Diversity helps build better products faster

March 10, 2018

By Mark Mayo, Vancouver Sun |

In 2015, McKinsey & Company argued that businesses perform better when they have a more diverse workforce. Many companies have since ramped up their hiring of women and ethnically diverse individuals.

At Mozilla, we’ve experienced that not only does it feel right to work with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, it actually helps us build better products faster.

Last December in Austin, Tex., this mantra came true and blew our minds. This is when, fuelled by a week’s worth of barbecue, a team of 14 engineers, user-experience experts and product managers, normally spread across North America, came together to build a browser, one of the most complex software pieces there is, and ship it to 35 million Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick customers in the U.S., and around the world, all in four days.

Given the stress and time pressure the team was under, differences in approaches could have made effective communication harder and led to clashes. But, thanks to the social contract that the team follows, these differences were a real boost. And here we were, midway through the deadline, and the team, supported by business development, marketing and legal teams, plowed through this work with energy and enthusiasm, and that was truly something to behold.

We learned many lessons the day we shipped this new browser. It comes down to a couple of things: responsibility, transparency and trust. People are individually responsible for the success of the team and therefore invested in it; everybody has a voice and team leaders are transparent about the decisions that are taken; and we trust each other and listen to each other’s perspectives.

Having a multicultural team of women and men, urban and not, Gen X and Millennials, remotees and office-based, helped get this work done — which we were told was literally impossible — in a super-fast timeline. On top of that, thanks to this culture of trust and transparency, we were able to bake inclusive features into the product very early on. The team, although mainly made of native English-speakers, built the product with 10 available languages. This wasn’t a complex task in itself, but one that you have to think about to get it done.

Although it wasn’t included in the first iteration, we also very quickly made sure that Firefox for Fire TV was accessible to users with disabilities. Integrating these features from the start has dramatically reduced the number of cycles necessary to make the product available across the globe, saving us time and money, and allowing more people to surf the open web from their Fire TV.

We build for the web and for a web that is diverse, accessible and inclusive of all. To achieve our mission, we know that we need to do a better job to seek out diversity of all sorts and to foster inclusion among the people who do this work. As we do this, the absolute best result is that we’re improving our work culture so that everyone can collaborate and innovate on the problems our world faces.

Mark Mayo is senior vice-president of Firefox at Mozilla, and is based in Vancouver.

This is the last op-ed in our series in support of SFU Public Square’s 2018 Community Summit: Brave New Work, which ran Feb. 26-March 7. Find out more at http://www.sfu.ca/publicsquare/bravenewwork.

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