Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. My guest today is Giselle Mota, chief of product inclusion at ADP. She helps the company’s teams make sure its products can be used by the widest possible range of people, no matter their race, gender, or physical challenges. We’re going to talk about the challenges such work involves. How software can be inclusive and the industry’s actions around it. All, on this edition of PeopleTech. Giselle, thanks for being here. Tell me about your work. What do you do?
I essentially help people to think more broadly about how we design our products. So as the chief of product inclusion, I’m helping our product teams to be able to put on a lens if you would, of diversity, equity, inclusion, so that everything that they’re designing can truly be for all of our customers and never be exclusionary of anyone. So it’s creating the strategy, for communication purposes, for design, for even taking into consideration legalities, all of these elements that have to come together to really make a product at the end of the day, that doesn’t leave anybody out.
People usually think of inclusion as something that concerns race or gender. And I know there’s more to it than that. There can be other topics as well, like neurodiversity, I’m thinking of. Can you explain the challenges with, I don’t want to say herding cats, but you have a lot of different areas, if you want to be fully inclusive, how do you manage all that?
Yeah, I think it is again about a shift of perception and perspective, I would say as well. Because, when we think about people and let’s just bring it down to basics, right? When you think about a person, we are way more than just one identity. We are multifaceted. We are nuanced as individuals. And what we call that in this world is intersectionality. So, you can be many things at one time and it’s about really putting a pause, taking time to step back, put on this lens and say, “Okay, well, if we’re designing for this, are we accounting for?” And it’s simply asking these questions, are we accounting for the individual who has different gender identities? Are we accounting for the individual who may have a disability? Whether it’s a scene disability or like what you just mentioned, a neurodiversity is something you can’t see. Like myself, I have dyslexia.
And when I’m working on something or needing to ingest information, I can’t only receive it in a bunch of texts and a bunch of information that comes compacted in that way. Because, the way my brain works, I’m going to need it to be in audio form as an option. I’m going to need some spacing between the letterings. Those are things that I would need to have accounted for, for myself. And then yeah, you think about veterans, you think about all kinds of different identities of people and honestly, in my role, it’s about creating that pause and step-back in the people who are designing and simply asking the question, “Did we think of everybody when we were designing this? Is anybody left out?” It’s these simple questions that we often just don’t take the time to ask. And then really the lack of simplicity will come into. Okay, if we didn’t, how do we start to think about that? How do we start to design for those people in mind?
How does software become inclusive? I mean, in this day and age with all of tech sophistication, why wouldn’t it be inclusive? Why do you still have to think about it?
Let me tell you that for many reasons, it can still exclude people. Number one, who are the people creating the product themselves? When you come into a silo of homogenous people that are creating a product, or homogenous minds, you’re going to kind of get the same result because some people may not be asking the questions that I just talked about. Perhaps you’re not someone of the LGBTQ+ community, so you probably wouldn’t think about that unless it personally affects you. And so you wouldn’t create a software that can include people of different gender identities, for example, or perhaps you’re not someone with a disability and you won’t account for the fact that, that can be an impediment as well if you don’t think about creating for someone with that. And I’ll give you some examples. So there’s this software company that you’re able to take pictures and be able to get a good image.
Everyone could enjoy that. However, a lot of times, people of more melanated skin were not being able to be picked up through the way light was coming through in that digital process of taking a picture. And so what would happen in that case is that you would never truly pick up on someone’s skin tone in that software program. So this particular company, a big software company, has created more inclusion in how the light is even showing up and reflecting on people to not wash them out, to not make them too dark either, but truly capture the nuance of their skin tone coming through. And then when you think about also other software programs, think about, for example, when you go to any type of software that’s going to identify who you are, using your biometrics. Many times it’ll scan your eyes or something like that.
