What the Microsoft GLEAM Summit taught me about approaching user research with an open mind
As a user researcher with Microsoft Research + Insight (R+I), I spend a lot of time listening for and addressing people’s articulated and unarticulated needs. I believe it’s important to give time and space to reflecting before acting, and to not look at things through a predetermined filter. Even though I recognize there’s a huge push for being numbers driven, I believe it’s also important to be open to information and stories that can potentially transform you.
Recently, I’ve had the privilege of hearing my fellow queer community’s stories at the second annual Microsoft GLEAM Summit. GLEAM is one part of Microsoft’s commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community. Microsoft also shows up for this community at the Seattle Pride Parade, multiple on-campus events, and advocating for LGBTQIA+ people internally and externally through legal actions, such as partnerships with the United Nations to develop global standards that eliminate LGBTQIA+ discrimination in business.
Although GLEAM is an acronym for “Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft,” its reach spans well beyond that. There is space reserved for all gender and sexual minorities (GSM) and their allies. GLEAM is one of Microsoft’s largest global employee resource groups with more than 1,000 members around the world.
GLEAM and the expansion of diversity
I attended our summit this past April in Toronto. My motivation for going was to understand interpersonal dynamics for different groups — not just employees who identify with the GSM community, but also race and other things not readily classified as “diversity.” In my mind, diversity is much broader — it’s also about working styles, how you identify and solve problems, and how you communicate. It’s richer than what people often describe.
I met Microsoft employees from different countries who work on various products across the company. Part of my role as a quantitative user researcher is curiosity, and I wanted to understand diversity from the perspective of how we all work within the system and how we think about the customer.
The experience served as a humbling reminder that even though we all serve unique roles, understanding how to think and act as an ally is paramount because it fosters the collaboration necessary for us to create innovative solutions together. In the closing of the summit, a colleague said it best: “If we are to empower our customers around the globe to achieve more, we must empower ourselves as employees first.”
How inclusivity and diversity affect user research and help us build better products
So, what does “empowering ourselves first” look like? To me, it means creating and supporting a curious environment where people question not only others’ perspectives, but also their own. Self-reflection is key.
I might not understand each person’s individual responsibilities and educational backgrounds, but I can be mindful that my colleagues are probably not going to do everything in the way I might predict they would. Further, when I’m conducting user research, remembering this helps minimize my expectations and assumptions to allow them to bring their best. If I’m putting them in a box, so to speak, then I’m limiting the success they can achieve.
That means we must be inclusive of so many walks of life, most of which are going to be different from the employees we hire. We must be cognizant of the differences we have internally and in how we work together, but also of the things that are not represented within our colleagues. As diverse as our teams are, our customer base will always be much more diverse. We must be flexible with understanding their needs, which involves having empathy and listening. This is essential for creating products that are relevant, usable, and valuable for people across the world.
How does diversity among research subjects and your colleagues affect your work? Do you have any additional thoughts or tips? Leave a comment below, or tweet us @MicrosoftRI.