SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
December 27, 2021
Creating inclusive research environments, for participants and practitioners.
[1:32] Lisanne's experience as a Black person in UXR.
[8:13] What to do when people try to make diversity and inclusion your job.
[11:12] How including Black participants created aha! moments.
[18:01] Creating an environment of openness with participants is key to understanding their experiences.
[23:56] How Black UX Austin came to be.
[29:52] The challenge of communicating to companies the value candidates can bring without relying on big name schools or bootcamps.
[33:49] How to recognize if a company is just talking the talk or if they're walking the walk when it comes to diversity.
[38:58] Lisanne talks about what’s on the horizon for DEI in tech.
Dr. Lisanne Norman is the UX Research Lead at Gusto. She’s also a founder of Black UX Austin. She’s an advocate for creating more inclusive environments in tech and passionate about uncovering insights and trends that translate into creating inclusive digital products that anyone can use.
[00:00:00] Lisanne: People who've been putting up with things for years finally sort of speaking out and calling it out.
Right. Because I think that's what has to happen. Like it has to be called out and looked at and being like, Hey, like, this is messed up. Like this can't we can't continue to operate like this. This is not how we truly create a global society in which everyone feels like they belong or like that, that we all feel like we can be, can work in tandem and come to the table, like equally.
[00:00:27] Erin: Hello everybody and welcome back to Awkward Silences. We're here today with Dr. Lisanne Norman, a UX research leader at Gusto. Today we're going to talk about being Black in UX research. Thank you so much for joining us.
[00:01:01] Lisanne: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to have this conversation today.
[00:01:05] Erin: I am too. We've got JH here too.
[00:01:08] JH: Yeah, it feels like an overdue chat. To be honest, I think we've kind of touched on this topic, like on the periphery or on adjacent topics, but never head on, so I'm excited for it.
[00:01:17] Erin: So let's dig into question number one. What is your experience of being Black in UX research? And we've got some time to talk about this, but just to get the conversation started. Yeah, what's it been like? What's it like?
[00:01:32] Lisanne: It's been interesting and I'm glad that you put the emphasis on my experience. Right? Cause one of the things that I ended up talking with other sort of Black folks that I knew in UX is that like, you know, we all have different experiences, right? It's not a monolithic experience. And I've been fortunate in the beginning of my UX career, I actually sort of fell into it by accident. Okay. Very honest. I moved to Austin, Texas thinking that I was going to teach at UT Austin. This is after finishing the PhD and we just couldn't come to good terms. And I was like, I need to find a job. And a good friend of mine who also was in the social anthropology program with me.
She was. Well, Lisanne, you know that they, you know, you've got this anthropology degree, companies will pay you good money just to talk to people. Cause you know how to talk to people. And I kid you not, I was like, stop playing around Andy. I'm trying to find a job. Right. And she was like, I'm serious. I promise you.
And she was right. I did a search and I came across some companies in Austin because at the time I didn't understand that Austin was going through this tech boom
[00:02:41] Erin: When is this? Paint a picture.
[00:02:43] Lisanne: Oh, paint a picture. This is 2015. This is July, 2015 after a driving cross-country in our 2003 Volkswagen station wagon that was full to the gills.
So I, you know, a lot of tech companies are moving Austin, setting up, you know, satellite offices, a few even headquarters. And so I found this research company called Sentier research. And at the time two of the VPs were two female PhDs as well.
And one was a Black woman and I was like, after I was like, oh, wow, this is amazing. Like you X must be full like women. Here's this VP. She's been doing this for a few years. And they had this project for Adele, this customer journey mapping project. And they were like, okay, you know, we already have a team.
We need somebody to lead it. And I was like, I don't know what I'm doing. Like, I have absolutely no experience in this. I've never written a survey in my life. They were like, you're smart. You'll figure it out. And we'll be here. Go. And that's literally how it started. I, you know, took on this project and I loved it.
I honestly, I loved, you know, planning out the research, engaging with the participants thinking about how we could expand the scope of the study, you know, and working with this research team that I got to empower and help to mentor them and learn from them as well. Right. And so I kind of got started in this really great way and I sort of thought, you know, again it's a Small research firm, I'm thinking.
And they were, you know, there were two other Black people in the firm. There were a lot of women, so this was just, I was like, oh wow, this UX world. Yes. And then that project went on for about a year. And then by the end of it, unfortunately those two women had left the company. And it was just a different dynamic there.