But what happens when the individual is blind or what happens when they are low vision, or what happens if the way that their face shows up, even on a camera for purposes of like video interviewing, what if the person had a stroke or they had Botox, or they had something else, or perhaps they’re neurodivergent and the way that their expressions show up on the camera is quite different. And the problem with those softwares and how it can be exclusionary. And the reason why legislation has even been put in place to ensure that when you’re using artificial intelligence to make decisions on hires, that you really be careful on how you’re doing that. Because there has been software that excludes certain people because of the factors I just said, and will ascribe to them a personality type that is negative, or say that they’re not competent for their role. All because of how they’re showing up on camera. And again, we’re way too nuanced for that type of thing. So that’s how software definitely can be exclusionary.
It’s obviously, it’s a big challenge. And I think everybody in the business kind of knows it’s out there and knows it’s a challenge. But do you think that the technology industry is really doing all it needs to do, to try to make these products more inclusive and workable for more people?
Hmm. Short answer’s no, it’s not. However, if I’m honest, I think that we’re seeing pockets of really great examples of companies that are trying to do better. And it’s been for a multiplicity of reasons. So it may be because the customers are saying, “Hey enough is enough. Include me.” When we think about it, and you asked the question earlier about inclusion and why we always kind of like, think about it in terms of race and ethnicity, et cetera. And sometimes maybe even gender? I think in here, we need to take a step back and remember that this is an all encompassing conversation and no one wants to feel excluded, nobody. So imagine like that time that you probably were excluded and our listeners as well from a situation or a scenario, it doesn’t feel good.
It just doesn’t feel good to be left out. And it boils down to that. So are we incorporating the voices of the people that we’re trying to sell to and that we’re trying to market to, are we incorporating their perspective because a synonym of inclusion is to incorporate, right? It’s to take into account, to consider, like this is humanly speaking. If we really distill it and not make it just about inclusion, like some “topic” we’re really thinking about a human need to feel a part of something and to feel seen. And I think that’s a big part of how we need to be thinking about this topic as well.
Now, you’re a woman and you’re in STEM and people like me read a lot of stuff about the business and we read a lot about women in STEM, so with all of this going on around you, you’re trying to build more inclusive products, trying to make the business more aware. How does this all make you feel, as a professional? Do you feel like things are moving forward? Are you intimidated by the amount of work that needs to be done? Where do you lead?
I actually came into this role at ADP as a chief of product inclusion because of how I felt and what I saw happening in the world. And I wanted to make a change. So even before my position was formalized, I had been in another role talking about the future of work, consulting and assisting organizations to think about things like artificial intelligence and data analytics and all those things. And I had a sense of almost frustration, right. But I channeled that into, and I’ll clarify, frustration on the way the world can exclude certain people. And yes, I’m a woman, I’m a woman in STEM. And as I said about intersectionality, I also identify as an Afro-Latina for my ethnicity. I’m Dominican. My parents came here to this country as immigrants. So I’m a first-gen American. I have that bi-cultural aspect of being American, but also being very Latino, Latin Latina.
And I’m also dyslexic. So I have neurodivergence and there’s a lot of like layers to me. And sometimes I felt excluded from certain aspects in the world, and in software and in all kinds of things. And it’s not just me, there’s so many other people. And so I wanted to do something different, challenge that energy of being frustrated to make the change. And so I started to raise my hand and even within our organization start to highlight areas where we had opportunities to create more inclusive and more diversity, more equity, across our solutions and our services and products. And that kind of led into this role where I am today. So I will tell you, when I look at this, there’s a lot of work to be done. It’s not intimidating, but it is definitely sobering to say, “Wow, there’s a lot of things we just haven’t thought about in general, in the tech space.” And when I say we, I speak to all technology providers and software providers, even as simple as considering how somebody’s name should show up, how to think about accessibility in different ways.
I just heard the other day about a credit card company who has created a tactile type of credit card to help those who are blind and low vision to differentiate between their bank card and credit card and be able to have more autonomy when they’re banking. That’s awesome. And those are the kind of things that we often don’t think about, but I’m sure that those are the sorts of things that come from one, having someone on your team who’s designing, that probably is blind and low vision. Or two, listening to your clients who are blind and low vision in that instance and hearing, “What would you need, what would be good for you in your experience?” And so, again, my role is not just about me, it is sourced from my identity and frustration and wanting to do something different. But it’s also considering and bringing along so many other voices that are beyond me to make this happen.
