The importance of the humanities in inclusive innovation
Asking the right questions at the start of every development and design phase of a product is critical to inclusive innovation.
Asking the right questions at the start of every development and design phase of a product is critical to inclusive innovation.By Samantha Estoesta, (MA '15, Honours BA '13) Faculty of Arts
Samantha Estoesta (She/her) (Honours BA '13) is an equity in innovation advocate, a design thinking facilitator, a product manager and a mother. With over a decade of experience in equity, diversity, and inclusion advocacy, she centers her efforts on creating experiences that elicit a sense of belonging. She has been at TD since 2017, exploring ways to infuse equitable decisions into innovation processes, leading to her promotion as Project Manager, Social Innovation Specialization in 2022. When she's not indexing more resources on the Equity Resource Hub or busy helping to create a more equitable world, you can find her walking the trails around Downtown Kitchener with her husband (Justin), daughter (Morgan), and Shiba Inu-Jindo mix (Rosie).
When I chat with co-op students and mention that I have a bachelor's degree from the University of Waterloo, I usually let them go through the gambit of engineering and mathematics programs before I share that my major was Peace and Conflict Studies with a double minor in Sociology and Legal Studies.
Yes, I work for TD Bank Group. Yes, I am a Project Manager. Yes, I work in Innovation.
But my roots in innovation started with REAP, an off-campus, open innovation lab led by retired faculty Dr. Dave Goodwin and Dr. Jill Tomasson Goodwin who believed in the necessity of having an interdisciplinary, humanities-centered approach to innovation. Our teams had students from every single faculty, mentored by some of the best in the Region. I was taught design thinking by the ever-missed Dr. Linda Carson – a systems-thinker who compelled all around her to think of those at the margins. This foundation – the understanding for how to innovate for the margins – solidified my passion for inclusive innovation.
I work with sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and technologists; we utilize Equity Considerations as we work through our innovation process. Some of my favourite conversations delve into theory and methodology, from psychologically safe collaboration to arts-based inquiry. No matter what humanities program is our academic background, we are grounded in inclusive innovation.
Introducing the right questions at the right stages of design is critical to inclusive innovation. Applying the concepts of inclusion and equity at the start of every development and design phase is a core element 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. And beyond just using this in our work at TD, we launched the Equity Resource Hub to the public in 2022.
When you interact with the Equity Resource Hub, the intersections of technology and humanities are everywhere. "Incorporating an equity lens is a tangible way to consider the unique challenges and impacts on different societal groups and incorporate these learnings directly into design and development. The goal of doing this work is to create experiences that elicit a sense of belonging from all current and potential users, reflecting their unique needs, motivations, and past experiences."
This is a goal shared by many companies, customers, and colleagues across industries. The TD Equity, Diversity & Inclusion survey, which polled 1,501 Canadian adults on their opinions about corporate equity practices inMay 2022, reveals that inclusion has an undeniable role to play from the perspective of customers and employees: most Canadians polled prefer to do business with (71 per cent) or work for (73 per cent), businesses that have strong equity, inclusion, and diversity practices. Among younger Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 surveyed, 79 per cent say they prefer to engage with businesses that have strong equity, inclusion, and diversity practices.
Launching a public version of the Hub wasn't just a transparency measure but an inclusivity measure. As graduates of the Humanities, we ask ourselves: If we know that inclusive innovation can be a shared goal, and if we know that there are barriers to inclusive innovation practices, why not remove the barriers? There lies the importance: the Humanities seek to identify the barriers – and you can't have inclusive innovation without the removal of barriers to access.
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is co-ordinated within the Office of Indigenous Relations.