But fortunately the woman that had been doing the project for, at Dell was like, Hey, you know, so much about the Dell website about, you know, sort of the UX problems, you know, like, would you consider coming over to Dell and working here? I was like, okay, why not? You know, so I went to Dell for a short period and that's where I really kind of started to see that like, oh, well, There's not a lot of diversity in terms of race or even, you know, women in the cause I got to a design team that was predominantly male and I was literally the only Black person on the team.
If my memory serves me correctly, the whole time I was there. And you know, it was a learning experience. It was really interesting, but it just wasn't a great fit for me. And Visa head hunted me from there and then I went over to Visa. Which you know, was at the time really trying to turn into a tech company.
So we're aggressively hiring and, you know, had this focus on diversity and inclusion, and it was really nice. The team I started off on was all women for? Like almost the entire year. It wasn't until I think, seven or eight months into the team that they hired. Man, and then he, you know, he was Black, so it's like, okay, so we've got women, we've got like, you know, we had like Asian Americans on the team yet Blacks.
I was like, okay, we're building this, you know, really great diverse team. But the problem is just that UX was totally in terms of, in the space that we were working in internal play twos was totally new at visa and it was just really hard. In terms of just, you know, getting folks to wrap their heads around, like, okay, we've got a think about the experience and, you know, taking a user centric approach to it.
And then it was also, you know, I found myself in this position where. I would oftentimes I was a director at that level, like be one of the few Black directors in the room. But then I have the fact, but then the fact that I went to Harvard would often come up at any job more than anywhere else I've ever been.
It was this weird dynamic. I, it was baffling. It'd be like, oh Lisanne, what do you think? And I'd be like, I don't know, like. We're talking about operations planning. I don't know about that. And, you know, but it was like, oh, you know, what does the Harvard person in the room think? So it was literally, somebody said that once and I was like, oh, this is weird.
[00:06:49] Erin: Yeah.
And that's where things really started to get interesting. And that's when I, you know, think about the struggles I started to face then in terms of, being like, well, who are we? Who are we talking to? Or who do we think, do you think you're designing this product for? And oftentimes coming like people really.
You know, know unconsciously many times, but really thinking that they're designing for somebody that's like them. Right. Whereas, you know, one of the first principles in UX is that, you know, like you're not designing for yourself. Right. And so you need to sort of put that aside, but I don't, I think there's some time a disconnect between that.
And I think people just naturally tend to fall into their own biases. And so there was a lot of oftentime being like, okay, like pushing for a very diverse participant pool.
[00:07:53] Erin: Do you feel like folks you mentioned the Harvard thing, right? It's like, oh, we've got Harvard here. Let's make sure to get the Harvard opinion. Do you feel like folks will lean to you when inclusion topics come up, right? Like, Hey Lisanne. Like how do we make sure we're being inclusive here in our participant researcher or how's that go?
[00:08:13] Lisanne: It's interesting. So now much more, but not initially, like, honestly, I feel like before last year it was Georgia 2020. Like it, it wasn't happening. I mean, I think it's after I left Visa, I went to work at an e-commerce startup in Austin where it was just a, I got there and I was the only Black person.
On a team that grew from like 35 to 200 and I was still the only Black person on the team. And when I would bring up things like, cause we were, you know, like we were designing for a wide demographic and I'd be like, okay, are we when we're getting, pulling this data, are we looking at race demographic. And they were like, no, why would we do that? I was like, well, because that matters, right? Like where we're, if we're designing, if we're thinking about designing for everyone, then we have to be cognizant of the fact that like, race is a part of the experience for a lot of folks that are using this product.
Don't look at that, then we're aligning a part of their experience. Right. And I got a lot of pushback and a lot of, no, that doesn't matter. That's not important. We don't have to think about that. Don't see race, right? Like racism, or we're color blind. I was like, oh, boy having that conversation. And then having to just really stand my ground and it got to.
It got it. Got to be frustrating. There were, you know, there were a lot of microaggressions that went on that I had to deal with, but I was like, and then, and then having someone when I pointed out the fact that I was the only Black person, then making it my job. Oh, What do we do? And then, and the thing is that initially you think, oh, okay, well, I had, then I was like, well, and I started to do it.
I put together a deck I was going to like, and then I was like wait, what am I doing? This is not my job. I'm not a recruiter. Like I don't, you know, like, I'm not like this is, this shouldn't be, only for me. Or then the other thing was then I would only get like, asked to be on interview panels when it was a Black candidate. Does no one see that this is a bit problematic?