So generally speaking, what can industry, technology companies, HR departments, HR functions, what can they do to sort of move this forward, generally speaking?
So there’s a few things, there’s a lot that can be done, but I’m going to give some, if somebody wanted to leave this and put some action, take some actions, here are some steps that I would recommend. One, is go back into your product teams, the people who are developing, even the people who are developing messaging through marketing and the people who are following legislation, and really just take account and see how diverse those teams are, number one. From an HR standpoint, how diverse are the people who are setting forth policy and direction of what you’re doing with your products and solutions at your company. Secondly, if you notice that’s not very diverse, so definitely take some action there to bring in other voices, whether it’s hiring more people, diverse representation. And when I say that, I’m not only talking about race and ethnicity, it’s the gender, age, veteran status.
It is different experiences in work, so bring them from across the organization so that even if you’re working on product development, you shouldn’t only have product people informing the direction of that product. You should definitely bring in, for example, at our company, we even have a chief behavioral anthropologist. We have a chief economist, we have different people in our organization that are helping to inform the research and the ideation and these perspectives that you normally wouldn’t think of in a tech or payroll company. So that in and of itself is bringing cognitive diversity to the table. So I’d say do that. The other thing is, listen to your people, inside of the company and outside of your company, whether that’s, if you have to get people to test, provide user feedback, and you bring that from the outside, or you cultivate that from the inside, you want different minds on whatever it is that you’re doing, whether it’s a product and even marketing messages so that you can get as diverse as possible when you’re developing something.
So those are some of the key aspects that I would say. And finally, the kind of cherry on top, is change your mindset. If you’re of the mindset that you think that DE&I is just another catchphrase, or inclusion is just something that has to do with some politics or something. Again, it’s not. Think about, you don’t want people to feel left out. Who wants that feeling? You don’t even want that feeling. So change the mindset and really start asking key questions, “Hey, when we made this product, when we made this marketing message or whatever it is, did we think or consider …?” And go down the list of different representation. Did we think of the multiplicity of identities that people have, or are we leaving somebody out?
My last question is, stepping back a little bit and asking, why should employers care about this? What’s it do for them if they address this?
Yeah. First of all, revenue stream. Absolutely this, the ROI of making sure that your product or solutions are expansive enough and embracing enough and overreaching to all different types of people. The more you do that, the more your likelihood of capturing that market, they’re going to not only be captured and interested, but they’re going to probably be loyal customers. So there was a bandage brand who initially created all kinds of bandages to look like one skin tone. And then when they changed it to embrace all different types of spectrums of skin color, they’ve seen such an increase in loyalty, in their brand perception and in sales. And so that’s another example, but so definitely there’s an ROI there, and there’s an opportunity to do that. And then secondly, your people that you’re creating for, don’t you want them to feel included in what you’re creating.
And ask that simple question, because if not, then what are we really doing? And as the world continues to evolve, new generations come, we are seeing more and more intersectionality, more and more people embracing different parts of their identity. They’re going to come to expect that, right. And to tell you quickly, Mark, I was at a hotel the other day, a very popular brand. It was very expensive as well, so nice hotel. And as I approached, and I’m not that tall, but I’m not that short either, and as I approached the reception area, I had to get on my tippy-toes to just like reach the credit card area and pass my card and all my identity information over.
And I thought immediately of some friends that I have who are considered little people or have dwarfism and immediately I thought, how awkward and uncomfortable is it for an individual like them to come up to the front desk or even if perhaps you’re in a wheelchair and have to go out of your way to ask for assistance and just simply do a simple thing, like checking into a hotel and asking a question. So, obviously whoever designed that, no matter the greatness of brand and beauty and amount of dollars that went into real estate, that desk needs to come down, it’d be more accessible. So that’s just an example of how companies need to start thinking, because if not, we’re leaving out some of our clients and some of our customer base.
Giselle, thanks very much for joining me today.
Absolutely. My pleasure, Mark.
My guest today has been Giselle Mota, chief of product inclusion at ADP. And this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of Recruiting Daily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.