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When work isn’t working for you

Grace Francis, Global Chief Creative and Design Officer at WONGDOODY on why now is the time for the great reset in hybrid working and inclusive design.

Grace Francis, WONGDOODY

Global Chief Creative and Design Officer

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Many of us grew up with the mantra of empathy in design. To make and create for others meant a pursuit of understanding those different to us. Today, we better recognise that empathy alone is not enough, we must start from a place of lived experience to foster inclusive design. That is to say, whoever we are creating for should be represented and included as a designer in the process.

As we explore hybrid working, our industry is facing strong evidence that those of us who are marginalised or minoritised—the same people with the lived experience to contribute to inclusive design—are recounting the freedoms of remote working and finding the return to office stressful.

Reports across Harvard Business Review, Bloomberg and Forbes paint a familiar picture, if you’re disabled, neurodivergent, a parent, LGBTQIA+, Black or a Person of Colour, you have likely found yourself feeling less stressed and more valued and supported when working from home.  

If you’re disabled, neurodivergent, a parent, LGBTQIA+, Black or a Person of Colour, you have likely found yourself feeling less stressed and more valued and supported when working from home

Grace Francis, Global Chief Creative and Design Officer at WONGDOODY

The big reset 

If we want to retain and recruit diverse talent, now is the time for our industry to protect those freedoms at work. This doesn’t mean always working remotely, it means granting autonomy to individuals, trusting them to meet their own needs and still contribute meaningfully at work. It means applying principles of equity at work and providing a space to flourish. This is the big reset.

The nature of inclusive design requires those with lived experience to be vulnerable, to share both their identities and experiences with colleagues in the pursuit of a better product, service or campaign and to do it without fear of disenfranchisement or discrimination. That’s a lot to ask of an employee. It means trust and emotional labour. It means taking a risk. Shouldn’t that be rewarded with a working environment that works for everyone?

I can tell you how glorious it feels to authentically share my identity as a trans person at work, how being understood—and by extension—often being accepted, has fundamentally changed how I feel about getting up in the morning and in turn, how much of myself I am willing to offer to my colleagues, my creative brief, my company

Grace Francis, Global Chief Creative and Design Officer at WONGDOODY

When we take these risk, incredible things happen. I can tell you how glorious it feels to authentically share my identity as a trans person at work, how being understood—and by extension—often being accepted, has fundamentally changed how I feel about getting up in the morning and in turn, how much of myself I am willing to offer to my colleagues, my creative brief, my company.

When workplaces create an environment that promotes equity, two incredible things happen to help inclusive design flourish. The first is that we are able to design to benefit all groups and not just one. If a brief comes in from a bank asking to make financial investment and savings more accessible for women, we can challenge that brief to ask: how do we make sure the definition of women expands beyond highly educated White, non-disabled, cis-gendered and straight women? We can still do better, asking: what about all the other people who are excluded from the world of financial savings and investments—how do we shift from inclusivity for one extra group to dismantling exclusivity for the few? The answer to that should be determined by a diverse group of designers answering the challenge.

We collectively have a chance to make the world of work better right now, we cannot let go of that

Grace Francis, Global Chief Creative and Design Officer at WONGDOODY

The second shift is the number of diverse people present on one project. Last year I was a member of the Cannes Lions jury that awarded an Innovation Grand Prix to Wunderman Thompson and Unilever’s Degree Inclusive, a deodorant designed to be used by people with a range of disabilities. Headed up by Christina Mallon, herself a designer who is disabled, the project collaborated with disability consultants Keah Brown, Kiesha Greaves, Lissa Loe, Natalie Trevonne and Argentine Disabled Influencers, alongside the award-winning international design studio, SOUR.

This crew was assembled because Christina understands any one of us can only advocate for our own lived experience and not represent an entire group. She consciously set out to create a new product that would be relevant to as many people as possible. It isn’t enough to have one disabled person on a project, or one trans person, or one neurodivergent person. We must seek to do better. Recently, a new colleague of mine told me how refreshing it was to be valued as an individual, and not to have to represent everyone who looked like her. This is the bar.

Today, Christina and I are friends; our lived experiences vary, she a designer who is disabled, me a designer who is non-binary transgender, but we have a common understanding that in order to exist in the world we must innovate and create a space for ourselves. We collectively have a chance to make the world of work better right now, we cannot let go of that.

All it takes for employees to flourish is to be set up for success. Prithwiraj Choudhury, an expert in the future of work and a professor at Harvard Business School observed that in the next decade remote work will simply be called work. Perhaps in the future inclusive design can also be simply called design.

Guest Author

Grace Francis, WONGDOODY

Global Chief Creative and Design Officer

About

Grace Francis is WONGDOODY’s Global Chief Creative and Design Officer. They were previously Chief Experience Officer at Karmarama, part of Accenture Interactive - will join WONGDOODY in March of this year. They will be based in the London office and report to global CEO, Ben Wiener. They also previously held the Chief Experience Officer position at Accenture Interactive’s advertising agency Droga5 London. Before joining Accenture Interactive in 2019, Francis was the Head of Experience and Design at Grey and was a founding partner of Grey Global Consulting.

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