Hilary Stephenson | Nexer Digital
Inclusion: the "I" in "ED&I", to be "included" is to feel part of something, to feel accepted. If we think about this in terms of the digital world, and as more and more parts of our lives move online it is important everyone can benefit from the internet and technology, regardless of their background or circumstance.
Enter stage right - Nexer Digital, and more specifically Hilary Stephenson, managing director and ED&I advocate. Women Rock Ambassador Charles spoke with Hilary about the importance of community engagement and having a team that can relate and are representative of the audience Nexer want to reach.
In this refreshing post, Hilary speaks candidly about the areas that need improving within Nexer in terms of ED&I but also recognises the small steps that are being made towards the end goal of being a fully inclusive, diverse workforce.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND NEXER DIGITAL?
Nexer Digital is a design and development agency with a focus on digital inclusion and social impact. We are the user experience arm of the wider Nexer Group, a Swedish-based organisation with over 2000 employees globally. We work with users to design, test and build products that we hope help people to live and work better, focusing on sectors where we can make a difference, namely health, local and central government, education, culture and heritage. This includes a number of charitable organisations, housing trusts and public sector research bodies. I started the initial UK business in 2007, building on my career and interests in usability, accessibility and user-centred content design.
WITH NEXER, HOW HAVE YOU MAINTAINED A POSITIVE D&I FOCUS WHEN GOING THROUGH RAPID GROWTH?
We’ve always had a focus on digital inclusion, from our early work in web accessibility. We’ve also chosen to work with organisations that have a social purpose, such as Mind, Diversity Role Models and Citizens Advice. This means we rely on community engagement, co-design and testing with a diverse audience to create better products and services. A natural conclusion from that was we needed a team that is representative of the audiences we seek to reach for our customers, so inclusion and intersectionality became broader concerns for us as we grew. We were finding issues in some aspects of recruitment that required some affirmative action. Our investment in a partnership with Diverse & Equal last year was just one step, but probably the most important one made in our business in recent years. From that initial boot camp, we have been able to mentor and support career changes for eight people from relevant sectors who want to move into user-centred design work. In parallel, we have made some progress with our Disability Confident employer status. We can of course do much more in both areas.
NEXER SEEMS LIKE IT’S HAD AN AWESOME JOURNEY SINCE IT WAS FOUNDED IN 2007 (THEN SIGMA). WHAT’S BEEN THE BIGGEST LEARNING FOR YOU IN THAT TIME?
That you can stay focused on the work you want to do. I’ve been given a lot of freedom to build the team, services and culture we need to focus on the sectors and causes we care about. If you can find value and friendships in your work, from colleagues to clients, it’s all a lot easier and more rewarding. That does include being bold, and honest, about the things you want to tackle, both in your own organisation and the client problems you work with. Accessibility is never done, behaviours are never truly inclusive, and user's needs clash. If you can embrace that and all the hypocrisies and missteps it might bring, while showing you have good intent, things are less stressful, generally.
WHAT’S BEEN YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT?
The team we continue to build, their enthusiasm for their specialist craft and their focus on making stuff better. I’m still proud when I watch them speak, show me something we have designed or built, raise a theme they want to explore, or simply compromise and design things collaboratively. We need to keep that.
WE GOT IN TOUCH FROM TWITTER, WHERE YOU TALKED ABOUT OWNING ANY HYPOCRISY ON ANY D&I INITIATIVE. WHAT EXACTLY DID YOU MEAN BY THIS?
I think this came from observing a reluctance in some client teams to work in the open, specifically about accessibility. Sadly, due to the very real and important legal aspects, some people are nervous about sharing what they’ve achieved, for fear of being criticised for what they still need to do. It means the good, small steps and commitments to inclusion aren’t shared, so don’t encourage others to invest. I’d favour a more open, honest approach, where gaps are acknowledged, roadmaps are shared, and apologies offered. The same applies to our own team and diversity, where we are stronger in some areas, such as LGBTQ+ inclusion, yet were falling behind in other areas. The Diverse & Equal partnership came about when we embraced some of the awkwardness around a lack of cultural diversity in our own team and in leadership roles. We also need to work harder at supporting disabled and neurodiverse colleagues so accessibility informs who we are, as well as what we do.
FINALLY, YOU ARE A VOLUNTEER AT DIVERSITY ROLE MODELS. WHO ARE THEY AND WHAT DO THEY DO?
Diversity Role Models are a UK charity that encourages inclusion and acceptance through positive LGBTQ+ storytelling. They deliver workshops, assemblies and training in schools to help people teachers and young people consider diverse families, inclusive language and reduce homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying. We have supported them with their digital strategy since they launched in 2011. They are still very much needed, as their most recent impact report highlighted that “Secondary school pupils are most likely to be bullied when they are gay or thought to be gay (42%)”. As well as supporting them in our work at Nexer, I also volunteer for them as a role model, trainer and workshop facilitator, where I share my own coming-out journey. The aim is to offer some personal insight into the experience of being a lesbian and living in a happy, same-sex relationship and raising a young family. I hope it resonates.
Thanks, Hilary you rock 🤘
Interview by Charles Hoskins