[00:10:21] Erin: Right.
[00:10:23] JH: As you're talking through all these experiences, I'm just curious, like, across some of the experiences you just shared, are there times where, you know, getting that opportunity is maybe kind of like rewarding or meaningful or things like that. And then other times where it's just like gotta be so frustrating.
And to your point, like, you can just see all the problems with it. Like what can you maybe like to share an example of that? Like felt like you actually got put in a spot where you could affect some positive change and like another example where you were like this again, like how has this kept coming up and why is this, you know, does that make any sense?
I don't know how to get to it, but like, I'd imagine it's all over the map. Right?
[00:10:54] Lisanne: It is all over the map, right? It is. And in one way, like I was, it was great to be on this particular e-commerce platform, because then I was like, I, you know, we found a recruiter, luckily that just had like this amazing reach. And I was like, look, at least we're talking to 25 people.
I was like, let's at least like five of them must be Black work it out. And they were able to do that, right? We're able to, because I was like, you know, this demographic, that's when we look at, just the data. That's what we see. We're seeing that this is a percentage of our customers but we're not thinking about their experiences.
And it was great because what I noticed, I, I then invited, made sure the PM was there and our engineer, and like in these interviews, And they started to see the difference in experiences because these Black customers were, there were stores that were located in low-income neighborhoods and it was a totally different experience for them, like shopping at the store and then using this tool than it was for their white counterparts.
And so that became clear and it was like this aha moment. And I was like, oh, I never would have done it. I was like, yeah, I know because you hadn't thought about the breadth and depth of experience, just like different folks have different opinions than we have to be aware of. So that felt great to be able to sort of introduce, cause it really did make a difference in the design and the approach and even just for the company overall to sort of have to watch these interviews where, we're just.
We're talking about how in there, basically at the heart of their experience was, you know, like they would go to the meat counter and buy sliced ham and they would have to pay immediately at the meat counter where they know when they went to other other locations of these stores in other neighborhoods, they could take it to the front and pay for it.
Right. So there's this underlying assumption that you're stealing. Or that you can be a potential thief. And I was like that, that changed that experience. Now this introduces this other layer of tension into an experience that might already be tense because, you know, we don't know if this person came here. If they knew they had enough money or if they're finding what they want, or if they're there with their kids.
Like, so this is just introducing another way of tension in it and being unaware of how that makes that person feel. And how that changes the experience. And so it really was an eye opening for like my team, but also too, for just execs who ended up seeing this research, because again, they never thought about it cause no one ever related that, but that was experienced.
So, that was definitely a rewarding moment. And then there were just like, frustrating moments, you know, like being a Black female and I'm small and stature and I look pretty young. And so, I'm in Texas, right? So in Texas, the majority of our participants sometimes would, were just, you know, like older aged white men and come into the room.
And I had a white male colleague who was the PM, but like I was, it was my show and he would kind of sit off in the back. But they would address him and ask him questions and he had to be like, no, she is the one leading the interview. And so dealing with that or noticing like, if it was just me in the room, cause I remember a couple of times he could make it and I couldn't get someone to take notes and just like the inappropriate comments that happened, but that didn't occur when he was in the room.
And so it was just all these different things that you sort of have to take into consideration and that have to deal with and navigate You know, the B being Black in UX and being, you know, a researcher and trying to sort of, you know, find a way to conduct these interviews while minimizing tension, of course, for the participant, but then having to manage your own attention and having to manage, you know, those emotions on your side.
And it could be, you know, sometimes it was exactly like, it was just, you know, like I'd be after three interviews, four interviews in a day, it'd be like, okay, I'm just mentally done a little bit right now.
[00:14:37] JH: I just want, I mean, before we get back to questions, it's like, that sounds like a really shitty thing to have to experience. I'm sorry that you've found yourself in that situation. I think you shared it in a way that I think will really help people understand. So I appreciate that.
[00:14:47] Lisanne: Thank you. Thank you. Like, yeah. I mean, I, and I, that's a thing too. I'm trying to be really open and share this so that people think about it, especially like other folks working in UX, right. To think about it, like yes, the experience of the user. But think about your colleagues, right? You know, like that's something we've been thinking about a lot in talking about a lot, as I've been doing these talks, like for, you know, south by, we did a talk on, dismantling white supremacy in design and another talk about inclusive design.
