Aurélia Durand For Black History Month 2020 — Facebook Analog Research Lab Posters

21st Century Empowerment

james helms
7 min readMar 2, 2020


Mandy Price, CEO and Co-Founder of Kanarys, lays out a pretty compelling case for getting diversity and inclusion right in the workplace: “…A recent study shows that less than 30% of people of color reported a sense of belonging in their workplace. This is a problem for both employees and companies because those same employees end up leaving, resulting in attrition costs of approximately $144,000 per employee, annually.”
Attrition costs are just the tip of the iceberg. “Diversity and inclusion is not for people who have been excluded. It’s for all of us,” according to Exelon EVP, Chief Strategy Officer Bill Von Hoene, in Forbes. “It’s for our business to get better. It’s for us to be smarter. It’s for us to be more perceptive as a collective organization.” After focusing on increasing diversity in management and on their board, Exelon pointed to the strong financial impact: Since 2013, its shareholder return has increased by 120% and the company’s share price by 73%, beating out the UTY index, which measures performance in the utility industry, by 12% and 9%, respectively.

Rather than merely framing diversity and inclusion as “the right thing to do,” we might reframe as the one thing we can’t afford to do without.

As a designer, a leader, a manager, and as a man in an industry that relies deeply on innovation, leveraging the experience and perspectives from our employees and our customers to uncover the wickedest problems in the finance and compliance space, I simply cannot afford to put our company at a disadvantage by even accidentally discouraging amazing talent from wanting to come here, stay here, and be able to do the best work of their lives. What I’ve learned is, intention matters. Doing the right things for the reasons that matter most drives better outcomes for our employees, our customers, and ultimately our business. So I looked at the three places I feel like intention can drive meaningful results. And how design can help.


Pipelining is arguably the front line of all diversity efforts. Everything from the way we write job descriptions, recruit for and ultimately evaluate candidates, shapes the talent we onboard. But when recruiting killer talent is kind of a full-time job, it’s difficult to overstate how important it is to make sure you’re fishing where the best talent is.

Experience is about much more than “X number of years in relevant industry.”
As a hiring manager, it can be easy to write job requirements that seem to ensure immediate success in a role. Experience requirements of 1, 3, 5, 10 years of comparable experience elsewhere may feel like a perfect way to narrow great candidates from the pack. Unfortunately, you’re inadvertantly narrowing the field to “people who have already had jobs in this field” which a) leverages the bias of other hiring managers and b) ignores a much richer set of criteria that might actually predict success: adaptability, adjacent experiences, informative broader background and life experiences.
Leaning into a different definition of experience can open your role to awesome and unlikely applicants that could provide incredible new perspectives. As a designer, I might say “Go broader.”

Diversity is both observable AND invisible
I’ve been really curious here. Observable diversity matters. People want to see themselves in their peers, as well as in their managers and business leadership. And racial and gender diversity matters at every level — especially the higher levels (C-Suite, Board of Directors) where many companies continue to lag reflecting their customer bases and the population at large. Visible diversity means something–and the leadership that comes from their perspectives is immeasurable. And also totally measurable.
Separately, “invisible diversity” like broad economic and cultural experience, sexual and gender identity, military experience––even being left-handed, all unique perspectives, which when paired with the more tangible skills and capabilities, result that broadened awareness of our customers’ needs and our business’ blindspots and untapped opportunities. It’s why asking “What else?” matters so much as we build out teams of all sizes. Declarative acceptance of the invisible factors is perhaps even more important because the invitation to share your personal experience– “Bringing your whole self,” as Intuit would describe it– sets an expectation that you are valuable to us as a human, not just a “resource.”

It’s nearly impossible to address your unconscious biases without help
Whether its a position of privilege, or simply a lack of exposure, the micro-inequities we subconsciously (or explicitly) reinforce as we make decisions shape a culture of inclusion. In order to address them, we’re going to need some help.
Providing our leaders and teams with transparent feedback, and protecting a culture of honesty without fear of retribution is vital. When we receive feedback, we must a) take it seriously b) seek to address it c) circle back with a plan and d) invite continued feedback on progress. We must trust others to show us our blindspots. And we owe them the respect of revealing theirs. That’s how biases are addressed: with ownership and effort.

