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The Importance of Diversity in Digital Design
The Importance of Diversity in Digital Design

The current lack of diversity within the UK design industry (and in many other industries!) remains a major societal issue that should be a top priority on every boardroom’s agenda. Whilst the creative economy is booming, it performs very poorly on diversity compared to the wider economy. To bring this to life, according to the Design Council’s latest research, 85% of the digital design sector in the UK are male, and only 13% of the wider design economy are from BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) groups. These figures are testament to a sector-wide diversity challenge, which is a disconnect for an industry that prides itself on being innovative and forward-thinking.

Whilst the moral imperative for promoting a diverse and inclusive workforce is indisputable, it also makes business sense. Creating truly great designs is contingent on understanding the needs of customers, who are by nature diverse populations spanning socio-economic backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations and disabilities. Building inclusive and diverse teams internally enables design agencies to create the most relevant, insightful and creative solutions externally. The bringing together of viewpoints from diverse backgrounds fosters new thinking, new ideas and innovation.

Looking beyond the design industry, a 2018 study from McKinsey found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity across industries are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. In the UK specifically, McKinsey found that for every 10% increase in gender diversity on senior executive teams, EBIT rose by 3.5%.

With such clear moral and economic benefits, it’s evident that change is in everybody’s interest. So what can companies do to tackle these issues?

Looking to the initiatives being put in place by large technology and consulting firms can provide a source of inspiration. To call out just a few, EY’s ‘Smart Futures’ scheme supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds by offering a paid work experience programme, whilst Hewlett-Packard’s award-winning ‘Reinvent Mindsets’ campaign aims to highlight diversity issues through a mini video series, with the goal of attracting underrepresented minorities.

Here at This Place, we have joined forces with Flipside – a talent training and development programme focused on digital product design – to share our knowledge, skills and experiences with young people to equip them to kickstart careers in digital design.

Flipside aims to address the lack of diversity in the sector by providing opportunities for talented young people from groups traditionally underrepresented in the industry, with a focus on East Londoners from Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest. The course covers three main aspects: digital product design, personal effectiveness and career development, which are delivered through a mix of exercises, lectures, tasks and mentoring sessions.

The great thing about the course is that it not only addresses the traditional design aspects but also covers career development, equipping participants with the skills needed to land a job in the industry. Last year, all 12 trainees entered full-time employment by the end of the programme.

For us at This Place, it is also a way to connect with the local community and give back. Our headquarters are based in Shoreditch, so we feel especially strongly about nurturing and championing the local talent. There is a huge pool of gifted and ambitious young East Londoners whose fresh perspectives and ideas would greatly enrich the industry. Through collaboration in programmes like Flipside, we hope to lead by example on our approach towards diversity and inclusivity in the workforce.

Such initiatives are a huge step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go and a myriad of other steps that organisations can take to begin to remedy the diversity imbalance.  

Emphasis should be placed on raising awareness with younger audiences of the opportunities (and excitement!) that a career in design can bring. A rethink of company recruitment strategies that focus on hiring based on ‘potential’ rather than ‘proof’ could go some way to opening doors to the industry. Job specs themselves should be analysed to ensure they appeal to diverse audiences and interview processes interrogated to ensure they provide an unbiased experience.

Where possible, design companies should look to introduce paid internships and apprenticeships. For smaller agencies, these can start small scale – supporting just a handful of candidates – whilst still making a difference. At This Place we have supported interns in the past and hope to grow our focus on this in future.

For companies operating within the digital space (and beyond), it’s important to keep the conversation about diversity going and to ensure that diversity and inclusion efforts are ever-present and not just one-off or annual initiatives. Importantly, it’s only through creating a culture of inclusion and belonging that the benefits of diversity can truly be realised. As quoted in LinkedIn’s 2018 Global Recruitment Trends Report, “diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like non one’s watching”.

The digital landscape is constantly evolving and whilst we see fast-paced innovation and change across the industry, there is greater and faster progress we can make when it comes to diversity. All things ‘digital’ are by nature underpinned by innovation, and you can’t have innovation without diversity – remedying the diversity imbalance should be a top priority for all senior executives.

by Natalie Hughes , Head of Strategy, This Place London


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