For Samantha Estoesta, helping to make the products and services of a major financial institution more equitable and inclusive isn't about creating massive change overnight; it's about incremental changes that build to real and sustainable results.
It was this thinking that led to the development of a new tool created by TD Lab – an innovation group within TD that collaborates with businesses across the Bank – that is designed to help incorporate the unique perspectives and experiences of different community groups into the design and development of TD products and services.
The new tool is known as the Equity Resource Hub, and it is a platform that was first made accessible to anyone within TD but is now available to individuals and organizations outside the bank, for free, via open-source access.
The Hub houses a repeatable process for addressing unconscious bias at all stages of innovation, and was created to help design customer products and services that meet the needs of all TD customers by introducing personas that reflect the needs of a wide variety of potential end users.
"Introducing the right questions at the right stages of design is critical to inclusive innovation," said Samantha Estoesta, Manager, Equity in Innovation and Programs, whose role at TD is to apply the concepts of inclusion and equity at the start of every development and design phase of TD Lab's customer experience research and projects.
"Essentially what we're doing is helping to highlight traditionally underserved, or underrepresented individuals in our design and development processes at every stage to innovate in a way to better support diverse communities."
Bringing an "Equity Lens" to innovation and beyond
Work on the Equity Resource Hub began in July of 2020, when the TD Lab team started to look at the role equity played within its own teams. While Estoesta's team knew that elements of equity, diversity and inclusion were already a part of the organization's talent, recruitment efforts and culture, the group began to wonder how they could bring those same principles to the Bank's innovation efforts at TD Lab.
"We started to think about how we could put this kind of thinking into our early-stage design and development process," Estoesta said.
What started out as a process for their own team became the basis for the Hub itself, Estoesta said.
The idea was to provide TD colleagues with a checklist to help them apply an "equity lens" to the development of new products, services, and procedures, towards meeting the organization's inclusiveness standards.
The Hub includes a five-step process that starts by applying a problem statement to different community groups. The intent is to actively ensure that during the development process, teams are not inadvertently limiting potential target audiences based on their own personal and professional experiences.
This approach helps lead to the creation of more diverse, inclusive, and equitable personas that can be used in the design and development process – either during early ideation or in later stage production – so that the needs of all possible users are considered. The Hub also suggests specific questions and considerations around areas including: Race and Immigration Status, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, and Ability and Accessibility.
For example, a TD analyst could use the Hub to consult a series of processes and checklists including equity considerations during the research phase of innovation. During a later phase, a marketing colleague could use the Hub to create more inclusive personas that are better representative of underrepresented groups.
"We also wanted the Hub to be a resource to help people with “equity talk”," Estoesta said.
"When you do equity work, there's a lot of new vernacular language that can make the work overwhelming. So, we built a glossary into the Hub, as well as a variety of learning courses and other resources, to help make the work more manageable."
Already making a difference
The Hub was initially piloted with success in projects across TD. In one instance involving undergraduate students, the Hub revealed the need for an additional seven net new personas to better reflect the diversity of undergraduate students (e.g., racialized, persons with disabilities, 2SLGBTQ+), and the nearly 500,000 international students studying at Canadian institutions. This deeper understanding of potential site users is reflected both in revisions to visual site design and functionality to support user needs.
As an active member of the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR), TD launched a second phase of the pilot offering CILAR member organizations, including large technology, financial services and consulting firms the opportunity to test the tool on their own projects and provide feedback.
In June 2022, TD announced it would offer open-source access to the Equity Resource Hub, making it available to any individual or business, in the hopes of supporting inclusive innovation across industries.
"It's exciting to think about the broader impact to be had by making this tool available to organizations that support inclusion and diversity as a pillar of innovation," Estoesta said.
A warm welcome within TD
Estoesta said that one of the most rewarding effects of creating the Hub has been watching it receive a warm welcome by TD colleagues as it rolls out across TD.
"Every TD employee that I've shown this to or talked to about it has always been supportive," she said. "They all say 'Yes, how do I do it, and let's go for it.' It's a fantastic feeling to know that, as an organization, everyone wants to help create a more equitable future."
Estoesta said that the TD colleagues she's spoken with are often eager to make their work more inclusive, but don't always know how to go about doing it.
"Especially if they don't have the equity work background to know where to start," she said. "This tool can provide a starting point to help you further your efforts."
Estoesta said she believes that with initiatives like the Hub, TD Lab is helping promote diversity for the greater good, not just within the walls of TD.
"We're focused on creating TD products and services that can elicit a sense of belonging for everyone," she said.
"And we can't elicit that sense of belonging unless we design inclusively for our customers by addressing as many of the nuances of their own lived experiences as possible and by thinking about them within the context of why those experiences exist."