And a lot of it too is for, you know, for UX folks is that we have to think about and be able to confront our own biases. Right. And be able to be honest about a lack of awareness. About what, you know, someone of a different race or different ethnicity or gender or sexuality, or like might be experienced in figuring out ways. Like Is the way in which we're designing and approaching the design, like, is that inclusive? Right? Like, are we able to confront our own biases, put them aside, sort of think about when we're creating a product, like who, who could be most harmed by this, right? Like what's the most vulnerable community that could potentially use this product and starting to design from there, because if you solve for that community, everyone else benefits. Like I, can I say this over and over again all the time. Everybody else will benefit from that.
[00:16:07] JH: Yeah. I feel like you see a lot of those wins in the accessibility side of the world, too, like when you just make things more accessible. It feels like a similar kind of thread there. I have a question that maybe is a lot to unpack, but I'm curious if you think about this as I feel this and I feel like I see it in space a little bit in research.
On one hand, you know, there's this really individual aspect. Like we're getting to know somebody and their experiences and they're sharing with us and you know, what makes them and all of that. And we really zoom in and then there's this very like identity centric piece of, well, we have to be mindful of things like race and income and other factors that are going to have different experiences because we want to be representative and make sure we're getting a meaningful sample and talking to individuals from all the different walks of life.
I feel like sometimes when people have the conversations here they kind of drift to one end of the spectrum of the other. And it feels like it's just kind of like on a loop or they're interconnected. I don't know how you think about that, but like, how do you get the balance right? Between like hearing somebody and like learning about their experiences and not, you know, stereotyping them or leaning on their identity too much, but also keeping identity in the forefront of what you're doing so that like you get good representation and you don't do research where we don't talk to any Black people or something like that.
[00:17:12] Lisanne: That's true, it is a balance to strike. And I think again, starting from like who you're recruiting, so I'm always like making sure, okay. I am recruiting across racial demographics. Other demographics as well as income. You know, like, are we thinking about folks who are disabled. And in the conversation I think what is making someone feel comfortable and, you know, maybe even offering up a little bit of your own vulnerability, like in, in finding, I try to, I find ways to particularly I've noticed when I'm interviewing folks who are of color or who are of a low income background, like thinking about like where are the places we connect? Because often what I find is that they're in a position where like, no one's asked them their opinion. No one's asked them what they think about this. And so finding a way to connect it and then, and empower to in time they be like, that's like, it.
I really appreciate that you're coming here and you're willing to share your experience with me. Like your, you know, like this is like, what you're sharing with me is so important. It's going to really help me to design a better product. And I find that often helps people to like, to be, to get a little bit more comfortable and then be able to be open.
And in that openness, like they talk about, just talk about their experience without zeroing in on it. Right? Like being able to pay attention enough to be like, Hey, can you tell me a little bit more about that? Right. Like now we're talking to hourly wage workers to try to understand how they think about financial wellness.
Right. And that's a hard topic to talk to someone about like their money, where they're putting it, where they're spending it, how they're spending it. You know, like in someone telling me something, like, yeah, you know, I live paycheck to paycheck and for me, in some ways I'm like, you know what?
I've remembered that experience. And I, so I bring that up. And it makes them not feel so alone. I think. So I really try to think about what ways I can, and there's so many different ways to connect with someone. So they sort of feel like, oh, Hey, you know, I'm not under a microscope. Like, and that this is a conversation and I see you as a human being and a person.
And not just somebody I want to extract from. Right. Cause I think that's the other thing too, that we have to be careful of making, like we're not just here to just be extractive, but at the same time, like. How can I be additive? Like how, you know, like I'm learning from you, you're learning potential from me.
Like it's a, it's an exchange and a conversation. And I even think even when I word my emails, like I, you know, in an interview, I'm like a conversation, like, are you open to having a 60 minute conversation with me? You know? And thank you for your valuable time and input, right. Again, just using certain words over and over again that like what you're sharing with me ,it all has value. Does that make sense?
[00:19:52] Erin: It totally makes sense. You know, finding common ground to this came up recently, we were talking about doing research in Arabic cultures. Right. And just, you know, what some of the implications could be there in terms of comfort with talking to a moderator. And how do you set folks up to feel comfortable?
[00:20:09] Lisanne: And that you say that, like, I really think about who would they feel comfortable with. Right. And, or like, cause I mean, I think in those situations, like, just because I've had the same instance where like I was doing research in a Muslim community. And it was initially a problem to them that I was American, right.
