How (and why) to increase LGBTQIA+ representation in your design teams

4 min read
John Hanawalt
  •  Nov 27, 2019
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The difference between diversity and inclusion can seem subtle at first, but for designers from underrepresented communities, it’s massive.

While diverse organizations have representatives from marginalized communities, only inclusive organizations have a culture that allows them to thrive.

Diversity is one of the most important issues facing design in tech, and the tech industry’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) problems are well-documented, especially with regard to the representation of women and members of minoritized races and ethnicities.

We’re starting to understand how it impacts LGBTQIA+ people as well thanks to the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and Google’s 2019 Design Census, a survey of the design field—who’s in it, how they’re compensated, and how satisfied they are.

“While diverse organizations have representatives from marginalized communities, only inclusive organizations have a culture that allows them to thrive.”

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LGBTQIA+ respondents earned less, felt less job security and satisfaction, and were less senior than their cisgender, heterosexual peers across the board.

LGBTQIA+ people have incredible representation in the design field, but that representation doesn’t mean equity. Overall, LGBTQIA+ people don’t earn as much or stay as long as their non-LGBTQIA+ peers.

For LGBTQIA+ designers, there doesn’t appear to be a pipeline problem. LGBTQIA+ designers accounted for 15% of the AIGA’s respondents, compared to 4.5% of the general population.

Representation does not equal equity. To benefit from the talent queer designers have to offer, leadership at design-driven organizations need to understand:

  • Where LGBTQIA+ exclusion occurs in design
  • How workplace bias affects LGBTQIA+ people
  • What we can do next, together

The queer design experience

As co-founder of Queer Design Club, a community for LGBTQIA+ people in design, I’ve gotten to know designers across industries, disciplines, borders, and identities.

Many LGBTQIA+ people are drawn to design by reasons any designer can relate to: the mix of creativity and analytical thinking, the wide spectrum of career paths, the potential to improve people’s lives. But the design field has additional appeal for LGBTQIA+ designers.

Design can offer financial security with fewer barriers to entry than other high-paying fields—something essential for LGBTQIA+ people, who are disproportionately more likely to have experienced poverty and homelessness and have less formal education.

To encourage diversity, you should reach outside your existing networks for talent. Directories like Queer Design Club’s LGBTQIA+ Designer Directory can help you connect with talent from marginalized communities.

To fulfill the promises that attract so many LGBTQIA+ designers, the industry must create inclusive work environments that allow them to find success and longevity in the field.

LGBTQIA+ designers must navigate issues of bias in the workplace—from whom they choose to work for, to how they do that work.

Some companies donate to anti-LGBTQIA+ politicians as part of their lobbying strategies. Others operate platforms that allow anti-LGBTQIA+ content or hide LGBTQIA+ content. Designers in client services may find agencies and teams they feel safe with, but find themselves staffed on accounts where the client is not LGBTQIA+ friendly.

Finding a workplace that welcomes LGBTQIA+ people is not the last of queer designers’ concerns, though. Small design decisions made by teams can also exclude LGBTQIA+ people and alienate LGBTQIA+ designers, like:

  • Forms that present gender as a required field with two radio buttons
  • Icons representing family with silhouettes of a man, woman, and infant
  • Valentine’s day emails promoting “gifts for him” that will wind up in the inboxes of lesbian customers

The responsibility of identifying these exclusionary design choices often falls on LGBTQIA+ designers. Homogenous teams may not recognize or prioritize these concerns.

When design teams disregard the existence, experiences, and needs of LGBTQIA+ users, that is a form of bias that can affect LGBTQIA+ designers’ sense of belonging and security.

“To build an inclusive workplace, organizations must adopt inclusive design practices.”

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Bias doesn’t have to be that overt to be harmful. Even subtle bias can negatively impact LGBTQIA+ employees’ happiness, productivity, and how engaged they are at work. It also impacts how long they stay. A quarter of LGBTQIA+ workers have stayed in a job because their workplace offered an inclusive environment, and 10% left a workplace because it didn’t.

To build an inclusive workplace, organizations must adopt inclusive design practices.

Queer Design Club is a community of LGBTQIA+ people in the design field. Left to right: co-founders Rebecca Brooker and John Hanawalt and members Kelly Small, Seth Katz, Alex Chen, Richard Wade Morgan, and Jordan Green.

The LGBTQIA+ workplace experience

Many of the LGBTQIA+ designers I’ve met feel advocating for marginalized users is one of the most important skills they can bring to their work; however, unless your culture ensures individuals are heard and supported when they speak up, doing so can feel risky.

[Use InVision Cloud to test your prototypes with all of your users.]

Anti-LGBTQIA+ bias is often compounded with other forms of workplace bias. When somebody’s LGBTQIA+ status intersects with another marginalized identity, it increases the disparities they face. For example, queer people of color are more likely than white queer people to experience discrimination while looking for work (32% compared to 13%).

That’s why it’s so important LGBTQIA+ inclusion efforts must consider the full range of queer people’s experiences and that they are weaved in holistically with broader D&I programming.

The Queer Design Count is a field-wide survey of LGBTQIA+ people in design, created to surface new ways of creating an inclusive design community.

Seeing a broader spectrum of talent

LGBTQIA+ designers are already leading conversations about diversity and inclusion. We need to make sure those voices are heard.

That’s why Queer Design Club has launched the Count, a field-wide survey of LGBTQIA+ people in design across industries and disciplines. The data we collect will provide an important look at the queer experience in design and insights that will help move the conversation about diversity and inclusion forward.

The Queer Design Count runs until November 30th, 2019. If you are an LGBTQIA+-identifying person in design—in any role or capacity—we hope to hear from you. And we look forward to using the results to help build a truly inclusive design community together.

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