7:40 - 8:00 AM - Team arrival at 234 Bay Street.
9:10 talk starts
Thank you for having me here today. The topic
this month is inclusive.
It’s an adjective, so it has to describe the qualities
of something, some noun, right?
In school I always remembered adjectives as those
things that answer:
I had to double check yesterday that adjectives
still did this same work. They do, I was relieved to
Sometimes the rules change — EVEN IN
Back to the adjective at hand:
How many doesn’t quite work…
For example, what kind of company culture do
you want to foster?
- oh, an inclusive one
For example, which choice do you want to make?
- oh, the inclusive one
Like other adjectives, inclusive requires some
interpretation. Successful, atrocious, attractive,
substantial, thankful, mysterious…They don’t mean
anything alone — they have to be describing a
Even then they still require some reason, some
experience, some explanation.
So, let’s dive into ways we use the word inclusive.
One way to approach this is to represent
INCLUSIVE in the form of representations of
diverse groups of people:
In this case, this wonderful image enumerates
certain human differences (race, ability, size, shape,
preferences, uniquenesses) and tries to do that
This is a really cool image with a lot going on.
Everyone is happy and holding hands in a circle. Is
Who benefits from this? Who does not?
Can we sniff out inclusive? Does it trigger
something in your gut? Does it trigger
something in your algorithms?
How do we know if it’s here?
How do we measure it?
On the Web, one way we measure what is
Inclusive is to look at the code, at things like alt-
This is what someone who uses a screen reader
will learn about this inclusive image: that’s it… just
the word ‘inclusive’.
We should be asking, is there a more inclusive
way to describe that image?
There are a few common tropes that we often
hear when talking about how inclusive a space, an
event, or a meeting are — we often ask who isn’t
What we mean when we say that is who is not
represented here. For whom did coming to this
table, to this conversation prove insurmountable?
Hidden in that question, just below the very thin
• Who has been excluded from this space
historically — each place has a history. We are
standing on Anishinabewaki / Huron-Wendat
territory right now. What has happened here
• Who felt uninvited? This is Creatives and this is
Morning! I might not self-identify with either of
those. I might not be a morning person or
describe myself as a ‘creative’ — how many of
you write short articles (blogs, Medium)? Do
you call yourself a writer? Who might not call
themselves creative, but is very much someone
we’d like to feel welcome here?
• Were there some that felt excluded because of
the words we used to describe this event? My
bio is a little silly — I got frustrated with it so I
rewrote it before sending it off. How many of
you have started calling your hackathons
makeathons to try to shed the impression that
it’s just for developers?
Is the space set up in ways that subtly tell some of
us ‘you belong here’ and yet others of us, ‘this
isn’t for you?’
In diversity equity and inclusion circles you often
hear people talk about “bringing your full self.”
But that’s not what any of us should do; especially
in some contexts:
When your full self takes up all the space, it’s too
When your full self shuts someone else up, it’s too
When your full self talks ALL THE TIME, it’s too
When your full self creates a toxic situation, tone,
environment… it’s too much.
We have to, instead of bringing our full selves,
learn how to learn from others how we are
effecting them. How the words we say land or
don’t. How we are making them comfortable or
not. We have to first grant each person the right
to exist — say, you deserve space. We have to
give a damn what they think
So, we create codes of conduct to draw some
ethical lines about behaviour—to create spaces
that are more inclusive. But we know a CoC alone
can not do this.
We are a bit in conflict.
We want to create safe spaces, but we also know
we want to push ourselves and others out of our
comfort zones — how do we reconcile this?
We know mono cultures are often not diverse or
inclusive, but we are drawn to them and largely
We like stability, but we know to innovate, to
grow, we need to change.
We want to be the best, but we also speak about
the value of collaboration.
We want to win, but we also want to cooperate.
We create an ‘us’ (Creatives) to build a community,
but our community also defines a ‘them’ in the
We want to be positive, inspirational, exciting, but
we know that so many of us learn more from the
negative experiences if we allow ourselves to have
How do we reconcile these? There are no black or
white answers here and these binaries are false…
we need both, and.
So, are you comfy? Then ask the opposite…
Is comfy desirable? Is it diverse? Is it inclusive?
