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Annie Jean-Baptiste of Google talks inclusion in tech at CES 2021

As the Head of Product Inclusion at Google and the author of Building for Everyone, Annie Jean-Baptiste is changing the way we think about technology. Her work on gender, inclusion, and racial bias in tech and products is leading the dialog in the industry. Andre Stone and Ariana Escalante speak with Jean-Baptiste as part of our comprehensive coverage of CES 2021.

Many are familiar with the idea of inclusion and representation in regards to things like diversity in the workplace. But along with that, product inclusion is an area that is equally important to discuss. So what is “product inclusion”? “It’s about bringing an inclusive lens throughout the entire product design process. We’re building for the world, and we want people to feel seen and thought of when they use a Google product,” Jean-Baptiste says. “It’s for everyone, with everyone.”

So how do you do that on a practical level? Part of it is listening, and part of it is testing, but a bigger part is “about bringing in perspectives that have historically been underrepresented,” Jean-Baptiste says. For example, the Google Assistant was reviewed by many people from underrepresented backgrounds in an effort “to know what they wanted the Assistant to say, and not to say.” That way, there were minimal inclusion troubles when the product was launched.

As for the future of inclusivity in tech, Jean-Baptiste says, “if you don’t have an inclusive input, you won’t have an inclusive output.” Data sets need to be checked for bias and are equitable at the outset. She also notes that it’s a long-term goal, not an immediate problem that can quickly be solved. In addition, it needs to shift from a mindset of thinking of inclusivity as simply a moral case, when in reality, the more inclusive your products are, the more potential buyers your product will have. “We live in this globalized world, and we want to make sure our products work for as many people as possible.”

Jean-Baptiste is also the founder of the Equity Army, a community committed to inclusion comprised of people from many different professional sectors who want to bring inclusivity and equity into their designs. Currently, she is the only head of product inclusion at any company, so she’s committed to the idea of helping other companies involve these ideas in their own businesses. It’s about helping them to understand that they’re, “building for the world. And in order to build for the world, you need to have as many perspectives at the table, and uplift voices that have historically been at the margins and bring them into the center,” she says.

“Tech, when it’s done well, really can amplify people’s lives, and we need to start with the core of empathy.”

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