Guiding an EdTech company to embrace inclusivity in culture and content creation

Development of a robust Diversity, Equity and Inclusion glossary for entire company and creative guidelines to empower creative teams to build more inclusive content.

Client
Babbel
Services
Toolkit Development
Date
2021
Industry
EdTech

Summary

Challenge: Revamp diversity, inclusion and equity creative guidelines
Results: Rollout of 150+ page guidelines that have strengthened internal diversity values, informed recruitment practices and served as the go-to reference and benchmark for content creation
The introduction of DE&I guidelines mark a key milestone in Babbel's pursuit of fair practices and the adoption of a mindset that fosters and promotes Diversity and Inclusion. It is the well crafted result of months of collaboration between different teams at Babbel, and a major learning journey for all involved.

I have witnessed work that focuses on collaboration, mutual respect, learning, and on simplifying DE&I conversations that can still be complex and awkward to many. It will help us look at diversity from an objective perspective, rather than personal opinions on the topic.

- Ana Cavalcanti,
former Head of Creative Operations

The cover and table of contents of the guide

The Client and Business Challenge

Babbel is a market-leading online language learning ecosystem and the world’s most sold language learning app, reaching the benchmark of more than 10 million subscriptions sold. Babbel is driven by its purpose: creating mutual understanding through language. Babbel’s ecosystem consists of a language learning app, grounded in an expert-led learning methodology, that has sold millions of subscriptions; Babbel Live virtual classes; award-winning Babbel Podcasts; and Babbel for Business.

Babbel's unique learning method

As an expert in inclusive design and content creation, I was enlisted to help a cross-functional core team revamp the company’s existing diversity, equity and inclusion creative guidelines, which lacked depth, clarity and and applicability.

The goal of the revamp was to transform the guidelines into a training guide and a universally agreed-upon reference to empower Marketing, Didactic and Product teams to:

  • Build their knowledge on the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Confidently create inclusive content that celebrates and depicts diversity authentically
  • More easily discuss diversity, equity and inclusion related questions within their teams
  • Effectively navigate conversations, resolve conflicts and clarify uncertainties as it relates to inclusive content creation and diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Clarify the internal and external positioning of the company on the subject of diversity, equity and inclusion

Kicking off with needs assessment and an internal audit

I started the project with numerous exchanges with Thomas Liano, the project lead from Creative Ops, and a cross-functional core project team comprised of:

  • Julia Chanter (Didactics)
  • Erin O'Loughlin (Product)
  • Dylan Lyons (Babbel Impact)
  • Vitor Shereiber (Didactics)
  • Maria Sicilia (Creative Operations)
  • Stephanie Wright (Didactics)

In my assessment, I dug deep into the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, policies, as well as workflows and processes around content creation for the Marketing, Didactic and Product teams. I then carried out a comprehensive audit of Babbel’s assets, training materials and internal documentation, which were collected from across various internal departments with the help of the project lead.

Assets included language lessons with text, visual and audio content, podcasts, videos, articles, photos and illustrations

This diagnostic exercise enabled me to identify use cases and practical applications of the guidelines, assess the inclusivity of existing content and source relevant internal examples. The end output of this phase was a robust table of contents.

Extensive primary and secondary research

To anchor the guidelines in industry best practices, I conducted extensive research across hundreds of secondary sources, experts, and users. This included:

  1. A deep review and synthesis of industry materials, including diversity style guides, diversity and inclusion training, inclusive marketing playbooks and guides and published research among many others.
  2. Interviews with inclusion and language experts, all with experience with language learning, across intersectional identities, areas of expertise and lived experiences and geographies.
  3. One-on-one interviews and feedback sessions with a panel of 5 language learners across intersectional identities (disability, race, ethnicity, geography, age, gender).
    These sessions helped me to understand the needs and expectations in representation, gauge the relevance of best practices and test a selection of best practices and examples. All research participants were fairly compensated and trauma-informed practices were employed to create a safe, inclusive and equitable research experience.

