Why diversity is so important for your digital product success

I have seen manifestations about diversity more and more often. I’m not much of watching TV, but sometime ago I ended up watching Globo TV, the main open TV network in Brazil. I was able to catch the final part of Jornal Nacional, the main TV news in Brazil, and the beginning of the soap opera. During Jornal Nacional there was a news piece about PUC, an well known university at São Paulo, inaugurating unisex bathrooms (article link in Portuguese). Keep in mind that PUC is an university linked to the Catholic religion. After that, during the soap opera, there was a scene where an actress who was telling her parents and family that she was born in the wrong body, that she was a man who had been born in a woman’s body, that is, she was a transgender. Then, during the break, came Globo’s campaign entitled “Everything Begins with Respect” about respect for gender identity (video and text in Portuguese):

That’s really good! Accepting and respecting differences is the basis for any society evolution and building an ever-better future for ourselves, our children, and all humanity.

When there is lack of respect and inability to accept diversity, very bad situations can happen, such as parents rejecting their own child. I was very impressed when I read an article (in Portuguese) by Daniela Andrade, a senior consultant at ThoughtWorks, where she says:

As I got kicked out of my parents’ house because I’m a transsexual – and here I say that the first great violence we suffer is in our house – I have not had relatives to count on in times of necessity for many years. They all turned their backs on me.

How can parents reject their own daughter? I am a father and I know how parenting love is very intense, capable of overcoming any problem so that we can always help and support our children. I was talking to my wife the other day about this and about the difficulty people have in accepting the differences, to the point of having parents rejecting their own children. It was at that moment that my wife said a phrase that struck me. She said that ultimately, all people are different. Transgender, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, black, white, yellow, young, adult, middle-aged, Brazilian, Canadian, French, Vietnamese, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, cyclist, swimmer, engineer, architect, lawyer, who likes pop music, rock, jazz, classical and so on. Even identical twins are different.

If all people are different, accepting and respecting differences is not only desirable, it is necessary and mandatory for us to live together in a more harmonious and sustainable way. They are values that should be taught to all people from the cradle.

And what diversity has to do with software product management?

In addition to the importance of accepting and respecting differences to help create a more harmonious and sustainable society, diversity will help create even better digital products for two reasons:

  • Diversity brings new points of view. Having a more diverse product development team brings new insights and new ways of thinking, which will help you develop a better product. It is no wonder that the product development team is made up of software engineers, user experience designers, and product managers. Each one has a different perspective of what a good product is and these differences are what help create a better product when the differences are well worked out by the team,
  • Just as the customer group that uses your software is diverse, so should your team. Usually, digital product development teams are composed mostly of men, but the population that will use the software is more diverse. In both ContaAzul and Locaweb’s cases, more than 88% of the team is composed of men. To better illustrate let’s imagine a typically feminine product, for example, a party dress being developed by a men’s only team. It will be skewed, with features more important to men. Now imagine if it was developed by a women-only team. It would also be biased, with only the point of view of women. Even products that will be used by a less diverse audience, as in this example of a product made for the female audience, will benefit from having a team composed of women and men.
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That is the reason why it is so important to the success of your product to discuss openly about diversity. How to improve the diversity of your product development team? How do you foster discussions that bring different points of view and help you see your product from new angles?

June 2018 update

I have recently updated these numbers and I’m very happy to share the progress of ContaAzul’s product development team! \o/

Since my very first days at ContaAzul, back in August 2016, I brought to everybody’s attention the need for a more diverse team. Since then we doubled our product development team, from 60 people to 116 people, and the share of women also almost doubled, from 6.7% to 12.9%. This means we went from 4 women to 15 women, almost quadrupling the number of women in our product development organization. Far from ideal, but good progress!

September 2019 update

Back in October 2018, I started a new journey at Gympass. Here women were already 13.1% in a team of 61 people but we knew we could do better. We decided to discuss this topic openly, how important it is to have a more diverse product development team in order to create better products and only by talking about the topic, we were able to improve a lot! \o/

Check out our numbers below:

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