January 9, 2020
The tech industry has long been contending with the issue of workplace diversity and inclusion from a corporate perspective, but companies such as Google are also recognizing the value of having a variety of voices to address the needs of their diverse clientele as well.
Annie Jean-Baptiste, Google’s head of product inclusion, spoke to Cheddar from the Consumer Electronics Show about the company’s “Inclusion Champions” group. “That's 2,000 Googlers globally who have been working and have volunteered to help us 'dogfood' or test our products before they launch."
"Because we're incredibly focused on the user, and knowing that our users can look act think differently, we want to make sure that we're getting those perspectives," she said. Jean-Baptiste explained that the project looks at 11 dimensions of diversity that include race, gender, age, and ability. The inclusion volunteers looked at all of these factors to help stress test Google Assistant before its release and found only a tiny fraction of "queries out of billions" needed to be calibrated for issues related to diversity.
"What we try to do is look at what the team has already done and kind of ask 'Who else?' What other perspectives do we need at the table?'" she explained. "We don't have to kind of rank them or prioritize them, we can bring multiple dimensions."
A similar approach to rigorous testing was enacted following reports that users were having difficulties with the low light mode of Google Duo, the company's video calling app. The program was tested with its employee volunteers, who possessed a variety of skin tones, in order to improve the way it processed a user's image.
"What we realized was that, depending on where you were in the world, or your skin tone, you weren't being able to be seen as accurately," the head of product inclusion told Cheddar. "So the team actually went and worked with these Inclusion Champions to make sure that no matter where you were in the world or no matter any dimension of diversity, that you would show up accurately and beautifully."
The commitment to the project comes amid ongoing issues that have plagued the industry as a whole, and for Google specifically. A black employee circulated a memo in 2019 before leaving the company which described encounters with racism he had faced at the workplace. In the year prior, Googlers all over the world staged a walkout in protest of how the company had handled sexual harassment allegations.
Google's latest diversity report describes a company whose leadership is still 74 percent male and 60 percent white. However, this latest endeavor looks to address how the company approaches the issue of diversity and inclusion on its user-facing products and services, according to Jean-Baptiste.
"I would say that teams are really excited and empowered to do that, and it's something that's not just lip service," she said. "It's actually being put into action."