, a process, an event, is about the culmination of lots of little instances, some of which will be good and some bad. Think of the employee experience of working in an agency the same way; it’s made up of millions of tiny instances, snowballing into an overall impression of work life.

Poor user experiences lead to disengagement. So if someone feels excluded for long enough, they’ll simply leave.

We can address exclusion culture like a UX problem. At BBH, we often conduct experience mapping to understand where a system or process can be improved upon for those who use it. The map acts as a guide to accurately pinpoint user/system frictions across campaigns, brands, or product journeys and illuminate actionable insights to reduce these. A similar approach applied to the workplace could help to uncover and solve instances of exclusivity culture per organisation.

1. Understand the organisation

Exclusion will differ workplace to workplace. Therefore the solution can’t be one-size-fits-all. First, you need to define the problem you’re looking at as per the environment, understand how an organisation works at all levels, the issues users are actually facing. For example, imagine Company X has a problem retaining its female workforce for senior positions.

2. Research with all parties

In UX, you’ve got to listen to all users of a system in order to improve it correctly. If we don’t make the effort to see from the point of view of not only the excluded but the excluders, we can’t know how to tackle the issues appropriately. Acknowledge the motivations of both parties. Listen to the people who feel like they aren’t being heard and hunt for moments of dissonance. As Google found out, policy doesn’t always help those who most need to be shown what inclusion means, instead leaving them lashing out at a culture that has left them behind. In Company X, it becomes clear that some women feel like they’re not getting their share of informal mentoring, whereas leadership believe everyone is receiving equal mentoring time.

3. Uncover frictions

Map out the investigated experiences, side-by-side, to understand that key points of exclusion and reveal what was really going on. You’re not going to find just one, very obvious problem. There will undoubtedly be a series of subtle, minute, and otherwise overlooked, sticking points. A detailed map with proper research to back it up would mark these as evidently part of a larger problem. At Company X, it turns out that female employees are being undervalued by a male-dominated culture that manifests in meetings and socials.

4. Improve

Armed with understanding, the next step is to leverage change with localised and appropriately-proportioned solutions at the roots of those particular issues (rather than using a blanket policy-driven approach). Solve enough of these user pain points, spread across an employee experience though they might be, and you start to solve the problem of an exclusive culture. So, implementing individual-specific metrics that account for performance and allocating clear accountability starts to reduce the turnover rate of women from Company X.

It is essential for creative industries, which thrive on diversity of thought, to include those who can offer a different perspective. Those people might get into the building through higher-level initiatives, but unless they feel like they belong there, our industry won’t retain them. Real inclusive culture is made up of individuals who show, with their own behaviour and mindset, that everyone has the opportunity to participate in culture-driving work.

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