OXD Illustration representing an inclusive workplace

An Agile approach to an anti-racist and inclusive workplace

How do we understand and meaningfully address our part in perpetuating systemic racism? What does it mean to create an anti-racist and inclusive workplace environment?

The killing of George Floyd last May—along with the subsequent protests against racial and social injustice around the world—deeply challenged us as an organization as well as our sister company ThoughtFarmer. Diversity and inclusion has long been a part of our practice, but these events made us realize that there was so much more we could be—and should be—doing to ensure we had an anti-racist and inclusive workplace.

Like many organizations, we wrestled with how to respond. In an all-staff email sent on June 2nd, 2020 to both companies President and Founder Darren Gibbons paraphrased political activist Angela Davis, “It’s not enough to be ‘not racist’—we need to be anti-racist.” He announced a donation-matching program for staff but also wrote, “Alone, these acts are empty gestures and nothing more than virtue-signaling. These are quick reactions to a long term problem.”

We agreed that real, genuine action was required and yet we were fearful of not getting it right. How do we understand and meaningfully address our part in perpetuating systemic racism? What does it mean to create an inclusive and anti-racist and inclusive workplace environment? While this wasn’t exactly a new direction for us, we realized this was a real opportunity for change and action in the workplace.

We fell back to the methods that we’ve always employed to tackle tough, complex problems: co-creation, experimentation, agile development. We wanted to action on ideas that came directly from the people who would be impacted by them most, so we invited all of our employees to participate in collaborative group discussions covering a variety of topics including: 

  • Reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement 
  • Reaction to our president’s all-company email on the topic
  • What being anti-racist means to us
  • What following through on our company commitment to justice and equity should look like

The intended outcome of these sessions was to create a backlog of ideas that we could bring into an Agile, sprint based implementation process. We would use the framework of user story prioritization, backlog grooming, sprint planning, and regular retrospectives to help us select and plan our actions on an ongoing basis.

Eight themes to support an anti-racist and inclusive workplace

Our conversations with employees generated over 120 different ideas. We analyzed the data, merged similar ideas, and grouped them into eight theme areas: 

  1. Advocate to clients 
  2. Improve our project process 
  3. Review our hiring practices 
  4. Review the use of anti-racist language and design patterns in our product design
  5. Partner and volunteer with anti-racist organizations
  6. Publish what we’re doing to combat racism in our company, city, province, and country 
  7. Create diversity and inclusion guidelines to give our teams direction and make a public commitment to hold ourselves accountable for continuing this work 
  8. Engage with outside consultants and experts to train and educate our staff on anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion
Screenshot showing our backlog of corporate diversity and inclusive workplace tactics

Based on these themes and ideas, we developed lots of potential tactics as a starting point. This became our backlog. 

In the interest of transparency and continued accountability, we’re sharing these publicly. And, while all these ideas may not apply to your company, we hope that by sharing our approach we can help other organizations that are also struggling with where and how to begin.

Tactics and ideas

Here is where we’re at so far with our list of staff-generated ideas from the discussion series. This isn’t a complete or finalized list and not all of these may be feasible, but it’s a starting point. Our work here will be evolving and generative.

Theme 1: Advocate to clients 

Intended outcomes: Advocate on behalf of users who are inequitably treated through the way our software is used, and positively influence our clients’ culture and process at the same time. 

Potential tactics

  • Evaluate who we do business with and seek out clients who align with our values.
  • Provide guidance to our employees who are unsure of how to deal with racist and problematic behavior from our clients and colleagues.

Theme 2: Improve our project process 

Intended outcomes: Revisit our processes through the lens of systemic racism and identify opportunities to promote diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism.

Potential tactics

  • Plan mandatory time for a racial and inclusivity assessment of our work into each project.
  • Use intersectionality as a lens for user research.
  • Examine user interview practices for sources of systemic bias.
  • Develop best practices for research participant recruitment criteria regarding race and other diversity considerations.
  • Highlight any inequalities we discover as a part of our project-related research.
  • Use more diverse testing data when creating test scripts for quality assurance testing.

Theme 3: Review our hiring practices

Intended outcomes: Continue to build on the good practices already used by OXD’s leadership team. 

Potential tactics 

  • Review the language we use to reach out to candidates.
  • Engage with Black and Indigenous employee resource groups for hiring advice.
  • Look for inadvertent biases, for example, through third-party recruiters.
  • Ensure that we’re looking for job candidates from a wide pool of diverse groups.
  • Partner with training and internship programs that bring under-represented groups into the industry.
  • When hiring, look for candidates with diversity- and inclusivity-based skill sets.
  • Support Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) staff in their career development goals.

