Whitney Berry (above) from digital agency ustwo tells us what they're doing to make both their workplace and their work more inclusive.

There’s been a lot of talk about Diversity lately, especially in design and tech. It’s the new hot topic and every design and tech company who is anybody is racing to figure it out. At ustwo, although we admit to being in the race, we like to think of ourselves as running to the beat of our own drum.

As a digital product studio, we recognise the need to create and design products that ultimately reach a diverse consumer market. As potential user bases get broader, it becomes increasingly important for us to ensure that the team building the products aim to meet the needs reflective of every user.

Having a team with different perspectives, points of view, different backgrounds and styles, ultimately results in better products with better experiences for the end user.

Diversity and inclusion are hard problems

To realise our diversity goals we need to address cultural issues. Our culture is unique and is what makes us who we are, it’s why people join and why people stay. But like most of the tech industry, we are mostly male. And white. How can an under-represented person feel like there is a place for them at ustwo if there isn’t anyone here that looks like them?

We know that we can hire a diverse workforce if that is the only thing we are focused on, but we also know that if we don’t create a culture of inclusion they won’t stay. I believe there is often discrimination in the tech industry – both overtly and covertly – and sometimes it feels like a boys’ club, even at places like ustwo with the best of intentions.

So how do we go about creating an inclusive culture when the majority feel pretty included already? What are we doing wrong? I honestly don’t know the answer, but I think it has something to do with understanding our own biases and the behaviours that follow those biases.

Subtle and not-so-subtle biases

Unconscious-bias training seems to be where a lot of companies start when they begin trying to tackle diversity. This is a great way to go about it but it didn’t feel quite 'right' for ustwo. Not that we are bias-free – far from it – but we just tend to approach things a bit differently in everything we do. So that is where the idea for a theatrical event came in.

Chris Thorpe’s Confirmation is a show about discrimination and confirmation bias, that is presented in a way that is provocative and thought-provoking (watch the trailer below). 

So we thought, that’s it – we need to bring this show to ustwo. So that is what we did (below). We reached out to the show’s producers China Plate and they reached out to Chris, who liked the idea of a tech meets theatre event, and voila. We transformed our cybercafe into a theatre and had our own private performance.

The show was engaging, enjoyable and challenging. It’s not an easy show to watch, it makes you think and challenge yourself and your beliefs. It provokes and creates internal questions about your own biases. The show went down really well with the studio and we all really enjoyed the Q&A afterwards.

We plan to follow up the exposure that we’ve had to biases with tools we can use to combat our biases. We’re in the process of developing our own ustwo version of unconscious bias training with the help of diversity-&-inclusion consultant Charlotte Butler of Altogether Different. We hope to be ready to roll it out in the next few weeks with the goal of every ustwobie completing the training.

As well as Confirmation, we’ve kicked off 2016 with an aggressive diversity-&-inclusion initiative that we hope can make a dent in the industry:

  1. We’ve secured a commitment from the leadership team to prioritise the initiative and they’ve provided tangible ways they will do this
  2. Looking at our hiring process; specifically how we hire talent, from the job description to the interview process
  3. Looking at ways we can celebrate different personality types, as our natural lean has always been towards extroverts
  4. Thinking of ways to improve the pipeline issue by reaching out and promoting tech to kids and underrepresented groups
  5. We’ve assembled a committee of passionate ustwobies committed to seeing this initiative through, with one of our core values – make a difference – front of mind

So that is how our race has started. We are in the first lap but we’re in it for the long haul, and the only way to move is forward.

Whitney Berry is head of diversity & inclusion at ustwo London. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in Sociology. Whitney is passionate about people, and founded the company's philanthropic committee in her last role and worked for several years volunteering with School On Wheels, a Los Angeles organisation dedicated to helping homeless children stay focused on education. She's California born-and-raised until moving to London two years ago.