Making Diversity and Inclusion Work

I participated in Austin Design Week (ADW) Design-a-thon in October/November 2019. Groups were presented with a design challenge question, How might we promote diversity and inclusion in Austin Tech? 

As my team and I started our research, we were struck with the question, why? Why has their been so much money spent with little results?

“Fortune 500 companies and startups alike spend more than a collective $8 billion a year on in-house diversity training sessions that are largely ineffective and often counterproductive.”

— Frank Dobbin, Harvard University
Research Process

As a team member of 5,  my role was as Interviewer and Surveyor.

CONSTRAINTS: My team and I had  <6 days, 3-5 hours/day to work on this project. Scheduling was difficult: sometimes all of us couldn’t meet. Finding leaders to interview on short notice was difficult as well.

  • Phone interviews and email or phone communication follow-up : 1 CEO, 3 director/manager level, (2 Male/1  Female), 2 Female experienced programmer, 1 Asian gay male in hi-tech
  • Surveys: 11 respondents (72% F/27% M, 63% white, 9% Hispanic, 9% other, 18% Asian)
  • Articles research
  • Data analysis, personas, as is journey mapping, affinity mapping
  • Idea generation
  • Proposal
Research Findings

AFFINITY MAPPING: KEY INSIGHTS for Diversity & Inclusive workplace (from interviews & surveys)

SAFE SPACE Trust is a important: to be able to speak to leadership about your concerns without repercussion.

EMPOWERMENT Everyone needs to believe in D&I goal success: having either a top down or bottom up will be a barrier. If the boss empowers direct report, he/she will feel good and will work to empower his/her direct reports.

REPRESENTATION Cultural events (example: holidays) and sharing interests (interest groups: ex. Women in Tech) promotes feelings of belonging and representation

FEAR is a driving force of distrust/resentment.


REPRESENTATION No expression day (when you can’t be you), contribute a word to a mind map board

FEAR write to Dear XYZ, random employee picks up letter and write back

EMPOWERMENT I appreciate/I nominate; role reversal: employee is boss/boss is employee

SAFE SPACE art therapy, join a group (ex. Women in tech, LGBQT)

“Feeling prejudice by walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is what VR was made for.”

–Jeremy Bailenson, Director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab

Virtual Reality as a D& I teaching and training tool is attractive for many reasons. It is an inexpensive, scalable, immersive medium that is customizable and has low barrier to entry. VR opens the user’s eyes, shifts his/her perspective and builds empathy.


Image: Person says, “That’s not my pronoun!” User chooses the response. (Image courtesy of A.A)



Initially the prototype will be simple. It will be an immersive storytelling with no interaction.

The goal of this simple prototype is to build empathy and shift user perspective.


Once success is established with a simple prototype, we will be ready for a medium complexity prototype. This prototype will allow users to make choices as he/she experiences the narrative. This is similar to “choose your own adventure,” where the narrative branches to reflect decisions made. The choices selection are shown similar to a side scrolling game (example: Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch movie)

The goal of this prototype is for D&I assessment. The user is actively participating and is aware of choices that are presented.

Ex. interactive game: changing scenario, heart rate, facial expression of user is taken into account


This complex prototype will imploy the use of AI or ML for choice selection in the narrative. Therefore the narrative branching will be more complex and customized to the user. It will be fully gamified.

The goal of this prototype is assess all interactions (verbal and non-verbal) of the user. The interaction evolves with the user.

Conclusions and Reflection


The prototype image was presented to our director/manager who was interviewed previously. She did not pick up right away what to do, as depicted in the prototype image. She asked if she needed to choose one of the selection. She asked, “Is there an opportunity for learning?” 

“ have to get real world examples and go through training, workshops, mentoring, etc… It is the same argument as people not believing in white privilege. They don’t experience it so it must not happen.”

“The more you expose people to situation, the more they are open and not force it.”


  • VR/AR is still new and not widely accepted yet as a tool for behavioral, attitudinal or educational change.
  • Multi- pronged approach to behavioral change/learning is necessary due to differing learning preferences. There needs to be options for people  to choose how they learn.


  • Using actual 3D prototype to demonstrate our intention/plan vs. a flat graphic may be more effective, as it is more immersive than passive intake of information.
  • Include non-tech methods in training program or build on existing method (ex. Card game with questions to play with others): non tech options are easy to implement, casual and can be played by others in a group setting.
  • Current programs for managers include workshops. While they aren’t as easily scalable and are not cheap to implement (a workshop runs in thousands), AR/VR solves that problem. It can also be used to replicate real life scenarios as a means to educate.
  • Re-iterate with other solutions to compare effectiveness. See sample curriculum.


I propose a curriculum that involves many styles of learning and provide a variety of access points –from people who prefer to learn quietly and those who like to learn conversationally.

What I Learned


Whatever the research topic, I think finding a person who is entrenched in their belief will bring a much more powerful story.

In this D&I project, it was a challenge to find leadership willing to interview with us. In one instance, D&I was seen as a sensitive topic and anonymity wasn’t enough to convince our LGBQT leader to interview with us. In this case, we needed to choose someone who believed in D&I and has demonstrated such belief in action. Luckily, I was able to find a woman in tech leader whose story is inspiring.

We also interviewed another leader who was a skeptic. In his opinion, he needed data and proof before he could get buy in on D&I. His opinions drove us to do a lot of paper research. But I think numbers and data were not as convincing as stories. Stories can change behaviors through human connection. They demonstrate what is possible.


I am currently taking a Systems Practice class. Although the class is geared toward complex, wicked issues, one thing is evident. External forces play a role in problems we are trying to solve. Understanding these forces are crucial to delivery of a solution that make sense and sustains itself.

Therefore, I think it is crucial to invite outside forces into the D&I conversation and finding a way to create buy in. With regard to D&I, it could be inviting a respected D&I champion to a Board Meeting; it could even be showing the interest of investors. 

Scroll to Top