How design can help
Put yourself in the shoes of your candidates. Do some research with recently-hired folks in different departments. Which experiences helped them feel like they were “home” and which ones felt awkward? Consider how you might unlock those new superpowers on your team by setting your new hires up for success. Recognize when employees seem disconnected. Use your powers of observation and empathy.


I am asked to speak at industry events, weigh in on panels, and join boards. And I am humbled by the opportunities. Truly grateful to be invited. And I feel I have a responsibility to pause and reflect on how I might make those experiences valuable for everyone.

Make diversity part of your message
Diversity and inclusion is paramount in the design industry, as with any industry. Finding, hiring, and growing killer talent is a huge goal. But beyond that, we’re here to help each other — to bring awareness to the trends and topics that shape our ability to serve the needs of our customers. And as already mentioned, there are both moral and business imperatives behind these efforts.

Ensure events are diverse — even if that means saying no
There are incredible voices out there that need hearing. Balance their perspectives with your own. It’s an easy question to ask: Is there observable diversity on this panel? If not, insist on it — even if that means giving up your spot.

Use your position to spotlight others
My team is incredible. My network is a glistening goldmine of the smart, interesting and eloquent. Turning a one-man show into a co-presentation is such an easy way for me to build diverse perspectives into an event, to raise someone else’s profile, and give my team experiences that steel their confidence and practice their craft of influence.

How design can help
Make every new speaking opportunity, internal and external, a chance to experiment. Think about the people represented, and the language used, in your presentation graphics. Are you inclusive in what you show and what you say? Consider bouncing those presentation graphics off someone else and asking the questions: Could this be more diverse? More inclusive?


Diversity and Inclusion is not a box-checking exercise. It is a continuous evolution. There are new people to meet, new talents to unlock and new milestones to achieve. Like all muscles, diversity and inclusion declines without exercising it every day.

Expect it
As I mentioned — intention is everything. And as you look around, you will continue to delight in the places, circumstances and ways that diversity is unfolding in your community, in your job, and in your life. And in the places where it hasn’t, it just hasn’t “yet” — you have the ability to nudge it along.

DO it
Be explicit in how you’ll start, who you’ll meet, and what should change. I started by joining special interest meetups and events and identifying influencers whose messages were powerful and whose hearts were pure. Like Mandy Price and Lauren Hasson and Adrienne Guillory. I was excited to be invited to get involved with Dallas Black UX and The Dallas Entrepreneur Center — and with it, Start-up Week, which had focused events for entrepreneurs of color and women entrepreneurs. We’ve been focused on accessibility design, but less focused on recruiting for people with disabilities. And people with military experience. Or the LatinX design community. Opportunities abound!

Measure it
Intuit has several explicit metrics to track Belonging. We measure Belonging, among other things, as part of a periodic (2–3x/year) engagement survey. We measure diversity percentages by business, by function, and across leadership. We have a platform that invites input from our employees, year round. We sponsor and gauge participation in our Employee Resource Groups and we collect feedback from the events they sponsor. These groups include cultural ancestry networks, religious awareness networks, LGBTQ, military, women and next generation/early career. Their presence, their education and their initiatives make Intuit a richer place. There’s ALWAYS something going on.

Be an advocate
It’s actually very easy to celebrate and advocate for diversity in your company, in your team, and in your life. It takes very little effort to go and meet your colleagues where they are. It takes one or two key behavioral changes to create space for others’ voices, passion and unique abilities to contribute. It starts to come very naturally. And it makes it a hell of a lot easier to do the harder stuff later: standing up to injustice, speaking truth to power, and stepping in to defend those who are being ignored, marginalized or outright abused.

How design can help
Make posters! Groups need visual voices. They need observable representation. Posters are such a simple way to expend some creative energy to give someone a voice. And a great excuse to step away from the company’s color palette and typography standards.

Regularly engage both internally and externally, to collect new data, new stories and new insights you can use to fuel this very important way of working. Offer your time to coach, or review a resume, or make an introduction.

What are your ideas? What has worked? And please: what did I get wrong here, so I can do better next time?



james helms

Design Leader, Advisor, Speaker, Student, Advocate, Enabler.