Isabelle started her presentation by introducing herself and outlining the path that lead her to work in her current job as diversity and inclusivity specialist at Miro. She studied psychology in Amsterdam, and while writing her thesis fell into a depression. After graduation she sought help from a psychologist, who brought up the possibility of her being autistic and helped her pursue an autism diagnosis.
“So after a year and half, I finally had the label autistic“, Isabelle remembered. “When my psychologist told me, there was this dramatic long pause, as if someone was about to die. But all I said was well that’s great! That explains a lot.“
“Honestly getting this diagnosis was the best thing that happened for me“, Isabelle continued. “I could finally understand that all the things I struggled with didn’t have to do with me not putting in enough effort, or that I wasn’t a whole person. That gave me a lot of peace.“
At the same time, Isabelle made the switch from working as a recruiter for another company to Miro. At her previous job, she had already worked with a coach to discuss publicly “coming out“ with an autism diagnosis at your job. “Of course I didn’t want people to treat me differently“, she shared. The coach suggested that as a way to counteract these worries, she could step up into an ambassador role, spreading awareness about autism and dissolving stereotypes by doing so. After starting to work at Miro, Isabelle decided to claim this role and organised an autism acceptance week for the company, which as also open for online participation by the public. For this event, Isabelle invited speakers from different countries and backgrounds to talk about their experiences with autism. This is also how she got in touch with A/artist co-curator Annelies Doom, who had attended the event online. If you are curious, you can find the recordings of the event under this link.
“Then the role for diversity and inclusivity specialist at Miro opened up and luckily they decided that I was the best candidate, so here we are!“, Isabelle concluded her recap. “So now I am finally in my happy zone, finding solace in my diagnosis and fulfilment in my work.“
What is Miro?
“Are any of you already aware of Miro?“, she asked us. “As a tool, or as a company?“
Most of us were aware of it as a tool to create collaborative whiteboards online.
Miro is a company that was founded in 2011, Isabelle told us, and has since grown to a workforce of 1800 people with offices across major cities in the U.S. and Europe, as well as in Sydney and Tokyo.
What is diversity?
“I’m very curious to hear from you all, what do you think when you hear the word “diversity“?“, Isabelle wanted to know next.
“My first thought is ethnic and cultural diversity“, said roundtable guest Gerard van Wolferen. “And then some time later you have neurodiversity and autism.“
Artist Victor Evink added that there are different layers to diversity. “You can think of diversity as a kind of template of how something should look - for example, have a certain number of queer people and people of colour in your team. But you can also look at it as experience in general. A group of people can look more or less diverse on the surface but could be incredibly diverse when it comes to their experience and knowledge.“
Isabelle agreed: “Yes, a hundred percent. It has been scientifically proven that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams. But if we for example we hire someone who is black, someone who is Asian, and someone who is queer all from the same university, do we have diversity of thought? Probably not. What we look at in diversity can be ethnic and cultural diversity, it can be gender and age, but also diversity of thought and neurodiversity, or the general circumstances under which a person grew up.“
What does inclusivity look like at Miro internally?
“That’s how we look at diversity at Miro“, Isabelle said. “I’m working with one other person in the diversity team, it’s relatively new but we have a lot of stakeholders within the company that we work together with. That’s for example the workplace team making sure offices are accessible for people with different needs, and the product accessibility team that makes sure the product Miro itself is accessible for users. We also have research groups for different groups of employees, like a Black excellence group, a group for the Asian community, a mental wellness group, a group for the LGBTQA community - these are all groups we work together with.
Inclusive meeting guides
Isabelle went on to explain how Miro accounts for different employees’ needs during team meetings: “We have inclusive meeting guides which have been set up together with the product accessibility team to make sure that everyone feels included and can participate in a meeting without feeling anxiety because of the different ways they process information“.
These guidelines begin with clear instructions concerning the logistics and objectives of the meeting. Employees are free to use different devices to join and participate in the meeting according to their needs, such as laptops, mobile phones or tablets.
Meetings also enforce reflection time, allowing employees breaks of quiet space between different activities. Since meetings typically happen on a Miro whiteboard as well, quiet space is also provided on the board. With tens of employees joining a meeting, the board can otherwise quickly get crowded and very distracting.
There are different options for sharing your thoughts, since some people are more comfortable with sharing things verbally while others prefer writing out their thoughts, as well as refection time before people are asked to speak.
When working on a Miro board, you usually see every collaborate’s cursor with their name attached to it moving around. However, Miro has a function which allows a speaker to summon all other cursors to them in order to direct people’s attention, as well as a function that allows you to hide other people’s cursors and names.