If you feel comfy, I argue that it’s time to push
and find the discomfort.
Inclusive isn’t easy:
often not comfy
uncomfy is avoided
When you feel comfy, ask, for whom is this comfy
When do you find yourself among “your people”
or “among likeminded folks” or “in a safe space”?
When you go out for beers with the boss after
work and you talk about work — ask, for whom is
this impossible? Who does this work for and why?
And who does this leave out and why? And are we
comfy with the answers to that?
Inclusive is aware of power, dynamics, cycles of
Many of us attempt to absolve ourselves of hard
things like inclusion by deferring to a higher
power — the higher power we appeal to is data.
We collect a bunch of data and then we make
data-driven decisions. Which sounds really good,
And when we do that, we need to ask, ‘how do
data-driven decisions do harm?’ First of all, if
you’re a member of a marginalized community, a
minority, you will never be represented in BIG
DATA if we focus on the majority, the bang-for-
your buck. And collectively, the 20% (not the 80%)
represent a large, diverse, untapped market — one
that is harder to solve for, one that benefits the
80%. Text messaging, curb cuts, electric
toothbrushes — all innovations that were created
for the 20% (those on the edges) that benefit us
How do you make good decisions without making
When information is more important than
knowledge, and certainty and measurability are
more important than thoughtfulness, risk, wonder,
exploration and discovery, what do we lose? What
are we relinquishing? If to value something we
have to be able to measure it and vice versa, what
are we overlooking and missing?
When measurability is success, it becomes an end
in itself. We begin asking questions that lead us to
measurable answers. We begin measuring those
things that are easily measured. And those are not
neutral acts. We act on our measurements — data
becomes the tea leaves for decision-making, the
map for change, the path toward enlightenment.
And we feel a sense of comfort having followed
the directions given to us from the disembodied
I want to argue that we’re in a post-comfort world.
How do we do this? How can we stretch outside
the comfort zone.
You can’t put blinders on anymore.
This is an ostrich pillow on a man’s head – it
covers his whole face.
At the IDRC, we define inclusive design as design
that considers the full range of human diversity
with respect to ability, language, culture, gender,
age and other forms of human difference.
Designing inclusively results in better experiences
Nothing is neutral, we are all designers, and we
are all part of the revolution… or else the status
With each decision we make, we’re declaring this
one thing and nothing else. That is not neutral—
how we arrive at that one thing. Especially those
of us creating the interfaces and systems that are
inextricable from our everyday lives.
Build in checks-n-balances
Build in mechanism for change
Build in reflection
Build in Codes of Conduct and ask what else do I
need to do to make this space inclusive and also
Build in diversity, equity and inclusion in
everything you do, not just the DEI spaces.
This sign says caution, this machine has no brain
use your own”
We can disagree and still love each other unless
your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and
denial of my humanity and right to exist. - James
Background photo by me.
Diversity is a number
Inclusion is a process
Equity is an outcome
There are ways to do all of this. That’s what we
practice at the Inclusive Design Research Centre at
One way we start with this is not trying to build
empathy. I worry that’s too big an ask for many. I
think we need to begin with acknowledging
personhood and build from there
Start with curiosity — begin by asking
Then care — give a damn what the other person
thinks (especially if they disagree with you)
Then listen — which means yielding space
Then hear — work to understand
Then change — adapt & adjust
Then invest in — see the value in diversity and
The Future is Design Justice and that future is a
Colourful, Feminist, global + intersectional one…
Photo of street art that says “Brown & Proud I’m
the next generation”
Photo by me CC-BY
- it isn’t ever complete
- it’s like bathing, you gotta keep doing it
- it’s a value, never a checklist
- measure it by seeing how inextricable it is in
everything you do
And I do mean everything:
• How your job descriptions are written
• Hiring practices
• Procurement policies
• How you role from ideation to sketching
• How you make info architecture decisions
How you write, edit, document, pair, or not on
It is your responsibility to change society if you
think of yourself as an educated person
“A Talk To Teachers”
When the bumpersticker came out that said
QUESTION EVERYTHING it sounded really good. I
wanted to do it, but didn’t know how.
Now I feel as though I know at least one way to
do this—Question everything and ask, Is it