Experts consulted included: Max Masure (gender identity, inclusive design), Jourdan Saunders (race, disability, speech language pathology and inclusive branding) from The Disability Key, Irina Rusakova (neurodiversity, inclusive research and design) and Dwight Howard Vom Hofe (race and ethnicity, language learning)

Iterative development of robust guide

I proposed a phased approach with three separate drafts for the guidelines within a rapid timespan of just a month. I collaborated with the project lead, Thomas Liano, to develop a streamlined feedback collection process with the core team and with a panel of 20+ internal reviewers from across the company.

Each phase included two rounds of feedback collection, which enabled incremental progress in a highly collaborative and time-efficient manner. In the final draft, I used crisp visual formatting for a consistent look and feel throughout the guidelines and for ease in navigability. I also carried out extensive copywriting to make the language accessible to any type of content creator and to match Babbel’s brand voice and tone (conversational and guiding).

A snapshot from the DEI glossary

The end result was a robust 150+ page living document that will be deployed across all Creative teams to support content creation and more broadly across the company for training purposes. Contents include:

  • Foundations of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: an in-depth introduction and glossary on topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Authentic Representation and Storytelling: guiding principles for inclusive content creation and nearly 100 best practices with relevant examples across text, image, audio and video content
  • Navigating Workflows & Communications: high-level workflow recommendations on goal setting, process management across pre-production, production and post-production, collaboration, decision-making and external communication
  • Resource Library: a curated selection of additional resources, partners and collaborators
A snapshot of best practices on representation of body type, appearance, and disabilities

Outcomes

The guidelines have been met with very positive feedback from all contributors across all levels of seniority and were successfully rolled out. In the months following the rollout, the guidelines have: 

  • Served as a key milestone in the company’s pursuit and adoption of DEI values
  • Led to measurable commitments to DEI by content teams (quotas, internal audits, diversification of freelancer pools)
  • Became a go-to reference and benchmark for content creation and recruitment practices for freelancers as well as internal and external hires
  • Inspired the development of a DEI legal addendum in contracts with creative partners
  • Increased creative teams’ confidence in openly discussing DEI-related topics
  • Spurred regular dialogue on inclusive content creation between creative teams and DEI ambassadors

Select Testimonials

“In the last months, I have worked with Sandra on the full revamp and reconception of Babbel’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Creative Guidelines. Chosen for her polyvalent experience in DE&I and inclusive design, along with her in-depth understanding of tech’s content production, Sandra has exceeded all of her promises. Meticulous writer and excellent researcher, she has convincingly synthesised hundreds of sources into a clear document, that kept the nuances of each topic, without becoming wordy or academic. She has also been a pleasure to work with! 

Collaborative, open to feedback and great at making the most of them, she has not only produced a document fully tailored to Babbel’s needs, but she has also done so while keeping the document's final impact in mind, and while balancing the numerous feedbacks and requirements of more than 20 internal reviewers. I would warmly recommend her for any similar project!
- Thomas Liano, Project Lead, Creative Ops
"Sandra’s work with our team was excellent. She spent a lot of time on understanding our needs, and questioning the brief, so that we could articulate better what kind of outcomes we actually needed. One of Sandra’s strengths is how responsive and open she is. Her expertise in her domain shone through, but she also continuously gathered input and feedback from our wide group of stakeholders and was responsive and thoughtful to people’s doubts, differences of opinion or questions.

The outcome is a comprehensive yet action-oriented set of guidelines that has widespread support from a large and diverse group of internal stakeholders." 


- Erin O'Loughlin, former Senior UX Writer

"Working with Sandra on the Babbel’s DE&I creative guidelines was an excellent experience in all aspects of it. Her knowledge of DE&I topics is solid and not restricted to the US perspective. This is particularly valuable for Babbel as a company working with language teaching. Communication with her was consistently efficient, and that was crucial for the success of a large, complex project like this. I’d undoubtedly work with her again." 
- Vitor Shereiber, Senior Project Manager, Didactics
Congratulations on such rich and excellent guidelines. Thanks for the great work you’ve done on collecting all examples and articulating all concepts so well.”
- Marina Segarra, Senior Brand Manager
Services

Take a closer look at how we can work together.

I help teams align their business practices with their values by harnessing the power of inclusive design. All it takes is an openness to change and a willingness to evolve your culture and practices.
"I strongly recommend Sandra for any job that requires strong analytical skills, an innovative mindset and leadership."
Muy Cheng Peich, Libraries without Borders