Diversity personas - meeting “Mary“
“What I’m currently working on are the diversity personas.“, Isabelle shared, and explained that she is creating eight “diversity cards“ for different types of potential Miro employees. She allowed us a sneak peek at one of these cards. “No one else within Miro has seen this yet, so you are all very lucky!“, she joked, then introduced us to “Mary“. The card shows information about aspects of the persona’s identity, as well as her needs when it comes to different aspects of working at Miro. For example, Mary is diagnosed with autism, married to her wife for four years, likes to go for a run before starting the workday and comes to the office for social interaction and team collaboration. The card also describes her priorities, fears, needs and expectations concerning her work environment, as well as a number of other parameters such as frequency in the office and openness to change. “You can see that this person wouldn’t be in the office that much, and their frequency to change is relatively low.“, Isabelle explained.
A priority for Mary would be advancing in the company as an individual contributor, providing an income for her family and feeling welcomed by her co-workers. Fears correspondingly include a lack of a sense of belonging, feeling misunderstood, and losing control of work and daily routine due to frequent changes in the organisation. “Miro is a company that has grown very quickly over the past 11 years“, Isabelle explained, “so it’s a very fast-paced environment. Change is nice but…sometimes it can happen too often.“
In terms of needs, Mary relies on a quiet space in the office and noise-cancelling headphones, as well as having one source of truth where all relevant documents and information can be found. Her expectations include straightforward technology that actually works, optional company events for a sense of belonging, and creating a work environment that closes the gender gap and gender pay gap.
“Some of the things mentioned here are targeted specifically to autism, but also to other aspects of this persona’s identity.“, Isabelle explained. “We didn’t want to create more than seven diversity cards, otherwise it would be too overwhelming.“ Each card is therefore designed to represent a person with needs that are diverse in multiple ways. “For example you’ve got Muslim people who pray five to seven times per day and need a prayer room, you have parents with children, people with physical disabilities…“, Isabelle explained, adding that all of these needs could of course coincide.
“So you assume that these seven profiles become testing scenarios for every new design challenge within Miro - you are hoping that the next version of Miro will support all of these profiles.“, Willem summarised. “So that ideally, there would be different interfaces for users with different needs.“ Isabelle agreed that this could be a way forward, but stressed that at the moment, the cards are for internal use within Miro and catering to the needs of employees rather than users.
Supporting neurodiverse colleagues in the recruitment and interview process
“I am also curious about how you deal with different neurodiverse colleagues from your standpoint as a recruiter“, Willem said.
“All of our managers go through unconscious bias training“, Isabelle explained. “Making them aware of what they associate words like autism with and how they can be more open minded towards it.“ When a candidate mentions their diagnosis themselves, recruiters can ask about the candidate’s needs and provide accommodations during the interview process. New colleagues are also given time and space to find their place within the company . “In the first three months we don’t have any expectations from you except finding your way and understanding who you’re working with.“ During this time, managers will ask for example how you prefer to receive feedback, thereby providing opportunities for new employees to voice their needs without having to be proactive - “So you won’t have to go out of your way to say something like hey, I’m autistic so could you please share the feedback face to face rather than via email“, Isabelle explained.
“How open are people about this in reality?“, one of the roundtable guests asked. “When I go to an interview or meet new people, I always cover up my personality and needs, and I think a lot of people do that. So how can people be open about this so that they can be good at their work? How can you enable people to be open and comfortable about it?“
“I think it has to do with the entire culture you have within a company“, Isabelle replied. “Our mission within Miro is to allow people to be their authentic selves. For example, I am also still working on unmasking my own autism. Creating an environment where people can be themselves and also supporting them in that is very important. For example, Miro supported me in organising a company event about autism before I even worked in diversity and inclusivity. I think this kind of thing is key in allowing people to open up.“
Labels versus needs
Gerard mentioned the different implications of prioritising labels versus needs. “As a company or a school or whatever, you don’t necessarily need to know people’s label, but you do need to know their needs. It’s a different way of openness, I think. What do people need? That should be enough.“
Isabelle agreed, but added that labels can be useful or even necessary at times in order to help outsiders to understand what to expect from a person.
Inclusivity and time pressure
Annelies wondered about another aspect of inclusivity: time. “Let’s say there’s an assignment and an autistic person needs more time, how do you deal with that as a company or a school or as society? I think that’s a wider issue, that the rhythm of society doesn’t allow for more time. How can you be inclusive if the whole society is designed for efficiency?“
Another guest agreed: “When there are deadlines people tend to forget this kind of inclusivity.“
Of course, Miro as a company is not able to exist outside this system which relies on productivity and efficiency. However, Isabelle outlined how teams within Miro work in order to make meeting deadlines easier: “Our design teams work in a cross-functional way, meaning that they work together with designers from other groups, with engineers, with product managers… and you deliver a product every two weeks in iterations, so if in the first two weeks the design team falls behind it’s not a massive issue because the product could still be delivered on an engineering or infrastructure level.“
Miro is also mindful of people’s time when it comes to their events and meetings, allowing employees to join virtually or in person as is convenient, and giving the opportunity to work from home.
