Your Product is a Reflection of Your Team

By Jared Karol

What happens when you have a lack of diversity on a product innovation team? In a worst case scenario, you get what happened to Google in July of 2015, when their photo app mistakenly tagged a black couple as gorillas. How could something like this happen? The short answer is that the product is a result of the creator. Engineers and product managers are going to create products based off their reality; if your reality lacks diversity, it will show in the product.

In an engaging panel discussion at San Francisco’s 2016 Tech Inclusion Conference, moderator Leah McGowen-Hare (@LeahBMH) from Salesforce asked Gretchen Anderson (@gretared) of PG&E, Donna Boyer (@donnaboyer) of Airbnb, Janet Peterson (@SAP) of SAP, and Jaya Singhvi (@nutanix) of Nutanix, a series of interesting questions about the impact of diverse engineering teams on product innovation, such as:

  • How are you showing your commitment to inclusive workplaces?
  • In what ways are you looking at technology and machine learning with an equity lens?
  • How are you combining intuition with data to create products that reflect that true makeup of your target audiences?

Hearing the thoughts — both the struggles and the success stories — of these four women was a fascinating look at the challenges and opportunities today’s tech companies have in creating products that are truly equitable and inclusive to all users.

Donna Boyer, Director of Product at Airbnb, captures the essence well when she says, “Your product is a reflection of your team. We need to be thinking about building products that reflect the makeup of whoever our target audience is. At Airbnb, that’s the world.”

On the topic of data, Gretchen Anderson, Head of Design at PG&E, says that companies need to express the data they collect in ways that support what the company is trying to say, and not simply reinforce the negative impression that people who are marginalized already experience. To do this well, you need a diverse team that reflects the diversity of your target audiences.

Janet Peterson, VP of Platform Engineering for the Success Factors product line at SAP, says on the topic of machine learning, “It’s not always the technology [that’s the problem]. Frequently, it’s the environment we put it in and how we use it. We have to figure out as a tech industry, how do we build into our design process people thinking about [inclusiveness]? We need to do a lot more testing before we put things out in the environment.”

Throughout the discussion, many innovate and thoughtful ideas and solutions came to light. Jaya Singhvi, Technical Director of Nutanix, summed it up well when she said, “Diversity helps us make much better products; and makes us much better people also.” Indeed it does.

Watch the full panel discussion below.

See more videos from Change Catalyst and Tech Inclusion here.

About Change Catalyst:

Change Catalyst empowers diverse, inclusive and sustainable tech innovation — through education, community engagement and mentorship.

Our Tech Inclusion programs explore and develop innovative solutions to tech diversity and inclusion.

Our Startup Ecosystem programs help underrepresented entrepreneurs and investors to start, scale and fund worldchanging businesses.

Change Catalyst is a Certified B Corp, winning the “Best for the World”​ award for community impact in 2014 and “Best in the World”​ overall in 2015.

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The Change Catalyst Team
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