Or that, or like visibly American. Right. I'm actually Jamaican, but I grew up here, so also American. And because they were like, you know, in your country, All your people think that we just go around blowing things up, right? Like this, you know, these assumptions, stereotypes that get associated with your nationality, who you are.
And sort of having to be like, you know, well, that's this larger narrative, but that's not true of everyone. Right. And making sure that, to express that so that they understood that. And then that opened up like a different ground for us to have a conversation.
But even thinking about, you know, like, I, I did notice a friend of mine actually stopped the interview we were doing once with this elderly Black woman. Cause she was like, well, Lisanne she's clearly uncomfortable. Would you go in and take over the interview?
[00:21:15] Erin: Hm.
[00:21:16] Lisanne: And the tone did change when I went in, like she, you know, and she, the woman, she said it, she was like, oh, she was like, okay, I feel so much more comfortable talking to you.
And we have to be like, you know, just cognizant that's just the reality, right? Like, based on people's experiences, it might be harder for them to connect, like with, you know, like with, for her, it was harder for her to connect with my, you know, younger, white female colleague than it was for her to connect with me, like as a Black woman.
And so it's hard to murder in research rights to take that into consideration, to think about little things like you know, what you're wearing. If you are going to talk to someone from, you know, different income backgrounds or just different neighbors, or like, how do you, how you speak or how you posture, how you position yourself even.
And that kind of the positioning thing actually kind of learned from teaching right. Like, I was never that person that sat at the head of the table, you know, I was always kind of like moving around and like sitting amongst my students, just in one sense, because I was like, this is a, again, it's a conversation and I'm learning from you.
And we're creating a dynamic in this classroom where I'm learning from you too. And I want you to be empowered. And I want to be able to share. Your thoughts and feelings without feeling like that there's this huge power dynamic. Yes. There's a power dynamic. We can't let those go away, but I don't want us to harp on it over, emphasize it, and make that be a barrier to you sharing your thoughts and feeling able to share, to like to speak freely.
[00:22:45] Erin: It's as you talk about this, I'm just hearing about, you know, how much you have to balance at the same time. Right? Like in one instance you were talking about you know, they didn't know, I w I was the moderator, right. They were like, oh, this is the person leading things. Couldn't be her. And then in another it's like, I'm not scary.
You know, you can interact and trust with me. And just like having, you know, to find that balance, it's a lot. A carry. Yeah. You founded Black UX in Austin, Black UX, Austin. Tell us about it. What's it all about? Why did you create it?
[00:23:56] Lisanne: So that had interesting stories. So that again started with the Black female VP that I had at Sentir and she, one day she was like, well, she's like, Lisanne. She was like, you know what? She's like, there's some people I want you to meet. And I was like, okay, sure. And it turns out she knew me and she knew about three other women, like black women who were UX researchers in Austin.
And then a Black male designer. And she just sort of gathered us for a happy hour. And we just got to meet each other and to talk shop and to talk about our experiences, you know, being Black. And we just started to constantly just meet continuously, like every few months and share conference information and share strategies and things like that.
And then about gosh, when was it? 20 years now? 20 20, 20 20 for Black history month, another design organization called I think fresh design reached out to us and asked if we would, I think of a few of us, I wanted to host a Black history month conversation to talk about being Black in UX and design.
And I invited, you know, a couple of these women, I knew, I was like, Hey, do you all want to come and be on this panel with me? And in that process the folks at meetup were like, you know, have you guys thought about officially becoming an organization. I was like, you know, we've talked about it, but like we're all so busy and they were like, well, we can help you.
And I was like, okay. And so literally meetup helped us to formalize Black UX. And then one of my co-founders Carmen Bruins, she was, you know, just had been one of these women that had been clearly meeting with. And we were like, okay, let's do this. And then, we launched Black UX. Once we sort of put out there officially, we were so surprised by the feedback and like how many people that we found in Austin and who were like, and then around all like in Dallas and Houston who were like, oh wait, what are you guys doing?
