Today Dropbox Design is thrilled to introduce the Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit. Like the other Culture Kits we’ve shared with the community, this one is here to help channel your creativity and inspire new ways of working.

This time we’ve ventured into the complex space of how to build more diverse and inclusive cultures. The lens of design is what distinguishes this kit from the many excellent resources that already exist for diversity and inclusion. When designing, we ask questions, define problems, and explore a range of solutions. We work alone and collaborate with others and iterate as we go. This kit suggests a similar practice when building culture.

This is also the first kit developed by 3D (Diverse Dropbox Design), an initiative a few of us started at Dropbox in 2018. Like the origins of 3D, at the heart of this kit are personal experiences. So in addition to exercises, you’ll find essays and quotes by Dropbox Design leaders, practitioners, and partners alike, offering a range of voices and perspectives. There’s no question that the topic of diversity and inclusion is a deeply personal one, even—and especially—as it impacts our professional lives.

A solo exercise
Quote
 Essay

Images in order from top to bottom: A solo exercise, Nicole Lavelle; Quote, Deepa Iyer; Essay, Alastair Simpson.

The material is organized in three parts. While each section can be used on its own, ideally the kit is experienced as a progression, a sort of journey that begins with self-exploration (Solo Exercises), then moves into team activities (Team Workshop), and ends with putting new discoveries into action (Onward).

So in that spirit and style, here’s my personal take on how the kit and 3D came to be.

Solo Part

Solo

Tech was not my first career. By the time I was hired for my first UX writing role, I’d worked in publishing and theater. I was edging out of my 30s. And as a parent, a woman, and a Latina, I didn’t see many people around me at work who were going through the same things I was going through.

It seemed clear that I did not belong. And yet I did, in large part because I was edging out of my 30s. Because I’d had careers outside of tech. Because I was a parent, a woman, and a Latina who’d spent a long time exploring these facets of my identity—and recognized that they made me a better designer and partner to my colleagues. I claimed that space of belonging because I saw the value my unique perspective brought to design work.

But that confidence didn’t come overnight, and I didn’t feel it every day. It developed over many years and after a long stretch of time deeply assimilating, as my parents had as Cuban immigrants. Though my first language was Spanish and I was always proud of where my family came from, it wasn’t until I arrived at the vast campus of the University of Michigan that I unpacked what that history meant to me—and why it was important to celebrate it, particularly around others who did not understand why it mattered.

Team Part Exercise

Team

By the time I joined Dropbox Design nearly two decades later, plenty of things marked me as different. But it was the awareness of those differences that also motivated me to co-found 3D, sparked by an experience at a leadership retreat.

I was one of about 20 Black and Latinx Dropboxers invited to spend three days at a beautiful campus to do deep thinking about what we brought to the table as leaders. As I looked around the room that first day, I noticed only two of us were representing the Design team—myself and Tere Hernandez, a design researcher.

We are both Latinx—there were no Black designers in attendance and no one from the product design discipline, which at the time was about 90 people in a total design org of 140. Of course, industry-wide those numbers weren’t unusual, but in part because Dropbox felt like a place where change was possible, Tere and I started talking about what we could do as individuals to help our design team do better.

Clockwise from top: Roxy Aliaga, Michelle Morrison, Wes O’Haire, Tere Hernandez
Clockwise from top: Roxy Aliaga, Michelle Morrison, Wes O’Haire, Tere Hernandez.

At the same time, Dropbox product designer Wes O’Haire was exploring personal outreach—his tweet offering a week of mentorship lunches with Black designers got a huge response and eventually led him to design and launch the online directory Blacks Who Design. And so Wes, Tere, and I got together to share our ideas of what 3D could be. When we linked up with community and design operations maven Michelle Morrison, our programming hit a new level.

Front and back of downloadable 3D quick tips by Wes O’Haire and Roxanna Aliaga.
Front and back of downloadable 3D quick tips by Wes O’Haire and Roxanna Aliaga.

We didn’t really know what we were doing—but we knew it mattered. Not because diverse teams are statistically more innovative (which they are) or outperform less diverse teams (which they do), but because this issue was incredibly personal to each of us. We each had a story to tell about why we’d been drawn to create change. Those personal stories were the foundation of 3D and in fact became one of its first programs. At every Design All Hands, we encouraged a designer to share their story along with a tip of the month—a small action that could be taken in a few minutes to cultivate inclusion within our team.

Part 3: Onward

Onward

Those small and mighty actions continued to grow, and so did 3D—from the awareness of not seeing enough diversity on the Design team, to an idea taking root and being championed by four people, to a bona fide initiative with 14 team members and Dropbox VP of Design Alastair Simpson as our executive sponsor.

The programming evolved, too. In the fall of 2019 we took on one of our most ambitious endeavors to date: Wes and I, along with researcher Jennifer Brook, created a diversity and inclusion workshop aimed at designers. In 2020 we adapted the workshop for Zoom audiences, and now with the dedicated efforts of many talented people—in particular program manager Deepa Iyer and designer Nicole Lavelle—we’ve adapted it again for this kit.

Original Diversity & Inclusion workshop at Dropbox NYC October 2019

Original Diversity & Inclusion workshop at Dropbox NYC October 2019 by Roxanna Aliaga

Zoom version of Diversity & Inclusion workshop at Tapia conference September 2020

Zoom version of Diversity & Inclusion workshop at Tapia conference September 2020 by Roxanna Aliaga

I’d like to say that after 3D’s efforts, we now have a robustly diverse design team at Dropbox. But I can’t. Like most things, change requires consistent effort—seeds take time to sprout. Taking a step in that direction is something I personally commit to each day, because it’s personal.

So whether this kit is your step toward self-exploration or a spark for change within your workplace, know that it matters. Change starts with the individual. There’s a quote by Spanish poet and playwright Antonio Machado that captures it well: Caminante, no hay camino / Se hace camino al andar. Translation: Traveler, there is no path / The path is made by walking.

That’s the beauty and wonder of design, too—sometimes you have to move forward before you know where you’re headed. So walk on and plant those seeds along the way. Let’s see what we can all grow together.

You can download the full kit here.

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