How Microsoft 365 Can Encourage Diversity & Inclusion

Microsoft is extending a commitment to diversity and inclusion. These efforts are promoted in a variety of ways, not the least of which is software development and the involvement of Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs). As we look to a more technologically advanced and connected future, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that diversity and inclusion best practices must extend to include the technology and software we use. And Microsoft products, including Microsoft 365, can advance the efforts.

There has been a strong focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. And it’s a forefront discussion in society at large and especially in the preceding pandemic years. However, now it’s time to look seriously at what can be accomplished through software development and technology to further advance the efforts.

Conversations around diversity and inclusion in technology are only now starting to heat up. And there’s no denying that there are some unknowns and challenges. But one thing we can count on is for Microsoft to keep moving forward. The MS team continues with new features, patches, and updates that make their software more inclusive to people from all walks of life. And more importantly, it’s software blind to age, gender, race, disabilities, or otherwise. In many ways, the rest is up to us!

Microsoft 365, specifically, is an area of especial interest as applied to diversity and inclusion. One of the core reasons for this is because the suite of tools included in the package have remained cornerstones in Microsoft’s product line for a long time. And they remain a strong focus for the company.

Can Microsoft 365 help with diversity and inclusion? In this article, we look at:

  • What Microsoft 365 is
  • What diversity and inclusion through software looks like
  • How Microsoft is constantly making advancements in diversity and inclusion initiatives
  • How Microsoft 365 can promote diversity and inclusion
  • The benefits of diverse and inclusive software applications

What is Microsoft 365?

This bundle of cloud-based software didn’t always go by the name “Microsoft 365.” You may know it as Office 365. Of course, the product range has significantly changed (mostly updates) through the decades, especially as networks, internet, big data, and other advancements advanced.

Microsoft 365 is available for both home and business applications. There are two basic packages for home use, including Microsoft 365 Personal and Microsoft 365 Family. There are four packages for businesses, These include, Basic, Apps for business, Business Standard, and Business Premium. And they appeal to differing business needs. These are all available at slightly different price points, as well.

The range of software included depends on the plan, but is effectively made up of some combination of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Teams, Outlook, Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint, Access, Publisher, Intune, and Azure Information Protection.

Diversity & Inclusion Through Technology & Software?

The whole idea of diversity and inclusion through technology, and specifically Microsoft 365, may seem a little mercurial. After all, aren’t we essentially talking about word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation makers?

Indeed, software applications seek to handle specific digital tasks. And at first glance, they may not appear a shiny beacon for the future of humanity. 

There is a reason why there are different programs for different tasks, though. A piece of software that “does everything” sounds good in theory. But it’s impractical in reality because of the sheer scope of the project. It’s tough too, when considering the near infinite (if not infinite) possibilities that would need to be accounted for in each. This bird’s eye view of software may seem a little too zoomed out. However, it is important to understand as we look to zoom in on diversity and inclusion.

A more granular approach

Diversity and inclusion must take both broader and more granular factors into account. It’s not enough to make software that accomplishes a specific task. Developers must also be thinking about who is going to be using their software and what language or dialect they speak. Software needs to be conducive regardless of cultural or religious customs, personal beliefs, gender identity, or disability status, to be truly inclusive.

Moving forward, this will be a critical consideration for software developers. They will need to be mindful of how to ensure their software is inclusive and usable by the parties using it. As these practices become more common, and more documentation becomes available, more companies will be able to make the necessary pivots. And they’ll do so without investing more heavily in research and development. 

Until then, however, developers will need to be thorough in their research. They’ll look to, identify specific aspects of their software that need improvement, and be willing to offer ongoing support. It’s well worth documenting everything one discovers on the subject. Moreover, it could create a more holistic company manual in the future.

Microsoft is Always Making Advancements in Diversity & Inclusion Through Software

Obviously, the only way to know what’s going on behind the scenes at Microsoft is to be a Microsoft employee, or potentially a Microsoft MVP. You can look to the pillar pages on their website discussing the value they place on diversity and inclusion. Additionally, they do post the occasional update about making their software more accessible, usable, and inclusive as well.

Take for example their update from August 1, 2022, written by Aleš Holeček and titled: Promoting workplace equity through inclusive innovation: What’s new in Microsoft 365 accessibility for Summer 2022.

Here are the key points from this article:

  • Microsoft knows hybrid work (workplace/remote) is now the norm. And it will likely be the norm moving forward. They know, too, people are using video conferencing and hybrid meetings to keep their teams connected and on top of relevant work. As a result, they continue to make advancements by making Microsoft Teams meetings more inclusive to those with disabilities. At the time of the update, they added a Cameo feature in PowerPoint, for example. This feature allows users to insert a live feed into presentations. This update made it possible for everyone to connect more directly with the presenter as they’re sharing. They also added captioning and transcriptions across multiple platforms, along with multiple languages.
  • They also made some changes to Microsoft 365 allowing the creation, consumption, and collaboration of content easier and with more options. First, they made it so that Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files could be opened in the desktop app or web app, instead of inside Teams. Second, they updated dictation in Word, Outlook, and OneNote to make it easier for users to take advantage of speech-to-text and text-to-speech. They also added support for 25 new languages. Moreover, the team added a Data from Picture feature in Excel, and a Simple Markup View across a few different applications.