Like, can we join? And then too, I think what really did help was you know, that we were all sort of in our houses kind of shut down. And so if you're like, you know, this is something to do. And we started hosting really great, virtual events that everybody could attend that we're open to anyone who wants to attend these events. And we started finding like Black designers and Black researchers to come in and just talk to folks to think about, you know, having ways that we can create mentor programs, mentorship programs. And then we found out about Dallas Black UX. And we partnered with them and did a panel on how to break into UX because that's the thing, too, that we started to find, like there were a lot of people of color who were super, really interested in getting into design or research, but had no idea how to, or like what would be the best way or like some tips and tricks or somebody to give them. Some pointers or then you are able to introduce them to, you know, folks in the industry who were in a hiring capacity. And so we started to do that and we've just been, you know, we were able to really just sort of grow it and hold different events. Like, you know, even in Latin X history month, we hosted a panel on being Latin X and in design and being like, let's, you know, like let's hold a space for like, you know, like our colleagues and our allies as well.
And so it's been a really, it's been a great journey. We're sort of now trying to, it was a lot like we went because I think we were all on lockdown, so we had more time. So we were really into it. And then we just start to feel a little bit of burnout. So we haven't been doing as many events as we did during 2020, but we're kind of stepping back and do a little bit of reset so that we can set up a more formal mentorship program and like portfolio review because then the other piece of it too, where like, okay, if I give you points, how to break in, but then it's points like, how do you interview, right? And like the different companies interview, like the Amazon interview is totally different from the Facebook interview or just like a smaller startup interview.
So like actually having advice and taking folks through those experiences, because there are a lot of us who've done those interviews and have that experience and feedback to share. With the community as well as just, you know, finding ways to amplify our voices, you know, sharing conferences, sharing opportunities where, you know, we think folks could plug in and apply to, to speak on panels or that kind of thing.
[00:28:14] Erin: Fantastic. And if folks are interested, how can they find you on the interwebs or.
[00:28:19] Lisanne: The best place right now is at the meetup. Like us, we still have our meetup group as well. And it has all the information. So it's easiest to do that there. And then there's a possibility for folks who identify as being of Black descent, then they can join our affinity slack group.
[00:28:36] Erin: Great.
[00:28:36] JH: You mentioned at the very beginning. Framing it as your experience since everyone has their own experience in this world, with that group of people, like, you know, Black UX, Austin, seen any patterns as you talk to people like, you know, working in different environments at different stage companies and all that sort of stuff, like, are there, there some things that are kind of moving in the same direction and that's encouraging or it's all over the place and, and everyone, you know, depending on their situation is having a very different experience, like any, anything that you've been able to pick out of that from connecting with such a wide community of folks?
[00:29:05] Lisanne: That's a good question. So now what's really great to see is the opening up of positions and companies are putting more attention and focus on hiring folks who don't have a lot of experience. You know, one of the patterns I did notice and the other thing, or problem we're trying to address is. So most of the companies you know, folks with no experience, but then they want folks who have had a certificate from general assembly or something, or a more known entity. And are not as open to taking folks who don't have that kind of certificate or who, you know, maybe got more experience doing work for non-profit organizations and can show like that kind of work.
And that's been something that we've noticed and we're trying to think about like, you know, how do we highlight that to companies that that work is just as valid? And shows, you know, more hands-on real world experience.
[00:30:04] Erin: That's a real challenge, cause I feel like, you need short hands for hiring and that's where credentials emerged from, but then they're so reductive, right. Or can be, and, um, they can be.
And so finding, you know, the jobs to be done for the hiring entity is save me some time, find me some good people.
But then the tools to do that can be inadequate and exclusionary.
[00:30:27] Lisanne: Like it's really exclusionary. And the other thing too, actually just the pattern you just reminded me is that, you know, where people did go to school, right? There's a tendency to want people to come from certain schools. But like, you know, a lot of the folks who know they went to smaller schools or like HBCUs .
And a friend and I opened my eyes to my own bias towards folks who went to certain schools because, you know, she didn't like it, she didn't finish high school. She didn't get a college degree, but she, like, she learned on the job and now she's this amazing product manager. And she was like, listen, you know, what ways are you prioritizing that someone must have this BA and where it's from and you know, and are you, are the, is the ways in which you're looking or the way that you're wording the job description?
You know, would be encouraging of someone who has more life experience on the job, like hands on experience that would allow for that. Right. Because that's a totally different perspective, right? Like that is being more inclusive. That is really like widening, like, you know, the scope of who's at the table.
And that's been something for me personally, that I've worked in, but also to that now that we're pushing and encouraging to think about things like, how do we then provide like, you know, some kind of input to what the job description could look like? Or what are the different ways to look for candidates that would capture those kinds of candidates and attract those kinds of candidates?
