Executives in the C-Suite are challenged every day with making their company more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. They often work hard on the problems of hiring, firing, promotion, pay, as well as the culture in terms of how individuals are treated. But there is one area that should be obvious, but is often overlooked: product software.
Software is often the external face of the company. Many people interact with the company exclusively through the software. Frequently, actions are referred to by the name of the software (I am going to “google” this). But what if your software biases some employees to be more successful than others? Even though the company may be doing wonderful things to support inclusivity, the most public thing in the organization is giving the appearance that your company does not care enough to make your software inclusive.
How many times have you heard “our customers mostly speak English” as an excuse for not supporting the local language in software? Even if it is true that most people CAN speak English, if it is not their native tongue, they will rarely be as fast or efficient as someone who is a native speaker. In particular for those who are not extremely fluent, there is a translation process that happens in their head continuously as they work. This creates “language productivity bias,” where native speakers appear to be smarter, faster, and more efficient than non-native speakers. This bias is not something that can be made up through training or individual instruction. The software itself must work in the native language of the worker.
Recently, customers of software companies have begun demanding language/locale support. Human resource officers and leaders in diversity, equity, and inclusion are rapidly purging any software that does not support the languages where the software is used.
Sometimes companies will attempt to internationalize their software, but it will still be buggy in other languages. For example, concatenations may make quality translations nearly impossible. This creates additional, unfair burdens on non-English speakers who must wade through mistake after mistake to get the correct meaning. Frequently, they will resort to flipping to English to discover what the broken software was supposed to say. Obviously, this exacerbates the language productivity bias problem.
Too often, people don’t think about disabilities when writing software. Visual impairment, color blindness, hearing disabilities, and physical or cognitive conditions. For example, if your software does not use high-contrast differences when selecting colors, it may be impossible for a color blind person to correctly use the software. Their mistakes are actually created by your software, but they are inappropriately penalized for it. People with disabilities sometimes need more time for certain tasks, but if your software exacerbates this, you put them at a serious disadvantage compared to their colleagues.
Errors and error correction
Non-native speakers have to contend with normal mistakes that everyone makes, but must also contend with language/gender/plural choices that seem trivial to native speakers. Languages often have a flow that is natural, easy, and intrinsic for native speakers, but difficult and choppy for non-native speakers. Corrections and even complete rewrites are much more common for non-native speakers and writers. Even something as simple as a date field (m/d/yy vs d/m/yy) can create a stumbling block that creates an interruption in the work of a non-native speaker.
Studies show that non-native speakers are much more likely to experience fatigue on the job when working in their second language than in their native tongue. This fatigue can contribute to poorer performance, irritability, and more difficulty interacting with others. Working in a non-native software application all day every day can lead to burn out and job loss.
Anxiety and negative emotions
Working in software that is not global ready can create feelings of unfamiliarity and a sense of not belonging. These background anxiety issues may not present for months or even years, but nonetheless can have a cumulative impact.