How Microsoft 365 is Leading the Way with Diversity & Inclusion in Technology

No doubt you can come to some of your own conclusions about how Microsoft is making progress in the arena of diversity and inclusion. We can only speculate on what’s coming next. But based on what we’ve been seeing, as well as what we know, here are some of the many ways Microsoft 365 is leading the way with diversity and inclusion in software.

Increased Accessibility

Accessibility in software means ensuring there are no barriers to accessing and using the application or suite of applications in question.

The internet, of course, makes it possible for people to access and share an array of information. And with cloud-based projects, like Microsoft 365, it has never been easier for individuals and companies to share relevant documents, data, and information with their teams or community. Anyone with an internet-connected device can utilize the software.

With Microsoft 365, the developer accounts for a variety of accessibility factors, including vision, hearing, neurodiversity, learning, mobility, and mental health.

For the vision impaired, there are screen readers and keyboard compatibility and Tell Me (which lets you access commands without using the command ribbon.) There’s also MailTip in Outlook (which lets you notify your coworkers of your preference for accessible content) and Office Lens, which can read aloud a printed page.

Users with hearing disabilities, can use real-time subtitles and captions for videos.

For the neurodiverse, there are features like Immersive Reader (which reads words aloud while highlighting them on screen), and files auto saving to OneDrive.

They also continue to develop Editor (which can spot spelling, grammatical, and writing style issues and errors), speech-to-text, automated design recommendations, themes, MyAnalytics (for keeping track of how you’re spending time at work), and more.

What we’ve covered here is only scratching the surface of the many ways Microsoft has, and is, supporting diversity and inclusion through their software.

Increased Usability

Usability is all about ensuring your software can accomplish a specific task, preferably in an efficient, satisfactory, and safe manner. Sometimes, the terms “accessibility” and “usability” are used interchangeably, or are bundled together. And form a holistic perspective, there is value in viewing these as an interconnected whole. To be fair, there is quite a bit of overlap, as you’re about to see.

Microsoft’s dedication to usability is clear from their frequent updates and usability testing alone. But there are also some features built into their software that make them more usable. Some of the built-in usability features in Microsoft 365 include.

  • Accessibility Checker. The Accessibility Checker analyzes text in your document that’s hard to read.
  • Design Ideas. Available in PowerPoint. This feature comes with built-in slide layouts that are easy for anyone to view and read.
  • Tell Me. A text field for entering what you want to do next. This feature lets you access commands without having to menu surf.

Enhanced Communication

Communication affects virtually every aspect of life, be it relationships, business, work, or otherwise. Microsoft knows this, and many of their recent software updates and enhancements focus on improving communication between an array of people.

Broadly, communication occurs synchronously and asynchronously. And communication tools like Teams and Outlook facilitate all types of communication that needs to take place between employees, at the times it needs to occur.

Again, Accessibility Checker is clearly an accessibility or usability tool. It can be used to make your content and documents easier to read and understand. And this can improve communication between various parties as well.

The aforementioned August 2022 update talked about how one can show their face while giving presentations over video conferencing. With hybrid work becoming the norm, these types of features encourage more connection and inclusiveness among presenters and viewers.

Improved Collaboration

With better accessibility and usability, as well as enhanced communication, it’s only natural that collaboration through software would also experience a revolution. Accessibility and usability makes it easier for people to understand each other and complete their projects with greater efficiency. Better communication leads to clarity around everyone’s responsibilities as well as what they’re taking on in a project. It can lead to better accountability, too.

With files stored in the cloud, users can access files from anywhere, at any time, assuming they have an internet connection. This makes it possible for globally distributed teams to make progress on the project. And they can do so without worrying about when the last change was made, or having to communicate at times that do not work for each other. They can complete their work at their convenience.

Video captions and transcripts also assist with globally distributed teams. These are helpful for those who need to communicate with synchronous or asynchronous video content.

There’s a broader talent pool on a global scale. So why should teams be limited by location, language, time zone, or other factors? With the right tools, collaborative projects can be created, managed, developed, and completed across the world. And this creates a more diverse and inclusive world, too.

Benefits of Diverse & Inclusive Software

There are many benefits to focusing on diverse and inclusive software that may not be immediately apparent. Having the entire world be empowered to use your software is a worthy ideal already, but furthering inclusivity and diversity best practices can result in many added benefits for the individual and organization. Microsoft 365 is well poised to create and enjoy many if not all of the following benefits. And their software can set you up for success in this area too.

