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Interview with Karen Craggs-Milne, Head of Anti Racism, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Thoughtexchange

“Technology can be used as a key tool to address social justice issues”

Chris Stewart
diversity
© Shutterstock / Nadia Snopek

We spoke with Karen Craggs-Milne, Head of Anti Racism, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Thoughtexchange about diversity in tech and how tech companies can support diverse talent by incorporating inclusion by design into product research, design, and innovation.

JAXenter: Hi Karen, thanks for talking to us. To get us started, would you mind sharing a bit about who you are and what you do?

Karen Craggs-Milne: Originally from Kenya, I am the Head of Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ADE&I) at Thoughtexchange, a Canadian software company that facilitates unbiased, inclusive, transparent conversations at scale. With two decades of global experience addressing social justice issues, I am widely recognized as a go-to expert for governments, corporations, and NGOs who want to ‘get equality work right’, with sustained impact.

In my role at Thoughexchange I am enabling the company to truly lean into its commitment to be an anti-racist, diverse, and inclusive tech company by diversifying staff and leadership, putting appropriate policies, practices, and tools into place, building technical capacity, fostering an enabling environment, supporting meaningful community partnerships, etc. I also bring an ADE&I perspective into product innovation and work closely with Thoughtexchange clients to bring their diversity and inclusion work to life, leveraging Thoughtexchange.

SEE ALSO: Swift for Good – because just talking about diversity isn’t enough

Companies that are committed to hiring more diverse talent need to do things differently to reach that diverse talent, attract them and retain them. This applies to all sectors, including the technology sector.

JAXenter: What are some of the key trends and perspectives we should be aware of when it comes to diversity, inclusion, unconscious bias and its impact on the technology sector?

Karen Craggs-Milne: When I think about ADE&I as it applies to technology, three key areas of work come to mind:

  • Firstly, the lack of diversity in the technology sector and the need to train, hire, retain and invest in diverse talent.
  • Secondly, the practice of integrating diversity and inclusion in how we research, design, build software and technology products (applying the inclusion by design principle) in our sector.
  • Thirdly, the role technology can play in our efforts to address social justice issues such as anti-racism, diversity, equity, inclusion in the world.

JAXenter: Speaking to your first point, ideally, fair representation would be present at all levels in tech but we are quite a long way from that. What can technology companies do to attract diverse technology talent? 

Karen Craggs-Milne: The first thing to recognize is that we cannot do “business as usual” and expect different results.

Companies that are committed to hiring more diverse talent need to do things differently to reach that diverse talent, attract them and retain them. This applies to all sectors, including the technology sector.

At Thoughtexchange we recognized that our current recruitment channels were not working for our ADE&I commitment. If we wanted more diverse candidates applying for roles in our company we needed to make a concerted effort to identify and collaborate with talent recruitment organizations that are connected to more diverse communities. As a result, we have sought out and consulted organizations such as Focus Professional Services (a neurodiversity talent agency, representing IT professionals who live on the Autism spectrum) and  Black Professionals in Tech Network (a community of black professionals in the tech industry).

There is so much more we need to do but this is an important place to start!

JAXenter: What can we do to ensure that these things make it off paper and written into the code – especially when the developer(s) may not even be aware of their biases?

Karen Craggs-Milne: That would speak to the second area of work that I identified: incorporating inclusion by design into product research, design, and innovation.

That means that when we think of our software or technology product, instead of thinking of the users as one generic group, (all with the same characteristics and needs who will use the product in the same way), we take the time to disaggregate potential users by age, gender, ability, and any other relevant characteristics to understand how different groups would interact with our software so that we can intentionally design with their unique needs, wants, uses or even barriers in mind.

This allows us to eliminate any guesswork and systematically challenge our own built-in biases and assumptions about our product, who will use it, how they will use it, what they need to be able to use it etc.

For example, Thoughtexchange, built in the capacity for people to engage in a scalable conversation in their language of choice. In a recent exchange run by a global company with offices around the world, over 20 languages were used to participate in the same conversation in real-time. This built-in software feature allows our clients to be truly inclusive, bringing diverse people and perspectives into conversations on topics and issues that matter to them.

We also recognize that people like to participate in conversations in different ways. Some like to jump in and share their thoughts right away, others like to listen to what others have to say before sharing their perspective, and others don’t want to say anything but do want to weigh in on key themes and ideas that are emerging in a conversation. The Thoughtexchange software allows for people to join the conversation in all of these ways, making it truly inclusive of different ways of participating. Again – this functionality was created using principles of inclusion by design.

All of this was made possible by asking who is going to use our software and how can we build it to be as inclusive as possible?

    DYF

JAXenter: What about your third pillar of work, you got me curious about the role technology can play in addressing social justice issues.

It is critical that we consciously and intentionally move this work moving forward by asking how can we use our software, products, and platforms to address social justice issues and promote long-term systemic change.

Karen Craggs-Milne: Technology has many benefits – it can optimize processes, increase productivity and increase efficiency which is great for business. Technology can also be used as a key tool to address social justice issues that companies and communities are struggling with.

Mobile phone technology is a great example. The Victim Voice App has supported anonymous reporting on domestic violence incidences in the USA and  STOP THE TRAFFIK App allows for immediate reporting on suspicious activities such as human trafficking with information and photos. Gaming is also being explored as a tool for social change. Gamesforchange creates games that educate and engage players on important social issues such as mental health, LGBTQI+ youth challenges, demystifying cancer, etc.

SEE ALSO: Women in tech: “Diversity is mute without inclusion!”

Along these lines, Thoughtexchange has developed a patented software platform that promotes unbiased, inclusive, transparent, multilingual, real-time conversations on issues that matter at scale. In other words, our technology operationalizes inclusion and equity of voice in all areas and departments of a company or community process. You no longer have to be the most powerful, most popular, or loudest person in the room for your perspective, your input, and your recommendations to be heard and valued equally. This tool has been been used for company meetings, strategic planning, product testing and so much more. It has also supported critical conversations on issues of racism and discrimination at work. Employees who would otherwise remain silent in a public forum have used this platform to safely engaging in an honest conversation about the kinds of urgent and meaningful change they need to see from their leadership and leaders are listening and taking concrete action to address these concerns and gaps. In a time when these issues could create great divisions within companies and communities, our software is promoting open dialogue, trust, and action in the right direction. We couldn’t be prouder of the impact technology is having on ADEI work in corporations and communities. This in turn has led to increased trust, deeper insights, better decisions, key product innovations, and ultimately higher revenue outcomes for companies.

While George Floyd’s murder brought ADE&I to the surface and brought urgency to addressing social justice issues in our companies and in our communities, we know that this urgency will die down as other issues emerge in 2021. This is why it is critical that we consciously and intentionally move this work forward by asking how can we use our software, products, and platforms to address social justice issues and promote long-term systemic change.

Author
Chris Stewart
Chris Stewart is an Online Editor for JAXenter.com. He studied French at Somerville College, Oxford before moving to Germany in 2011. He speaks too many languages, writes a blog, and dabbles in card tricks.

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