Women in UX: Meet the Diversity Advocate at the Frontline of UX
Introducing Women in UX, a new series from Adobe XD profiling women in UX and the issues and subjects that matter to them most. To kick things off, we’re chatting with Fiona Yeung, a designer at Google who says Silicon Valley has turned her into an advocate for diversity.
Fiona Yeung, a designer on Google’s Material Design team, found herself on NBC news after Google employees in the Bay Area staged a rally against the immigration controversy which occurred in late January. The rally was not an official Google event, instead it was organized by one of Google’s engineers, and yet it spread up the coastline like wildfire, stretching from Google offices in Mountain View all the way up to Seattle.
It was just another way for Yeung to express her commitment to advocating for diversity, whether that takes place on the front lines of a rally or the front end of a user experience.
“I felt like it was important to show support for those who are being affected,” Yeung told us in the days following the rally. “Especially since I’m not even American.”
Yeung hails from from Toronto, Canada, but currently calls California home. She’s also young, female and of Chinese-Taiwanese descent. Her advocacy efforts came as a result of living in Silicon Valley and experiencing the diversity struggle firsthand, something she says she took for granted in her native land.
“Being from Canada, I feel like diversity is one of our greatest strengths. It’s always been really special to be different, to be true to your own race or ethnicity. I think we really value that in Canada,” she said before noting that Silicon Valley is also quite special. “In California, there’s a lot of diversity in general. It is different than a lot of the other states.”
The rally united her with her coworkers while also mirroring her passion for igniting like-minded communities. When she’s not working on Material Design, Google’s in-house design language and set of guidelines that has been adopted by third party companies including Airbnb and Asana, she is the community manager of the Bay Area chapter of XX+UX. This community initiative’s mission is to help foster relationships and growth for women who work in tech and UX. It is not your standard women’s group.
Men Welcome at Women’s UX Meetups
XX+UX has five chapters including the Bay Area, Seattle, New York, Bangalore and Tel Aviv. And while there are many groups dedicated to this cause, what makes XX+UX unique is that everyone is welcome—regardless of gender.
Yes, that means men are not only welcome, but encouraged to attend these meet-ups and participate in the discussions.
“We don’t want to exclude anybody from our events. It is primarily to promote and support women and those who identify as women in UX, but without men or without opposite perspectives, we aren’t actually able to voice our concerns,” Yeung said. “If it’s only people who are dealing with the problem together, then it’s harder to actually get our voices heard.”
Yeung admits that it is still rare for men to come to the events, but has noticed that they are open to it.
“The ones who do come, generally it’s eye opening for them to be able to hear our perspective and to be more aware of what’s going on,” she said. “There is a diversity problem in race and minorities. There is a diversity problem in gender. The first step for me was awareness, which is why I think it is really important to be able to let men into our events because that provides awareness for them.”
The Silicon Lining
Being a woman and/or a minority in UX no doubt has its challenges, but Yeung says it has its advantages too. She has noticed that companies, especially in the valley, are becoming more committed to representing diversity in their organizations. In her experience, there are men listening.
“I think the great part is that if you are proactive, which I try to be, it is easier to make an impact or to voice your opinion and be heard, actually,” she said. “It’s kind of the opposite of why it sucks to be a woman sometimes. Because you are one of the few females, you do get heard more because they are concerned about expressing diversity issues, so they try extra hard to support you and give you the time that you need to express yourself.”
The rallying call of women joining together has not only helped further this, but has created a pedestal from which women can build confidence to speak up while empowering one another to succeed in what is still largely a male-dominated industry.
“Now there are all these really great communities for women who are super supportive, from all different levels, backgrounds and companies. It opens up your world a bit here,” she said.
A New Age Problem
Yeung’s position is unique in that she has worked hard and accomplished so much at such a young age. She moved to the Bay area from Canada shortly after graduating university to accept a job offer at Google, and she started that job just days after her 22nd birthday.
Now, one year later, it is not necessarily her gender, race or citizenship that makes her feel disadvantaged at times, but her age.
“The interesting thing for me that I struggle with is more of an age gap problem. I don’t know if that’s a real problem, but because I am a recent grad and everyone I work with is pretty senior, it’s been more of a struggle for me than the gender gap,” she said.
Although she says she knows these insecurities are internal and that no one explicitly has made her feel this way, the self-doubt has, at times, followed her.
“Imposter syndrome definitely was something I struggled with because I felt so new, inexperienced and young, whereas everyone has so much more experience than me. They have 10 or 20 years of extra experience, so why are they going to listen to what I have to say?”
Because, Miss Yeung, the world needs voices like yours. The world needs perspectives like yours, those of someone who works in the heart of the industry and experiences the challenges that tend to come along for the ride. The world needs people to rally together, to bring these issues to light, to support others who are going through similar struggles, whether those struggles are related to gender, race, age, or any other barriers.
Because, your voice matters.