[00:31:54] Erin: Yeah. absolutely. And if I've learned anything about UX researchers, my time talking to them, the path is winding and there's no one set one. So of all the jobs to have a, you know, sort of set path or a set of requirements. Doesn't feel like the right one, but again, back to the kind of cold start problem of maybe for someone who has never had this job before, you know, who's going to take that leap of faith.
And I think that's why it feels like, you know, the Black UX community is so important and you know, communities like that to getting folks in the door and getting started on that path.
[00:32:29] Lisanne: Yes. Yes, definitely. And then providing a big thing to just provide a community where we can come and talk about experiences and, you know, it's going to be somebody who understands, right? And who empathizes and who could also then offer like, well, here's a potential way for you to deal with this, or this is what I've tried at my company.
And then also to like job referrals, right? Like we're all, you know, trying to sort of like, how do we increase diversity in companies, which is nice now, like, companies are really looking for ways to do that. And so they've been approaching us you know, and then we, you know, it'd been like, okay, like we have this community, but like we vet them.
We're like, okay, like what does it, what does D look like at your home? You know, like if we do, you know, sort of advertise your job, like, and you get someone, you know, a Black designer like UX researcher at your company, what is the culture at your company that, in which it can, you know, support them and be able to be somewhere where they can show up authentically.
And I think that's one of the places that a lot of these companies have a lot of work to do.
[00:33:35] JH: Yeah. What are some of the things you look at? Like when you're trying to figure out if an employer is just talking to talk or if they actually have a supportive and encouraging environment in those areas, like how do you try to poke at that from a, as an outsider?
[00:33:48] Lisanne: The first place is like, do you have somebody or a group, a team for diversity inclusion and where does that person sit, right? Is that person the C-suite, who do they report to? Is it just this one token person? How long have they been there? You know, what does the program actually look like? You know?
And is it, what do you, how is it embedded in the values of the company? And how do you, like, how do employees see it show up in their every day? Like day to day. So we've been, you know, looking at the, like the teams and then like, and then actually reaching out and like, talking to people, like, being like, okay, thanks.
You approach us. And then we get on LinkedIn.
[00:34:33] JH: That's, it's such a researcher answer and we're like, oh, we just gotta talk to me, like,
[00:34:38] Lisanne: I know, right. I'm like, I think we'll do research. Cause you know, companies like, of course, they're going to say, well, yeah, we're committed. We want to do this and that. But the reality. Oftentimes, when you sort of do that research, you kind of find out that it's it's unfortunately, it's, there've been times when we were like it's total lip service and we've and we said, no, you can't, we can't, we're not gonna, you know, like open up our community for you to come and talk to because we're not, and we're very straight up.
We're like, because we don't see, we don't see that you're doing more than just lip service and just reaching out to try to get more Black people in. We don't see anything on the side where you're, your culture is changing. In order to make it so that like any Black employee that joins is going to feel like they belong and is going to feel like they can show up and be authentically themselves.
[00:35:27] Erin: Yeah. And just to drill a little more into that you know, making Black folks and everyone feel like they are belonging and part of the culture and what that looks like. What are some things you look for? I suppose it's different from company to company and we're talking about infinitely different individuals, but what might that look like?
[00:35:49] Lisanne: Well, Well, again, a leadership, we always go back to just like, who are in, who are the folks in the leadership position, right? Like, is it like, is it, is there some reflection of diversity? Like, are there any women, are there any people of color, you know, how long have they been there? What are their roles?
Right. Cause one of the things that, you know, unfortunately you've seen, yes, you'll see people of color, particularly women of color, but they're in HR. Right. Like, they're not in engineering, they're not in strategic planning. They're not the CFO. They're not so looking at like really looking at that and you know, like those different positions.
[00:36:23] Erin: And like centers of power
[00:36:24] Lisanne: and then, yeah, exactly. Right. Like stems of people who have the ability to influence something right? To make a change. And, you know, but also looking at the DEI programs like that was one of the things I will say for Gusto. Like that was a huge sell to how, like I was like, okay, Gusto, like I'm going to come up because they have this, their rise program is truly like one of the most robust that I've seen at a company. Like they have, like, it's, you know, they've got programming that they, you know, like for the leaf, for every level in the company and for the different departments tailored to those departments. And then they have leaders who are part of that. Like are responsible for doing the DEI assessment in like each like different segments.