Theme 4: Review the use of anti-racist language and design patterns in our product design

Intended outcomes: Develop best practices for our documents and deliverables that are inclusive and culturally safe, and extensible across clients and project types. 

Potential tactics 

  • Create a process to check for internal biases and stereotypes when creating visuals.
  • Counter racial stereotypes as much as possible when it comes to selecting visuals in our creative work, creating personas, and telling stories about our users.
  • Use inclusive language in communications, marketing copy, and product copy. 

Theme 5: Partner and volunteer with anti-racist organizations

Intended outcomes: Build on our legacy of volunteering and donating in the community by intentionally partnering with BIPOC organizations. Use company influence and purchasing power to support BIPOC contractors and vendors. 

Potential tactics 

  • Make our June 2020 anti-racism donation-matching program an ongoing initiative.
  • Buy everything from office supplies to catering from minority-owned businesses.
  • Offer free services for organizations at the forefront of the racial justice movement.
  • Promote and partner with organizations already doing the work for social change in work similar to ours.
  • Amplify BIPOC voices and work in design and technology.
  • Offer paid internships to students from marginalized communities.
  • Partner with local BIPOC organizations and support their work. Offer tutoring or mentoring with these organizations.

Theme 6: Publish what we’re doing to combat racism in our company, city, province, and country

Intended outcomes: Create an aligned understanding within our organization. Hold ourselves accountable by sharing our anti-racist and inclusive workplace processes and progress internally and externally.

Potential tactics

  • Publish our company’s progress on these initiatives every quarter.
  • Publish blog posts on what we are doing.

Theme 7: Create standards and principles for an anti-racist and inclusive workplace

Intended outcomes: Create a culture and standard of safety, diversity, and inclusion with clear, socialized values and guidelines. Provide staff with the tools required for personal and professional growth.  

Potential tactics 

  • Create a strategic plan to proactively bring greater equality into our paid projects.
  • Develop our inclusive design principles and publish them on our website.
  • Incorporate anti-racism statements into our company values.
  • Review Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action (PDF) and take action.
  • Review our communications terminology and move away from racialized terms. 
  • Engage with staff to understand problems and issues in our workplace.
  • Create an anti-racism playbook with concrete actions, things to say, and ways to approach problematic situations.
  • Articulate inclusive behaviour human resource standards and post them on our intranet.

Theme 8: Engage with outside consultants and experts to train and educate our staff on having a diverse, anti-racist, and inclusive workplace

Intended outcomes: Continue a culture of continuous learning, personal growth, and professional development for diversity, anti-racism, and inclusion.

Potential tactics 

  • Bring in third-party training and workshops that deal with diversity, anti-racism, and inclusion.
  • Give employees time to attend webinars or educational sessions on diversity, anti-racism, and inclusive workplace topics.
  • Create a directory of diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism resources, especially those specific to our work and industry.
  • Ensure that the existing diversity and inclusion workplace practices in our work are visible to others in the company.

Personal growth and action for our individual employees

As many ideas from the discussions have relevance at both the office and at home, we collated individual actions for employees to consider for personal growth and action.

Self reflection 

  • Identify where you have been racist or anti-racist.
  • Learn techniques and activities to examine your own biases.
  • Listen before speaking.
  • Address racist actions and behaviour in the moment you hear or see them.
  • Re-evaluate the companies you choose to support in favour of those that take an anti-racist stance.

Self education 

  • Commit time to read, learn, and write more about anti-racism and to share useful resources.
  • Learn from and work with the next generation on what it means to be anti-racist.
  • Learn specifically about the history of racism in Canada and the United States.
  • Research political candidates and make voting decisions based on removing systemic racism.

Next steps towards an anti-racist and inclusive workplace

On the surface, a list of ideas might not seem much more active than a social post. But the process of engaging staff over these difficult topics has already impacted our corporate thinking and approach on many levels. And of course, we’re not stopping there. This is just the beginning.

Our next steps include: 

  • Establish concrete goals and commitments at the corporate level.
  • Create a running backlog of initiatives, and work through them in a sprint-based, Agile process.
  • Expand our working group and never stop gathering feedback and ideas.
Diagram of agile process for an inclusive workplace

We look forward to keeping you updated as we continue our journey to creating a more inclusive and anti-racist workplace. If you have any feedback or suggestions, we would love to hear from you.