Walking the Diversity Talk

by Sandhya Nankani and Kabir Seth
November 18, 2015

Diversity in Apps eventOver the past year, the conversations around diversity in children’s media have reached a crescendo. Players and consumers have set forth a clear challenge to industries ranging from tech to publishing:

Create media and content that inspires and reflects the diverse learners—children and families—who are consuming your content.

According to Common Sense Media, 75% of all American children have access to some kind of mobile smart device and as research from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center shows, lower-income, Hispanic, and African American children consume far more media than their middle-class and white counterparts. As creators of children’s digital content, now more than ever, we have an opportunity through digital media to reach an even greater and more diverse audience than ever before. With that opportunity comes an obligation to create content that can serve as “windows, mirrors, and sliding doors” for this audience.

Exactly a year ago, we met at a weekend conference for creators of children’s interactive media. We were part of a small handful of non-white content creators in an audience of over 100 people. Because we were seated at the same table, we began talking and discovered that we had quite a bit in common. Not the least of which was that, having both grown up in the US as South Asian kids without many reflections of ourselves in the books and TV that we consumed, both of us had founded independent app development companies that are committed to addressing the diversity gap in children’s digital media.

Our conversations about the diversity gap did not end that weekend. We shared a desire to push the industry forward toward a larger commitment to diversity. Back at our respective desks, we set about searching online and in our own networks to identify initiatives around creating diverse children’s media. What we learned prompted our next steps. Pockets of conversations were happening in different industries–amongst concerned creatives, developers, publishers, marketplace shapers, educators, media mentors, and researchers. However these conversations were happening in silos and perhaps not in a coordinated public fashion.

After spending a few months talking to various players who were thinking about and working on this topic in the children’s media, a core group of us came together and Diversity in Apps (DIA) was bornDiversity in Apps is a grassroots attempt to walk the diversity talk by going beyond the buzzwords that surround diversity (inclusiveness, equity, access, multicultural, etc.) and undertaking pragmatic actions to support the creation of diverse and inclusive children’s digital media products through research, best practices, and collaboration.

At our kickoff event on November 12, 2015, we joined forces with Children’s Media Association in New York and hosted a panel discussion, entitled “We (Also) Need Diverse Apps” (#CMADiversityinApps; see the top tweets from the event at the bottom of this post).


Diversity in Apps Panel Discussion 11/12/2015 from DIApps

Our featured panelists included:

  • Liza Conrad, Head of Community at HopScotch,
  • David Grandison Jr., Startup Entrepreneur and previously an executive producer at BrainPop,
  • Darrell Robertson, Media Mentor and Branch Manager of Carroll County (MD) Public Library,
  • Kika Gilbert, Head of Community at TinyBop,
  • Dr. Kevin Clark, professor in the Learning Technologies Division of the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University, and
  • Amy Kraft, panel moderator and co-founder of Monkey Bar Collective.

The evening began with a conversation around defining diversity. Our favorite definition came from Kevin Clark who said, “Diversity comes in two parts. Diversity is about the the individual numbers in terms of who is represented. On the flip side, it is about inclusion, how the individual numbers come together to create something impactful.”

Over the course of the evening, panelists shared actionable and pragmatic tips on how to create content that truly is diverse. They included:

  1. Creating diverse content is not just about throwing some “diversity sauce” on a product in the last stage of production. Plan for the time and the budget to create inclusive content that is diverse and represents a range of learning styles, cultures, ethnicities. Do it from the beginning, plan it in the schedule, and make sure it happens.
  2. Engage with communities. By shelving our own biases and preconceived notions and truly listening to and engaging with one’s audience and “subject” will yield more authentic and organically diverse products.
  3. Build diverse creative teams. Make it a priority in your hiring decisions. That often means going outside of the network you are familiar with when it comes to hiring for your team. Doing this ensures new perspectives on your content but also now connects you to a network you were not previously aware of.
  4. Don’t hide your problems. Be transparent about the things you learn. If you make a mistake and own up to it, consumers will respect it.
  5. Teams should learn and understand stereotypes and implicit bias. Have open discussions internally so that content isn’t offensive.
  6. When creating diverse characters, focus on creating diverse experiences that reflect a range of geographies, economies, abilities, and the like.
  7. When using stock photography, take a close look at who is represented. Is it truly diverse?
  8. Think about UX experience of different audiences, including those with access and connectivity and those without.

The event was a great way to kick off the Diversity in Apps movement, but we are really at the start of our journey. What clearly emerged from the panel discussion was that when it comes to children’s media, the question on the table is not “Has diversity has lost its meaning?”; the question is “How can diversity continue to have meaning?”

Our next step as a coalition is to create a “Diversity Bechdel test,” a type of rubric that content creators and consumers can use to meet benchmarks and ensure that the product they are creating or consuming is diverse. This in turn will empower consumers to hold our industry accountable. If you are interested in being a part of this ongoing effort or leading in a bigger way, please visit our site, diversityinapps.com and join us.

Kabir Seth (co-founder Storied Myth) are Sandhya Nankani (founder, Literary Safari) are founding members of Diversity in Apps. Diversity in Apps is an interdisciplinary coalition committed to discuss the state of diversity in the children’s media industry, best practices, and the connection between child development and access to diverse and inclusive content. Join us at Facebook, Twitter, or sign-up for our mailing list.


 

 

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