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Designing our future: Empowering more women in product design

Unfortunately, this is the world women live in today. Non-inclusive design is all around us, from product design, to city planning, to medicine. And women aren’t the only ones bearing the brunt of it. In one of too many examples, researchers recently discovered that speech-to-text tools misunderstood—and therefore mistranscribed—Black speakers nearly twice as often as they did white speakers. The way we are able to interact with the world around us is influenced by the way it is designed.

So why can we still not manage to design products that actually tailor to the needs of women and minorities?

1. Data bias

In her book, “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men”, Caroline Criado-Perez explains how the databases used to inform product design are disproportionately filled with information collected on men. Surprise, surprise: skewed data leads to skewed design.

2. Not enough women in top positions in Product

There is a massive gender gap in product design teams. While women in the UK buy 85% of household products, only 5% of the product design industry in the country is female. On average in Europe,  women represent 41% of teams in product & design at all levels. However, that doesn’t account for the glass ceiling that women in Tech in Europe face demonstrated by there only being under 8% in C-level roles (Figures Data, 2021).

The time has come where design can no longer be seen as separate from societal values and ethical considerations. Design justice is about putting people who do not hold power in society at the center of the design process. According to inclusive design expert Sandra Camacho,  “bad design is a reflection of a society where the needs of those with the most power and privilege are prioritized.”

Early warning signs in the Metaverse

With all the hype surrounding the metaverse, you’d be tempted to think non-inclusive product design will soon be a thing of the past. After all, we now have an opportunity to create a network of virtual worlds from scratch—without borders, and built with all users in mind.

Yet the fact is that 95% of the blockchain developers are male. As such, we risk recreating the exact same inequalities in the metaverse. This already appears to be happening:

  • Digital avatars in NFT (non-fungible token) collections are already being priced differently based on race, gender and skin colour. We must prevent digital racism at all costs.
  • Sexist harassment is already popping up in social VR video games. Shockingly, Nina Jane Patel recently shared the “nightmarish” experience of having her avatar attacked and abused by three male avatars in the virtual game Horizon Worlds developed by Meta.

Restoring diversity in the Product Design industry

The gender imbalance in Product Design wasn’t always so rampant like it is today. As Deborah Liu wrote in this insightful LinkedIn post, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Product Management teams were almost 50/50. But then something changed. In 2004 Google decided to change its job requirements and began hiring only PM’s who had a degree in computer science or in a related field like electrical engineering. Needless to say, this put women at a massive disadvantage.

Today, 35% of product manager roles in Europe are filled by women—but only 8% are at the C-level. Thankfully, there is a growing ecosystem that is supporting women in product development.

At 50inTech, we want to help women to level up and advance through various stages of their career path. This is the way forward. If we want to design a truly inclusive future, we need more women CPOs. That’s why, on February 16-18, between 12 PM and 3PM CET, our “Wannabe a CPO” Bootcamp will gather the most influential women in Product to give you actionable advice to boost your career.  Register now to get top insights from female executive-level product managers and inclusive design experts:


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