Diversity, an essential ingredient for innovation

May 28, 2018

How our Head of Studio is making equality a priority and using design to do it

By Linda Angela Hoecker, Head of Studio, Idean West Coast

  • Linda Angela Hoecker

  • Ideanists at work

We can feel it, a change in energy. More proactive conversations are taking place with employees about inequality. These transparent discussions that include both men and women are not only changing the world but also empowering us to change the experience of the workplace.

As Head of Studio for the Idean Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Los Angeles locations, I feel the responsibility of leading our talented crew of designers, strategists, writers, and project managers with fairness, compassion, and vision.

I see the magic that happens when a diverse, multidisciplinary team collaborates equally. These qualities are more than 2018 buzzwords, they are crucial to the life of a successful studio and truly innovative work.

Big steps forward, long road ahead

We already know how powerful and lucrative diversity and inclusion can be for business: “Companies with top quartile diversity (defined as women and foreign nationals) on their executive boards generated ROE (returns on equity) that were 53% higher, on average, than the companies in the bottom diversity quartile.”

But when it comes to leadership, the percentage of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies still hovers at around 6%. For women in design fields: while 70% of graphic design students are women, only 11% of creative directors are women.

Women Design Stat copy v2b@300x

As a leader in design, I need to ask myself: Why do we still have these low numbers today? Are there better steps we can take to help progress diversity and see more change in gender and racial equality? What more can I do in my studios to effect positive change?

As part of the design community, we at Idean are feeling a new sense of change and empowerment.

Step 1: Acknowledgement

A few months ago a few of things happened. The first was that I heard the phrase “all boys club” used internally. Then during an interview, a candidate asked me something I’d never been asked before: “What is diversity like at Idean?” With 15+ years in the design community, I was genuinely surprised that I had never been asked that question before. (Currently, Idean is ~43% women and our numbers are growing.)

So I started to listen, and I mean really listened to a KQED Forum interview with Emily Chang. She is a Bloomberg Technology host, executive producer and recently authored “Brotopia.” When asked to describe the essence of the book, Chang responded: “Brotopia, in my mind, perfectly encapsulates this idea of Silicon Valley as a modern utopia where anyone can change the world, make their own rules — if they’re a man. But if you’re a woman, it’s incomparably harder.”

As professional designers who are focused on humanness, diversity is a valuable business imperative. We have a genuine drive to explore different thoughts and ideas–and we trust that great ideas come from unexpected places. Designers challenge convention and stand up for what they believe in. And then it hit me: design is a powerful tool to drive diversity.

Design is a powerful tool to drive diversity.

Step 2: Taking Initiative

With all these things in mind, I was inspired to bring a panel of amazing women together from the design community to ask their thoughts on diversity and equality in the Bay Area. We shared our experiences and had frank conversations about where we are now and where we should be in the future.

The panel, while all female, was diverse in its own right: with women of color, different ages and stages in their careers, representing different cultural backgrounds. We discussed a range of topics including who we turn to when we feel adversity, what it feels like to be the only woman or woman of color in the room, and how we can co-create a space that is genuinely more diverse.

Next we held an internal Diversity & Inclusion Workshop led by Kim Morrow, an executive coach, consultant, facilitator and public speaker, and co-founder of Forte Consulting. A mix of Ideanists took part in interactive exercises and gained a deeper understanding of how our own pre-set biases, attitudes, beliefs, and actions can heavily impact our interactions with others.

One of the key components of this workshop was understanding unconscious bias and micro behaviors. Among the hardest things to combat are the biases that we all naturally have on an unconscious level. Biases that can start with your upbringing, cultural background, or media that then become prejudices or stereotypes that can be hard to shake.

Step 3: Creating solutions

Inspired by this article in Fast Company’s Co.Design and grounded by the management insights from this Harvard Business Review’s recent article on diversity, I looked for solutions in what we know best: design. Here are some initiatives that we are supporting at Idean and hope to do more of in the future.

Design practices we all can take to encourage diversity and equality

  • Discover: Dig in and do the research to learn more about bias and how it can affect your choices and decisions. (Much has been written on this topic, I’ve shared a list of favorite books and articles below.)
  • Define Your Approach: Create a diversity initiative and build a plan for encouraging more diverse hires and equal pay opportunities.
  • Focus on People: As user researchers, we are empathetic by nature, we can use the same techniques we would when we conduct interviews or interact with our co-workers.
  • Use Visual Power: What we see, we believe. Representation matters, so choose images and messages in your work that resonate with all people.
  • Support Mentoring: Developing relationships through mentorship is a valuable thing for mentors and mentees. Make it part of your studio’s regular practice, along with reviews and feedback.
  • Assign Work Equally: Be mindful of the kinds of tasks that are being assigned and to whom.

Ideaninsts at work


If we can create beautiful, insightful solutions with the world’s most advanced technology, we can certainly find solutions that encourage equality and diversity. It starts by looking at ourselves and taking our own individual steps. I know I will continue to educate myself and my team, to be part of the change I believe in.

I’ll end with a quote that I have found inspiring, while I’m not religious, it’s hard to read this statement from the Bahá’í scriptures and not be touched:

“The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as a man until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment. When the two wings . . . become equivalent in strength, enjoying the same prerogatives, the flight of man will be exceedingly lofty and extraordinary.”

Reading inspiration

In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney

Gandhi’s Way: A Handbook of Conflict Resolution by Mark Juergensmeyer Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

10 Design Leaders On How To Empower Women In The Workplace

Emily Chang on the ‘Brotopia’ of Silicon Valley

A series of interviews with senior UX leaders to celebrate International Women’s Day

The most important issues for female designers in 2018 and how to address them

7 Studies That Prove the Value of Diversity in the Workplace

Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?

10 Steps To Increase Diversity In Design Right Now