The Societal Quid Pro Quo of Representational Diversity
The trend of leaving not just people of color but specifically black people of color behind in the design world is not only alarming--it’s painful. It represents the continued oppression of the black creative voice, except perhaps for appropriation. It is an echo of a dark segregated, and racist past in the US and makes one wonder--have we really come that far? Regarding the integration of black professionals into design in the US, the answer is no. So while the answer to “how do we get more black designers” looms large, like any good capitalist, we must first answer the question, “what’s in it for me?". As it turns out--fulfilling a social and moral obligation aside--there's plenty."
By the Numbers: Diversity Breeds Innovation
“Diversity begets diversity, which in turn breeds innovation. If we keep the door closed to diverse talent because of subconscious or unconscious bias, we are limiting our access to change, innovation, new solutions, and ultimately financial success. Diversity of thought, perspectives, age, gender, experiences, cultures, race, etc., should be reflected in the images that we project to reach all consumers.”
The lack of diversity in design fields that exalt innovation, specifically industrial design and product design, is one of the most quizzical disparities of all. The power of combinatorial thinking, hallmark to diverse teams, has long been understood and explored in study after study. For our purposes, studies pointing to the notion that industry outsiders are more likely to develop solutions to complicated R&D problems are especially constructive. Marginality, it seems, has its advantages. Therefore, if breakthrough insights and solutions are what design firms truly seek, there is no better place to "mine" for innovation gold than with the perennial outsider--the black designer. To take it a step further, how many novel products are we already missing, given the starkly white nature of the product and industrial design?
Diversity and the American Competitive Advantage
Sidestep with us for a moment to the world stage, and the implications of diversifying our innovation industries become even more critical. In a race between the US and China to take the biggest bite of the world economic pie, there are scanty more than 7-percentage points that separate us (41.89% and 34.75%, respectively). In this scenario, diversity could very well be the fulcrum on which our country’s economic superiority hinges. If the statistics proving diversity to be the wellspring of innovation tells us anything, it should be--we need to be color blind in mobilizing our best minds. Our economic superpower--diversity--does nothing when mired by the kryptonite of racial bias.
Interestingly enough, just because China is not as diverse as the US, does not mean it cannot be. The Harvard Business Review points out that diversity traits can be both inherent and acquired or "2-D". While 2-D diversity as seen in the US may be more prevalent and the most powerful that is no guarantee of success. The Chinese are smart and formidable. Should Eastern companies choose to invest in diversity in the abstract--our competitive heterogeneous advantage could become moot.
Dollars and Diversity: One Hand Feeds the Other
A 1% improvement in racial diversity similarities between upper and lower management boosts company efficiency by $729 to $1590 per year per employee (Lauren Turner, 2021).
One must never underestimate the power the almighty dollar has to persuade people to depart from their prejudices. However, researchers have long struggled to establish a causative relationship between diversity and profitability. The reason? Motivational factors of large companies in the US are obtuse at best--therefore, hard to scrutinize accurately. One of the best studies on the subject involves VC firms. Since these entities' compensation structure is primarily determined by profit-sharing, not dubious corporate interests, their motive is more readily identified--money and more of it.
Why Design Firms Should Bet with The House on Diversity
Comprehensive data in a working paper out of Harvard Business School by Paul A. Gompers and Sophie Q. Wang overwhelming showed that the more ethnically similar VC investment partners were, the poorer their investments performed (up to 32.2%). On the flip of this, teams led by ethnically and culturally diverse executives did better by 32%-35%. *In these contexts, better or worse means profitability. It appears either way the die is cast, inclusion is always a money roll; the type the odds the house takes.
“We’re Not Gonna Take It”--The New American Worker
Next week marks the unfortunate third anniversary of the pandemic for most of us here in the US. A devastating disruption that ripped us all out of our routines across many vectors. But no place did it have such a profound effect than in the workplace. The way the world works is changing--especially in The States. The cage that was an outdated 20s-era, Henry Ford model of employment, has been rattled. The door is ajar, and the new American worker is ready to walk free. New jobs, remote work, better wages, work-life balance, and, yes, ethical employers are no longer aspirational--they are the demand. At the same time, or maybe because of this, Generations Millenial, X, and Z have combined forces to correct boomer-era prejudices in the form of social justice movements. The combination of these two cultural phenomena--the pandemic and the great resignation--has resounding implications for employee equality and employer economics.
Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion or Extinction
In the information age, assessing a company's homophilic proclivities is as easy as a search on Google or LinkedIn. Given that emerging data shows a full half of American workers already want a commitment to diversity from employers, a brand's reputation ability to recruit talent and retain it could become contingent on the American workers shifting penchant for inclusive companies. In other words, as workers are given more latitude on where they work, how they work, and who they work for, companies that do not reflect their prismatic values are sure to fall behind. When we apply this to the highly competitive fields of product and industrial design, black professionals hold the keys to the castle--not only because they are deeply talented, eager to succeed, and frot with fresh ideas--but because at last giving them a seat at the table is the most innovative thing a design company can do.
To Finish our White Space: Black Designers Needed blog series, we will look at what needs to be done to help people of color, specifically black Americans, break into the design industries that seem to have, consciously or unconsciously, closed off to them. *Spoiler alert: It's hired more black designers.