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Not just a fad: Lessons from Google on building inclusive products

Not just a fad: Lessons from Google on building inclusive products

When Annie Jean-Baptiste started working at Google nine years ago, she quickly noticed a lack of inclusion at the company. Surrounded by a team of colleagues that acknowledged the importance of uplifting underrepresented voices, she set out to change that.

Today, as Google’s Head of Product Inclusion, Research and Activation, it’s Annie’s full-time job to bring inclusive consideration across the organization in all stages of product development.

This November 14, Annie will sit on a panel at Toronto’s #MoveTheDial summit, an annual forum that aims to increase the participation and leadership of all women in tech. She’ll discuss North America’s role in product inclusion and educate audiences on the importance of diverse perspectives at all sizes of organizations.

We asked Annie about her team’s work on inclusivity and diversity in product development and what comes next for the tech industry.

Get your tickets to the Global Summit here.

 

How have conversations around diversity changed in the past nine years since you joined Google?

There’s definitely been an expansion from the more traditional way of looking at diversity and inclusion in our work to reframe how people look at underrepresent groups. Over the years, we’ve been able to help bring more people of colour, those with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community and so many more into the conversation to create better products.

 

Would you say most major companies are doing enough to make products more inclusive?

The tech industry is on a journey. There’s still a lot of work to do, but we’re really committed to change. Just the fact that there’s a dedicated team like mine and organization-wide excitement from grassroots to executives is a testament that this isn’t just a fad. There’s a ton of energy and openness —you can see the industry really wants to do better and get things right.

 

In an interview with Essence last year you spoke to the risks of alienation, specifically for women of colour. What are some of the most common missteps you see companies making that can lead to this?

At the end of the day it gets down to talking to real users. We all come from our own backgrounds and it’s a company’s job to understand core challenges and to get better at building empathy with people who are not like you. It’s about saying “Who else should I be talking to?” or asking who can benefit from a new product. When you take the time to step outside of your own shoes and centre someone else’s experience, you get more rich information and help users feel valued.

 

What do you hope to see more of in tech moving into 2020?

On a global scale, I would love to see people lean into the multiple dimensions of diversity and take a deeper look at the intersections in which people’s lives cross. We need to expand on what inclusion means from a product standpoint; I’m not black on Monday, left-handed on Tuesday then a woman on Wednesday. I am all of these things all the time and they affect how I move through the world. Products should reflect that.

I’m also excited for the launch of my book that’s being released in March, Building for Everyone, that looks at practices not only for Google but for the industry as a whole, distilling practices behind what we’ve seen work and what we’re continuing to test and learn.

 

Finally, what do you want to impart on the audience attending the upcoming #MoveTheDial summit?

I plan to introduce product inclusion even though I think it already aligns with the direction the industry is going. Really understanding that it’s not just the right thing to do, but that it makes sense both for business and for your core users, is essential. When you bring everybody into the fold, when you everyone involved, that’s when you can see power and brilliance. I want to help people understand that.

There’s the mantra “nothing about us without us” which is really important to think about at all steps. When you bring more people to the table at critical moments, it leads to a richer experience and more well-rounded product.

 

The #MoveTheDial Global Summit 2019 takes place November 14 at Roy Thompson Hall. See full details and get your pass here.