And you know, like I won't be, you know, in some segments they're doing more than others. Right. So I think there's some work to be there, but overall, like it's something that they've really promoted and like conversations that have come out of that program have actually led to like certain products, no longer being offered, or just at least stopping on the product and then reassessing it through a diversity and inclusion.
To be like, oh, wait a minute. Like, we weren't aware that this product could cause harm. And now we are, how do we assess it? And then, you know, after assessment, do we move forward with it? Or do we just cut it? Did we just stop altogether? I've not seen that at many other tech companies. So I, that, that really that really impressed me.
[00:37:59] Erin: That's great. You mentioned that in the beginning you had your first kind of UX research job and you're like, wow, there's so many women and Black women, and this is incredible. And then you kind of went to another company and that was not exactly your experience. And you've kind of seen the gamut in terms of representation.
Or I think there was one where it's like, wow, it's diverse, but we're not so much like doing the UX thing. So, where like, you know, from your vantage point and from your experience being part of some of these communities and, you know, having more eyes into other organizations, where do you think are you seeing progress?
I mean, obviously there's a ton more to do, but both in terms of. Designing for Black and other experiences, as well as making work environments more welcoming to Black researchers and others are where we are in our journey from what you have experienced and observed.
[00:38:57] Lisanne: I think that there's definitely been movement. Right. So it's been really interesting. The past seven months. I've been working on this project where I just ended up reaching out to a lot of others, like Black UX researchers, Black designers. And in some cases they were like, oh, this is great.
Like, yeah, I know a few. And then they've been cases where like, in, in 2021 in as late as July, I met a, when she was like, oh my God, there's another Black UX researcher. Like, and I was like, whoa, that's crazy. Like I was like, yes, there are quite a few of us. Let me introduce you to this community that's formed.
And so I think that there, there definitely is movement. And what gives me really hope is like, you know, things like seeing at like Airbnb, like them hiring Benjamin Earl Evans and talking about like, okay, hi, we need somebody who works on product inclusion. Right and energy at Google. And then even as recently as at Visa, they've, you know, appointed someone like director of product inclusion.
So there's, now there's a sense in which I think companies are waking up to the realization that like, oh, wait a minute, we have not been designing inclusively. We have not been thinking about a plethora or multiple experiences. So I love seeing that. And I think that there is. Of course people are, everyone's sort of more aware now looking around at their, you know, like their employees and being like, oh wait, we have like 2% Black people.
That's just, that's not good. I just hope that it's not a trend. Right. And I'm going to, like, there's just as a part of me, that's like cautious, like, okay, like I hope this is not a trend in, how do we think about more permanent ways to make sure that this becomes an embedded part of these companies and even like looking, you know, like looking at the design process and thinking about like, what are the ways in which that process in and of itself continues to support like white supremacy can, is to perpetuate it.
Like, we kind of have to think about like, you know, Like, are we thinking about our biases? Like, you know, is the design thing, your processes, the, how might we is that really the most inclusive way for us to sort of, you know, go about this design process? And I think that there's, I'd like to see more conversation about that and more conversation about what does it really mean, like for inclusive design and is there, like, how do we change our process now?
So that's just the norm. Right then it's not this other thing that we need to bring in experts for, to help us with, but that it becomes the normal way in which we operate. Like, just from the beginning when we're thinking about product design. So I do have hope and I do see that folks are moving the needle.
And I see that there's more outspokenness, I think amongst people of color to be like, wait, Hey, wait a minute. Like my voice here, you know? And when things have. At a now, like, as we're seeing, like constantly, you know, like people who've been putting up with things for years finally sort of speaking out and calling it out.
Right. Because I think that's what has to happen. Like it has to be called out and looked at and being like, Hey, like, this is messed up. Like this can't we can't continue to operate like this. This is not how we truly create a global society in which everyone feels like they belong or like that, that we all feel like we can be, can work in tandem and come to the table, like equally.
[00:42:28] Erin: Well, thank you for helping us do that a little bit today or moving some boundaries and sharing your experience and really appreciate your sharing your experience with us.
[00:42:40] Lisanne: No, thank you so much. Thank you guys for inviting me. I'm glad we were able to make this happen. This is a great conversation. I appreciate you making the space for this.
[00:42:49] JH: Thanks for hanging out with us. This is great.
VP, Growth & Marketing
Left brained, right brained. Customer and user advocate. Writer and editor. Lifelong learner. Strong opinions, weakly held.