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How Text-to-Speech Technology Can Help Improve Diversity and Inclusion in Business

November 17, 2022 by Amy Foxwell
How Text-to-Speech Technology Supports Diversity & Inclusion

You don’t need a bottom-line justification to invest in diversity and inclusion (D&I) at your workplace. The ethical imperative is enough. But, for the record, there are powerful business benefits of successful D&I work.

Put simply, more diverse companies perform better than their monolithic peers. Just consider these statistics from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

  • Companies that improve diversity and inclusion are 36% more profitable than those that don’t.
  • They have a performance advantage of 35% compared to less diverse competitors.
  • Diverse businesses have 19% higher innovation revenues (income generated by new or revamped products/services).

Confronting inequality in the workplace is by no means a simple task. We’re pushing against powerful socio-historical currents, strengthened over centuries. We must all start by tending to our own industries. At ReadSpeaker, that means considering the role of text-to-speech (TTS) technology—AI voices that provide instant audio for written texts—in the broader drive toward more equitable and inclusive business operations.

While no one technology can solve the complex challenges of D&I alone, TTS is an important part of the toolkit. Today, we’ll look at how speech technology helps to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Text to Speech, Diversity, & Inclusion: Making the Connection

For help with our investigation into how technology can be used to address diversity and inclusion, we turned to Michelle Arentz, fractional Chief Learning Officer and founder of Lazarus Learning, LLC. Arentz has been incorporating D&I into corporate learning scenarios for years, but the issue became particularly prominent following the racial justice movements of 2020.

That year, Arentz attended a forum for HR and learning professionals, where D&I became a major topic of discussion.

“The conversation turned to the need for finding ways to incorporate more D&I into their practices,” Arentz recalled. “I found this refreshing, but it was also agreed that this was not an easy fix—or a fast one.”

Arentz left the forum with a conviction that, while comprehensive D&I efforts are crucial, many companies are better off starting small.

“The easiest place to start, perhaps, is with some of the less obvious but equally important aspects of D&I,” Arentz said. “Take stock of how a company handles things like an employee’s or customer’s ability to understand their messages and materials. Are their needs for both visual and auditory input being met?”

If not, TTS provides a powerful solution. Here’s how.

 

The Benefits of Text to Speech for Diversity & Inclusion

The wide-reaching diversity of today’s workforce—and consumer base—should change the way we approach corporate communication. Too many employers assume everyone can see words on a screen, speak the same language, or learn just fine by reading alone. These assumptions leave many employees and would-be customers behind, including people with:

  • Vision loss
  • Reading challenges
  • Learning or developmental disabilities
  • Different first languages
  • Low literacy
  • Technology struggles
  • Minds that retain audio information better than text alone

To create a more inclusive business, Arentz said, we must avoid the easy assumption that everyone experiences the world the same way.

“How do you level the playing field for a lot of people who have been marginalized or left in the shadows?” she said. “What’s it like to need a level of assistance that the rest of us take for granted?”

By adding TTS to all your digital communication channels, you extend an invitation to increasingly broad populations. Young people are coming to expect TTS, simply because they grew up with it in their social media channels. Older adults find voice-user interfaces more intuitive than proliferating touchscreen controls. Across generations, TTS is helpful for a diverse range of populations—and supporting all their needs is the essence of inclusion.

Drilling deeper into the specifics, however, TTS provides the following D&I benefits for organizations:

 

1. Improved Accessibility for Employees and Customers

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires most employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” that allow people with disabilities to get hired, perform job functions, and participate fully in workplace activities. For many people with vision impairment, learning disabilities, and reading disorders like dyslexia, TTS is just such a reasonable accommodation.

You can wait for an employee to request a reasonable accommodation, provide it, and stay compliant with the ADA. But this reactive approach to accessibility isn’t the best way to meet D&I goals. Instead, plan to provide accessibility features from the start, without waiting to be asked. It’s simple enough to install TTS products in workplace systems, making it a standard feature wherever employees communicate.

This approach follows the principle of universal design, in which you build systems to be broadly accessible from the ground up. Such a commitment attracts a more diverse workforce and ensures equal access to the work itself, improving D&I across the board.

“Accessibility should be baked into the design in the first place, and I think there are more movements for that today,” Arentz said. “We should build things from scratch in ways that don’t have to be retrofitted for somebody later.” Text to speech in corporate communication channels accomplishes this goal.

 

2. Greater Representation for Diverse Audiences

When people interact with digital media—including corporate communication channels— they ask a few questions, Arentz said.

“Do I hear my voice in this? Do these voices sound anything like me?” she said. “We want to be reflected in the world. Do people feel that their voices are reflected in your systems?”

For the greatest D&I gains, choose a TTS provider that offers voices in a wide range of languages, dialects, speaking styles, and gender expressions. This allows employees to see themselves reflected in your business, which creates a more inclusive environment. That’s true both for internal channels, like a company intranet, and engagement with consumers, like websites, apps, and advertisements. You can use TTS in both domains.

 

3. Universal Inclusion Through the Curb-Cut Effect

While TTS can be a valuable accessibility tool, its benefits extend to populations without disabilities, too—and that broadens the notion of who gets included when we talk about inclusion. You may install TTS to accommodate employees with vision loss, but it can also help busy, multi-tasking employees who might listen to a report while traveling (and that’s just one example among many).

Accessibility features have a way of improving society for everyone, a dynamic known as the curb-cut effect. The term comes from the widespread addition of curb cuts and ramps in public pedestrian spaces, which arrived in the wake of the ADA, signed into law in 1990. These curb cuts were built to improve access for people who used wheelchairs. Soon, however, everyone was using them: parents with strollers, people on crutches, skateboarders, anyone in a hurry.

Where TTS becomes an option, a similar process unfolds. People find novel ways to use the technology, and everyone benefits—a big step in the direction of universal inclusion for employees and customers alike.

“Your customers are always going to be very diverse. Are you making it harder or easier for people to succeed?” Arentz said. “Text to speech can help make it easier for people to succeed, either as your customer or as your employee.”

Ready to see how text to speech improves diversity and inclusion at your workplace?

Contact ReadSpeaker for a TTS demo
A business woman smiles while holding a tablet in her hands

 

About Michelle Arentz

Photo of Michelle Arentz

With degrees in Communication Studies and Education, learning has been an integral part of Michelle’s life. Having woven a career tapestry over the past 20+ years that has moved between corporate learning and development and public education, for her, it’s a calling, not just a career. With many years’ experience in content, course, and program design and delivery, making learning engaging and meaningful is her mission. Sharing her love of facilitating and teaching, she has reached a wide range of audiences, from high school students to manufacturing plant workers to corporate leaders, both domestically and abroad. Now operating as an independent consultant and instructional designer in her business, Michelle blends her skills and passion for skill and knowledge advancement in the service of clients who wish to improve the life-long learning journey of themselves and their employees.

 

About Lazarus Learning

Lazarus Learning Logo

Lazarus Learning LLC was inspired by Michelle’s desire to ‘breathe new life’ into learning content, resurrecting existing materials clients may have, or creating it from scratch. Years of experience in learning and development proved that while many have great knowledge and abilities, it’s not always evident in the materials they have. Everyone benefits when given access to enriched and engaging learning materials and experiences, and Michelle is determined to help rid the world of “death by PowerPoint” as she applies her talents to learning and development projects.

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