Promotion paths for different talents
Another facet of inclusivity becomes visible in the ways companies allow employees to advance in their hierarchies. Typically, this would involve taking up a more managerial role, which doesn’t cater to everyone’s talents or ambitions. “Personally I would be a terrible people manager. I don’t want to have the responsibility over other people’s work.“, Isabelle said. Miro allows for two different types of promotion paths for senior product designers: either as people managers, or as individual contributors. The promotions in these two different paths come with equal increases in salary. This way, it is up to each employee to decide which path suits them the best.
What does inclusivity look like at Miro externally?
Isabelle also outlined the ways that the Miro product is made accessible for users with different needs. Miro operates with four visual design principles: is the product perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust?
These principles are defined by the accessibility team and serve as guidelines for the at least 25 design teams at Miro that work on different aspects of the product.
“That many design teams?“, Willem inquired - “So for example you’d have a team that just focuses on the log-in? How is this possible?“
“We have teams that work on the presentation modes, teams that work on the building blocks, teams that work on the mobile version, on third platform integration…“, Isabelle listed.
The accessibility team also has quality engineers and product designers who create responsive designs. “For people who hear differently we have live captioning and a talking track on the board so people can hear what is being said.“, Isabelle explained. “People who see differently can use a screen reader. And people who think differently have the option to turn off timers and hide cursors and minimise motion.“
“Those are really nice expressions, to hear differently, see differently, think differently.“, Gerard remarked.
Estimating the neurodiversity percentage at Miro
“Do you have an idea about how many neurodiverse people work at Miro?“, Annelies asked. Isabelle said that she doesn’t know the percentage of neurodiverse employees, but that the interest in her autism awareness week was considerable, with 300 people joining the event. “I found out through that event that a lot of people have autistic parents or kids“, Isabelle said. Although some of the people joining were external to Miro, we ventured a rough estimate: judging from the interest in the autism awareness week around 10% of people working at Miro showed an active interest in autism.
What is your dream?
“So what is your dream? What would you ideally like to achieve?“, Annelies ambitiously asked Isabelle. “Well, my biggest goal is to run a cat hotel“, Isabelle revealed half-jokingly, but continued to say that within Miro and her work as a diversity and inclusion specialist, her goal is to inspire people to be more kind towards each other and work together without immediately judging or labelling each other.
Diversity-washing versus best practice
Victor asked how Isabelle navigates the topic of diversity-washing at Miro. Many companies only “support“ minority groups during their assigned time of year, such as Pride Month in June or Black History Month in February. “Where is Miro situated in this dilemma?“, Victor wanted to know.
“We get feedback about this kind of thing telling us to please not do that.“, Isabelle confirmed. “I believe that companies should be non-political in their diversity and inclusion statements. What a company can do is not to change the whole of society but to create an environment that allows people to work with each other with respect.“, she elaborated.
Gerard added: “It’s about examples of best practice. When you just have good practice - as a company, a political party, a school, organisation or whatever, and you know how to publish about that, then you won’t have any problems.“
Hiring neurodiverse people for their strengths
“I’m still curious“, Willem said: “How do you look at the possibility or challenge to employ more neurodiverse colleagues at Miro? People at Miro do a lot of meticulous detailed work, so I can imagine that neurodiverse people would be an asset to the company. I’m curious about how the upsides of neurodivergence could be valued by companies like Miro.“
“It’s something that’s really beginning.“, Isabelle replied. With the diversity and inclusivity team now in place, Miro is ready to support new neurodiverse colleagues. However, Miro is not actively seeking out neurodiverse people in the recruitment process, since it is up to each candidate whether or not they want to share information about something like an autism diagnosis.
This kind of thinking about hiring neue-diverse people for their special talents can also be detrimental, Victor pointed out, and could lead to stereotyping and pressure on neue-diverse people to be especially good at their supposed characteristic traits. “One thing I like about this group“, he said referring to our roundtable guests, “is that it broadens the possibilities for people with different neurowiring. I always feel more included when spaces focus on needs and at the same time the talents that are specific to you, rather than the group you belong to.“
Finally, we thanked Isabelle for her insightful presentation and reflections on her practice at Miro.