What is inclusive design?
The idea behind inclusive design is that there shouldn’t be a “default” person at the center of design. Instead, the key to successful design is to address the needs of every potential user. And, instead of starting with the default white man, you should start with the populations that are the most marginalized and excluded. That way, you end up with a design that benefits all — and, in turn, a design that is more elegant and streamlined.
As Microsoft’s Inclusive Design team observed in its manual of inclusive design best practices, when you design for people who are permanently disabled, you achieve a design that benefits all people universally.
Just consider some of the ways that inclusive design has offered benefits to those other than those marginalized and excluded. Curb ramps offer greater accessibility to people with disabilities, but they also make access easier for parents with strollers, cyclists and joggers.
Remote controls make it easier for those with disabilities to operate their devices. And closed captioning helps those who are hard of hearing to understand what is happening on a screen — even if they’re only temporarily unable to hear because they’re in a noisy or crowded place, like a bar or airport.
It’s time to eliminate the Reference Man
Exclusion, not inclusion, has been a mainstay of design. Whether it’s office layouts, crash-test dummies, clinical drug trials or even medical research, the world has been designed to accommodate the needs of a particular type of person: young, able-bodied white men with a Western European or North American lifestyle. This persona, dubbed the Reference Man, was used to represent all of humanity — initially just for radiation exposure calculations but later for research models in countless other fields.
Talent systems have not been immune from this one-size-fits-all approach to design. But, while ensuring a singular approach in theory would seem to ensure equity, consistency and efficiency, it has done anything but that. Although organizations have become more global, unconscious biases favoring white males have persisted. As a result, unequal outcomes continue to plague organizations, particularly when it comes to access, opportunities, support and rewards. How can organizations fix this problem? With inclusive design.
How to built a talent system with a inclusive design
So how can you ensure your talent systems are built to be inclusive and not exclusive? You can apply the following four principles of inclusive design to make sure that your organization is inclusive of all human differences.
1. Define what equality means in your organization
Your organization likely proclaims that equality is one of its core values and that it believes in equal opportunity for all. You likely have employee handbooks, nondiscrimination policies and codes of ethics that state your goal is to treat everyone equally. But have you ever stopped to think about how your organization defines “equality”?
There is no standard definition of equality that will apply to every organization. That means you should start by determining what equality means and what goals you want to set for your talent management practices and processes using this definition.
From there, the next step is to review all your organization’s policies, guidelines and aspirational statements to ensure they align with your goals; if they don’t, you should edit them accordingly. You may also need to revise them so they specifically state what your organization expects of everyone, from the C-suite to the newest employee, so that everyone is clear on how to act so that no one is treated differently because of who they are.
2. Root out inequities
Even the best-intentioned organizations often have talent systems that create and perpetuate inequities. But it’s often hard to identify the root cause of these inequities unless you spend time deliberately looking for it.
That’s why it’s essential for you to examine your systems and practices on two fronts.
First, look at your talent practices and see whether you can discern any trends. Then, study the experiences of different groups in your organization. You may want to survey your talent to gather additional insights. You’ll want to learn whether your people believe your organization is living up to its commitments to equality. You should also study whether your leadership and managerial ranks are fully diverse and inclusive. And you’ll want to make sure that all talent has opportunities to advance, access to development and other resources and is being paid equally for equal work.
3. Learn from the diversity in your organization
To create a more inclusive design, you have to take a human-centric approach that first focuses on the most excluded user. Assess the groups in your organization and work to understand their differences. Assume that no groups are similar; instead, presume that each group has different needs, wants and aspirations. Once you understand each group, you’ll be in a position to create new systems and modify older ones so that they reflect everyone’s needs.
4. Create inclusive design for one to benefit all
Advances like those described earlier — for instance, closed captioning — have benefits for all of us, even if they aren’t directly targeting us. The science and experience behind inclusive design principles show that when you make something work well for someone who is the exception, it will work well for everyone.
The same is true of designing talent systems. The key is to start with the needs and wants of the users who are typically overlooked — those who are too often invisible because they’re in the minority.
How will you know when you’ve achieved inclusive design?
Organizations that apply these four principles of inclusive design develop talent systems and processes that eliminate inequities and accommodate all human differences. So, if your goal is to use inclusive design to create equality for everyone, how will you know when you’ve met your goal? Look to see whether you’ve achieved equality across these four work experiences:
- Access: Do employees have equal access to resources, leaders, programs and other tools they can use to attain their full potential?
- Opportunity: Do employees have equal opportunity to apply and be considered for short-term, high-visibility developmental projects or job postings?
- Support: Do employees get equal coaching and support when learning new skills? Do they receive constructive and honest feedback? Are they mentored in navigating the political environment? Do leaders and managers sponsor and advocate for them behind closed doors?
- Rewards: Are employees who have made comparable impact rewarded equally? Does the organization always recognize all employees’ contributions?
Learn more about inclusive design
To learn more about how organizations like yours have put inclusive design principles into practice to attract, advance and retain talent, download the full article, “Inclusive Design for Talent Systems: Part 2, The ‘Reference Man’ Rules” or watch the webinar here. And please get in touch to discuss how we can help you make sure your organization’s DNA is inclusive of everyone.