The Power of Product Inclusion – in Reality
By Nicole Casperson
I spoke on a panel Thursday evening by Volv media at Rise by Barclays, where we discussed fintech trends for 2023.
The topic of inclusion came up right away, and I found myself and fellow panelists amped to talk about inclusion as a proper business strategy for the future success of fintech.
Sure, as an industry, we know that inclusion is “the right thing to do” because people matter – and we’re in the business of serving people.
To simplify, inclusion as an ethical obligation tends only to answer the “why” but discounts the question of at least one person’s mind whether they say it out loud or not.
“What does inclusivity look like in reality?”
Now, this question did come up during the event. And I applaud the audience member for bringing it up because the practical “how” inclusion fits into a fintech product isn’t always discussed.
So let’s talk about it.
What’s Product Inclusion?
Top product executives have crafted super-defined frameworks to turn inclusion into reality.
Annie Jean-Baptiste, Google’s Head of Product Inclusion, is a leader in helping tech companies and products from all industries prioritize inclusion.
When building something for someone else, Annie says we must always ask, “who else?”
As an industry, it also means a cognitive shift from giving historically underrepresented consumers a “seat at the table” to co-creation and full collaboration that ensures the outcomes are better for everyone and allows for higher innovation and market share.
For example, there’s a misconception that historically underrepresented people don’t have power because they’re marginalized. That’s just not true:
- Black consumers in the U.S. had $1.4 trillion in purchasing power in 2020.
- 1 billion people in the world with a disability
- Women globally have $18 trillion purchasing power and make many household decisions.
Ensuring that we collaborate and co-create with historically underrepresented groups allows for the full richness of our world to be reflected in product and marketing, creating more opportunities for businesses to show up for their consumers.
At its core, product inclusion and equity should make people feel seen so that the different aspects of their identity are considered when designing and developing a product or service.
When this is accomplished, we can see how technology can amplify people’s lives.
12 Dimensions of Diversity
Inclusion encompasses the billions of users worldwide who have different races, genders, and socioeconomic statuses, among several dimensions and how those dimensions intersect when a user interacts with a product.
Annie and her team at Google started to develop 12 dimensions of diversity when they began to ask, “Who else needs to be included in the product development process?”
Just asking the question prompted Google to create a full-fledged team to work on product inclusion.
The dimensions of diversity include the intersections of gender, race, age, education level, geographic location, socioeconomic status, physical ability, mental ability, religion, sexual orientation, and learning styles.
According to Annie, what you want to do is start to think holistically and intersectionally about your user.
Think about how there’s not one thing that makes you – you.
An example Annie will use with her product teams is that she’s a Black woman who’s also left-handed.
It’s not like she’s Black on Monday, left-handed on Tuesday, and a woman on Wednesday. She’s all those things all the time. So it affects how she moves through the world. It affects how the world views her. And it affects how she interacts with products and services.
At times there may be a more prominent dimension. For example, if she’s using scissors, only being left-handed is essential. But if she’s unlocking her phone with facial recognition or using a phone to take a picture, being Black and a woman will intersect.
Thinking about how these multiple dimensions come together and how that affects someone’s experience is important.
Product Inclusion in Reality
Examples of Google’s product inclusion work include ensuring that the Google assistant uses sensitive language and that Google cameras accurately represent all skin tones.
Annie shared that the pixel team that initially tested out the camera’s proximity sensor was all white, and they realized that it works well for them and doesn’t always work for everyone.
When product teams think about product inclusion and equity, Annie talks to them about the “curb-cut effect.” The curb cut in sidewalks was initially made in the ’70s for wheelchair users, but we all use it now, whether it’s people with skateboards, suitcases, or shopping carts.
The critical thing to understand is that building for historically marginalized groups results in better outcomes for everyone. There are a lot of examples of that throughout history; another is closed captioning.
So even though it feels amplified now, decades of work have helped to ensure that those who have historically not been at the center of development and design can have their voices involved throughout critical points in the process.
How to Start
The economic benefits of creating products that serve all people are clear, but the challenge is how to make this vision a reality.
Business leaders need to understand how to capture a larger market share by creating more inclusive products for people of color, women, and other underrepresented groups.
Fortunately, Google’s Product Inclusion Team has developed strategies to help companies with this endeavor.
These strategies focus on expanding the target user base rather than replacing the original customer or user. It is about recognizing that there are more potential users out there and working to reach them. Only then can companies genuinely create products that will be beneficial to all.
It is essential to think proactively about bringing diverse perspectives in the four process points of design, engineering, product management, and user research.
For example, when conducting user research, do you consider cities versus rural areas, or are you just limiting yourself to domestic research?
Similarly, with user testing, are you including people from outside the company?
Google has adopted a community-based participatory research method, which leads with the community’s goals, needs, and challenges rather than attempting to incorporate them later down the line.
This allows for greater innovation, as diverse teams can bring in various perspectives, which can help to anticipate and resolve any potential issues or challenges.
Additionally, a more inclusive process from the outset avoids fixing any issues that may have arisen later retroactively.
The earlier you bring in these perspectives, the easier it is, and the lessons will cascade throughout the process.
A couple of years ago, Google identified four inflection points in the design and development process that companies should focus on ideation, user research and design, user testing, and marketing.
These points in the process cover the entire journey of creating and launching a product, from initial ideation to the final marketing steps.
This process is consistent across all industries, with the same vital steps needing to be taken to create and launch a product successfully.
What’s more, it’s about something other than coming up with groundbreaking, entirely new processes.
It’s about being more intentional about the processes already in place, broadening the scope of those processes, and considering how to ensure the perspectives of those at the margins are included.
This will result in that ‘curb-cut effect,’ wherein building for those most excluded results in the center’s benefit.
When creating anything, it is crucial to recognize the influence of different lived experiences.
For example, when designing a B2B product, one should consider not just the end customer but also the customer’s customer.
Consideration should be taken for those who benefit from the product and those facing challenges that the product could help mitigate.
No matter the sector, it is crucial to think of the perspectives of those most unlike the group that the product has historically been built.
Doing so will create a more robust, holistic product that can provide value for a broader range of customers.
At Google, Annie’s team has taken the initiative to measure inclusion like any other key part of its business.
The tech giant uses OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) to track progress toward product inclusion and equity up to the company level.
It’s also vital to set metrics such as customer satisfaction, sentiment, and daily active users.
Moreover, companies must be intentional when looking at the data to ensure they are not overlooking any historically underrepresented groups. Additionally, when assessing product-market fit, it is essential to consider whether or not we have gone to the appropriate demographics for feedback.
This is key, as different groups can have completely different ideas or needs that would otherwise go unrecognized.
Creating and maintaining an inclusive product is an ongoing effort that requires a commitment from both leaders and team members alike.
As a leader, it is essential to find an authentic way to share why this work is important and to make sure it is not just a one-off initiative but a steady drumbeat.
Team members must be empowered to take ownership of their part in the process.
Product Managers must understand the opportunities outside the U.S. and with other demographics, engineers must consider the necessary infrastructure and tooling, and marketers must ensure a company’s voice is inclusive in all areas, including ads and commercials.
Achieving product inclusion and equity is a journey, and it is important to recognize that every day is an opportunity to get it right.