In this keynote from #mtpcon San Francisco, Kathy Pham reflects on the importance of asking societal and ethical questions in product organizations and asks how teams and companies can be more accountable in the future.
Kathy, who is a Fellow at Mozilla, Harvard, and MIT with over 15 years’ tech experience in product, engineering, data and leadership, asserts that product and ethics are increasingly important in a progressive society – the stakes are rising.
She ascribes a lack of accountability for unethical or poor product decisions and says harmful products are still being released, at the cost of losing consumer trust (and unfortunately sometimes human lives).
Kathy asks several questions:
- Do we truly understand the community we’re building for?
- Where and how do we store data?
- If we deliver a “cool” product, how does the tool mine user information and who is actually responsible for it?
- How can the issue of failed or poorly designed services that can lead to issues of human rights, justice and ethical concerns be addressed?
To see your blindspots, as product team members, leaders and organizations, everyone needs to be accountable and empowered. Kathy highlights a previous #mtpcon speaker, Mariah Hay who said: “I will be 200% accountable, know my blind spots, and I will not allow my product to be weaponized.”
Kathy shares three insights for product teams: tech ethics is not new, power exists with the builders, and honor expertise.
1. Tech Ethics is not new
As tech products become more complex, deep-seated ethical questions and learnings are coming to the fore. While no one can control and plan everything that will happen, what can product teams do today to mitigate risk? Kathy says we need to start from the bottom-up: firstly with the builders.
2. Power Lies With the Builders
While company hierarchies always exist, the real power when developing a product lies with a product team’s ability to ask about the implications of societal impact. For metrics, the team can dig deeper in daily standups by asking the questions not being asked. In A/B testing, if one method is less secure, what are the real implications of the test? Is one group being disadvantaged over another? When deep-dive metric findings become more concerning, it is best to call on the experts.
3. Honor Expertise
As product teams grow and attract talent from different backgrounds and industries, companies should build dedicated all-star teams for social good. Kathy references – in AirBNB’s attempt to combat racism in 2016 by dedicating a permanent product team to fight bias and promote diversity.
We can all agree, says Kathy, it is unfortunate that these types of expert teams have to be built in order to fix product blindspots. It is, however, a step in the right direction. Our uncertain world needs product teams and companies to take accountability for their actions and prioritize societal risk mitigation.