Diversity by Design: Embedding Inclusivity into Products & Solutions
In our Zoom for Thought on July 20th, 2021, UCD Discovery director Prof. Patricia Maguire spoke with Fiona O’Brien, Chief Channel Officer and Head of Operations, EMEA, Lenovo, about, “Diversity by Design: Embedding Inclusivity into Products and Solutions”. In case you missed it, here are our Top Takeaway Thoughts and a link to the video.
Who are Lenovo?
Lenovo is a Fortune Global 500 company developing technologies that power (through devices and infrastructure) and empower (through solutions, services and software) millions of customers every day and together create a more inclusive, trustworthy and sustainable digital society for everyone, everywhere. Originally Chinese-based, Lenovo is now in 180 countries worldwide, with over 100 nationalities employed. “We are a very diverse organisation by design and as a global company we are unique because we don't focus on a central headquarters. We go where the talent is, so we have people dotted around pretty much everywhere.” Fiona leads the EMEA Channel organisation and is also responsible for enabling the sales force of Lenovo. She is also chair of the EMEA Diversity & Inclusion board.
Growing in the role
Fiona has been working in Lenovo its inception in Europe in 2005. “It came into being when IBM sold its PC company to a Chinese company called Lenovo. This was the first time a Chinese company had stepped out of the China market to go international. And when it did that, I came over from IBM into Lenovo, and we created the company together so I've been there from day one.” Lenovo has since grown to become the largest PC provider in the world and most recently, the number one provider in EMEA. “This is a huge achievement so I feel that Lenovo is my baby and it is growing up with me. That keeps me excited every day.”
Designing for all
Lenovo’s mission is to deliver Smarter Technology for all. To achieve this goal, it is essential that these products and solutions are designed by diverse, cross-functional teams to enable a truly inclusive perspective. “A couple of years ago Lenovo set up an initiative called the Product Diversity Office (PDO). And the idea behind that is to shine a light on every product we bring to market and make sure that we're doing it in a truly inclusive manner.”
When designing phones, laptops and other smart devices, the science behind it must account for many different accents, hand sizes, facial structures, skin tones, and more. The great wealth of biometric data required to deliver universal user experiences behind these “smart” innovations relies on companies like Lenovo to design with diversity in mind. “If you don't have a diverse team who can look at all of those elements and make sure they're incorporated into the design of the product, it is likely that you are going to exclude a large portion of the population. That's not good commercially, but equally it's not good ethically”.
End-to-end design “is better if it has a diverse group of perspectives”. Lenovo forms brainstorming groups “across sales, development, finance, operations, supply chain. The most successful projects have different perspectives. We can catch problems before they become problems, but we can also uncover real innovation.”
If you try to design for everybody, “the products will probably not satisfy anybody”. In Lenovo “certain products are designed to target different segments of the market”. First you include the basic features that everyone needs, “then you look at who you are targeting in segments”. There can be an unconscious bias in society, for example that older segments of the market are not as technologically capable. “I don't believe that to be true. Equally there can be difficulties with engagement at a younger level too. It depends on your access to technology and what you've been trained for.” By understanding the needs of the people you are designing for, “you can ensure that somewhere within your range it is represented”.
Lenovo’s Product Diversity Office has worked with Haben Girma, the first deafblind graduate from Harvard Law School. She highlighted the fact that the trend for touch-technology excluded her - “so we needed to be able to balance all of those things”. Infamously, facial recognition software can fail to recognise darker skin tones. “When we were developing our facial recognition devices we used our own employee base, which is very diverse, to build up the biometric data to help overcome such challenges”. Having empathy is as important as having technical skill when it comes to designing D&I-friendly products and solutions. The PDO “is staffed with a diverse workforce” – not simply product developers, but educators, marketers and those with customer interface experience.
Hardware companies are increasingly deploying the strategies of more agile software companies. For fifteen years Lenovo has effectively been a hardware company with some service and software products in the portfolio. Now it is “on the journey towards a smarter and more solution-oriented organisation”. This evolution required Lenovo to “redesign how we think about products and solutions, how we go to market, how we train our people. And that again is where interdisciplinarity comes into play, because if you are going to redesign an organisation’s go to market strategy, you need a variety of different voices at the table to shake things up. And I think all the hardware companies are going through that evolution.”
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Fiona O’Brien is Chief Channel Officer for Lenovo in EMEA, as well as Head of EMEA Operations. She has 25 years’ experience working in the technology industry, both at local and International level.
Fiona is a passionate advocate for equity and inclusion through her role as Chair of the Lenovo EMEA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion board. In Ireland, she is a volunteer mentor for “Inspiring the Future” – an initiative set up to provide young people in disadvantaged areas with education and career mentors.
Fiona is based in Dublin and maintains an active interest in the business environment in Ireland as a member of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. She holds a BSc Management & Adv Diploma Marketing Techniques from Trinity College, Dublin, and an MA Marketing. Fiona is married and has one son.