Improved Training & Development

In fast changing industries, training and development is a constant. Employees must be brought up to speed on the latest processes, procedures, policies, and more. This can be time consuming and expensive, and there can even be pushback from employees who resist change (it’s only human.)

What if this training could be even more efficient? Diverse and inclusive software makes this possible. Present necessary information in an efficient, easily understandable format that works for everyone. Technologies like Teams are helpful to relay the information through video conferencing. Remote or hybrid workers can get the information they need without having to go to the office for a training session. These are but a few examples of what’s possible.

While it’s somewhat metaphysical, diversity and inclusion training can also be part of a company’s broader scope of training and development programs. This inspires team members to be mindful of diversity and inclusion in their own surroundings.

Increased Productivity

Diversity and inclusion isn’t just a value held by Microsoft. Increasingly, there are more and more people who feel strongly about including everyone, no matter their age, race, gender, identity, disability status, or otherwise. And this trend will only continue to grow.

When a workplace is truly diverse and inclusive, everyone on the team feels welcome. When people feel appreciated, their satisfaction in the workplace increases. And they also become more engaged in the company’s broader scope of activities.

You may know the names of your team members, but not their talents, skills, expertise, experience, perspectives, or working styles. Getting to know your team and having them be a part of meetings, projects, and decision making can lead to new insights and innovation (more on this later.) Facilitating their specific working styles can also lead to better output.

When everyone is given the opportunity to contribute and share, it can also give rise to friendly competition among your team members. This drives up output, as well.

Effectively, all factors mentioned contribute to increased productivity, something most leaders want for their teams.

Better Decision Making

More eyes on a project means more opportunities to identify potential pitfalls, issues, problems, and challenges that may end up cropping up down the line. Early detection of these issues means earlier resolution. And this leads to fewer headaches later.

This isn’t just theory. Cloverpop found that diverse and inclusive teams make better business decisions 87% of the time.

While it may seem like asking for more feedback on a project would slow down the decision making process, to the contrary, it accelerates it. And most projects can benefit from different ways of thinking, varying perspectives, and various skill sets.

Technology makes it easy to gather thoughts, opinions, and ideas from your team and collate them in a convenient location, whether in an Excel spreadsheet, Word document, or otherwise.

Increased Creativity & Innovation

Technology is at the forefront of innovation. Amazon and eCommerce weren’t even possible before the internet. Renting your home out to strangers was an obscure idea before Airbnb. Taxis were your only mode of transportation if you were in a bind, until smartphones made it more convenient to book an Uber.

With Microsoft constantly updating their software with new features, various individuals and companies are taking on projects with increased complexity, sophistication, and scope that were once unimaginable. 

Technology becomes more accessible and usable, It means more and more people will be creating at a level that was impossible just years ago.

Employee Engagement

With hybrid and remote work becoming more prevalent, many companies are now pondering how to improve employee engagement. It’s not just a matter of ensuring they are doing the work assigned and keeping productivity levels high. Turnover, onboarding, and training can also be very expensive. Dissatisfied employees also sometimes lead to negative press or toxic work environments. And this is never a good color on a company that holds diversity and inclusion as a key value.

With Microsoft 365’s suite of tools, hosting virtual events is a cinch. These can offer valuable opportunities for your team to connect and bond. They are also great opportunities to acknowledge and recognize your team members. Reward them and incentivize them, too.

Community Outreach

Companies benefit greatly from having an outward focus on community. Not that community outreach programs are the sole responsibility of companies. Of course, individuals can take initiative and make a difference in their locality and even globally, too.

Either way, the use of technology in fundraising campaigns or volunteering activities is such a given that most people don’t even think about it anymore. But from keeping track of funds raised using Excel, or writing letters using Word, or sending emails via Outlook, there are many ways to put Microsoft 365 to use in fulfilling community outreach programs. Plus, you can keep it all organized inside Teams.

Community outreach is a form of diversity and inclusion unto itself. Again, metaphysical, perhaps, but it goes to show the prevalence of software and how it can ultimately be used for the better of humanity.

Conclusion about Windows 365

Moving forward, it will not be enough for companies to pay lip service to diversity and inclusion. Actions must be taken to ensure there is an inclusive and welcoming environment in one’s organization for people from all walks of life. Not just employees, but customers and clients too.

Microsoft 365’s suite of tools can assist in a variety of ways, whether video conferencing, text-to-speech, data collection, or otherwise. You can put confidence in Microsoft’s products knowing that they were developed with diversity and inclusion in mind. And that takes a lot of guesswork out of the equation.

This article is but the tip of the iceberg. There are so many projects, initiatives, and programs that could be created using Microsoft 365 to encourage and promote more diversity and inclusion. Especially since the software is being developed with intentionality around inclusive principles. There’s plenty of room left for creativity and innovation. It’s simply a matter of applying yourself to a more diverse and inclusive future.

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