Diversity immersion enlightens UX designer’s world

Portrait of Lauren

Featured Employee: Lauren Kinney

Job Title: UX designer, Supply Chain Solutions

Self-reflection enhances the impact of DEI for Lauren Kinney

When Lauren Kinney walked into her first job at an IT services supplier, she instantly recognized that she was in the minority. A place she wasn't used to being.

As a Caucasian woman who had grown up in the Quad Cities, she had diverse experiences, but nothing like this initial experience in the world of IT. "I was out of my element," she said, "being a woman and not as culturally diverse."

Kinney's reflection of this experience was prompted by her participation in the United Way of the Quad Cities' Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Institute.

"It was hard for me to walk into the office feeling like I deserved to be there," she said. "I was not powerful - not like all these powerful men."

The DEI Institute is a program for community members who meet once a week for six weeks to learn more about DEI in their communities, workplaces, and in their own lives. Self-reflection is the foundation for the change the Institute wants to make in the community.

"Through that self-reflection, I realized that even though my colleagues and I were different, we had the same goal, and our differences actually allowed us to work really well together," Kinney said. "I took it for granted that I was in an immersive experience."

DEI Institute goes deep

John Deere's renewed focus on DEI was important to Kinney, an IT user experience designer for Supply Chain Solutions, so she joined the DEI Institute to gain an external perspective and to see what she could discover to incorporate into her work.

The presentations she experienced at the Institute sparked healthy debate and emotional conversations among the participants and encouraged the group to address their own unconscious bias and strive to make a change in their communities, workplaces, and homes.

"We shared very personal experiences that demonstrated how marginalized communities have been impacted," she said. "I didn't realize we were going to have such intense conversations."

Some of those conversations included dealing with guilt.

"People don't know what to do with the DEI focus in the workplace because it is not prescriptive," Kinney said. "As a white person, I often feel guilty because I have not had the same experiences as other people in my world. But my instructor at the Institute taught me how to acknowledge that feeling and not get stuck there. I can do that by taking action. And that transition has been very enlightening for me."

Kinney gives back

One of the two challenges that Kinney took on from her time at the DEI Institute was to go into the community and immerse herself in a diverse situation and use her skills and talent to make a difference in that space.

So, Kinney has been working with the YMCA director to develop an afterschool program where staff and volunteer mentors will work with a diverse group of young people to develop digital skills including video production. A different take on a STEM activity, the engagement will teach students video production concepts including using a green screen, music, lighting, and developing editing skills.

"Those production skills can be building blocks for a career," said Kinney. "As the students are exposed to these opportunities, they can see a possible career path for themselves, and continue to develop their own skills."

She's not done yet.

The second challenge Kinney accepted was to develop a proposal that would improve DEI in her workplace.

As a UX designer, Kinney wanted to use her new perspective about DEI to develop user personas that include a refreshed focus on the various ways people use the digital products her team designs. Though internal data capturing employee disabilities wasn't available to her, she was able to reference government statistics to educate herself on the most common differences in abilities, both permanent and temporary, that likely exist among the global user audiences who interact with Supply Chain software.

With these unique user needs top-of-mind, Kinney began building a set of user persona artifacts to summarize user research insights and incorporate design and development recommendations to serve diverse needs, starting with dyslexia and temporary single-handed use. Personifying these differences in abilities not only improves teams' ability to empathize with diverse users, pairing the persona with relevant, actionable recommendations reduces the ambiguity surrounding DEI initiatives and facilitates immediate actions to drive an equitable experience.

"Developers may have a difficult time empathizing with the job-based needs of our users unless we have deliberate conversations that bring those needs and design considerations to the surface," she said.

To make this a reality for her team, they will soon be working with a third-party supplier to develop additional personas, so all Supply Chain teams have a consistent set of personas that are DEI focused.

"I don't have DEI all figured out and am far from doing it all right," Kinney said. "But I'm choosing to start somewhere."

And that perspective is the best place to begin.

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