Posted: 27 May 2019 05 min. read

Exploring cultural diversity in practice

With Atlassian’s Aubrey Blanche

In this edition we have been exploring cultural diversity & inclusion practices and how this plays a critical part in any broader inclusion strategy. Atlassian is a unique case study, as an Australian technology enterprise operating globally across five continents. We met with Atlassian’s Global Head of Diversity & Belonging Aubrey Blanche, who shared her professional insights on cultural diversity, belonging and intersectionality, and further contextualised this through her own personal experience as a Latina LGBTI woman. 

She is interviewed by Adrian Letilovic, Experience Design Manager, and a member of Deloitte’s Inclusion, Diversity and Leadership Newsletter Editorial Committee. 

Atlassian is an interesting case study for cultural diversity, as an Australian organisation operating globally in seven markets, how important is it to have a strong cultural diversity strategy in your business? 

It’s a non-negotiable. I would say for Atlassian, a cultural inclusion strategy is potentially even more important for us than for many other companies our size. I say this is partly because it has been a big focus for us to keep true to our Australian heritage, and with Australia being such a multicultural nation, that celebrating cultural diversity in our own business has always been important. But also, because we operate globally with offices on five continents, we need to create an environment where anyone can thrive and contribute. 

You mentioned Atlassian’s Australian heritage and many Australian companies have shared values of egalitarianism and equality - these are broadly reflected in your organisational values. How essential are these in helping to create inclusive environments for diverse employee groups? 

Our strong organisational values were definitely one of the main reasons I decided to join Atlassian. As to why those values resonated with me, I really got a sense that it wasn’t just a case of ‘values as they’re written’. We have probably all seen situations where corporate values are for display purposes only, and not really ‘real’. One of the things I love about Atlassian is how intentional we are about baking values into everything we do: we conduct hiring interviews separately just on values; people are performance rated separately on values; we use our values as way of making decisions. So it is really exciting see people bring these to life, because they use them every day to make the company, and our customers’ experiences, better. 

What are some of the ways that Atlassian builds a culture of inclusion among its employees?

I’ll give you two answers. Lately we’ve switched from talking about diversity & inclusion to talking about balance & belonging. This switch is more than just a change in branding; it signals fundamentally what we believe. It is my view that the words “diversity” and “inclusion” have developed something of a brand positioning problem in recent years. People can read them and switch off, feeling that these words only refer to White women and Black Americans, according to the findings in our Atlassian’s 2018 State of Diversity Report. I think sometimes inclusion can feel to underrepresented communities as though they are being tacked on: as non-straight, non-White, non-men into a pre-existing space. I think it sums up nicely as people can sometimes feel like: I don’t want to be included in a space that wasn’t made for me, I want to belong in a space that was built for me. 

Every single human being has a need to belong, and connecting to that inspires individuals to take action to support those around them. 

The second reason is that companies have to be more specific and tactical when we are talking about creating inclusive cultures. It’s about giving people specific things to do that are relevant for their level. For example, we can’t ask your average mid-level manager to change the organisation’s representation of women in leadership. But we can ask them: what small thing can you do to make your team just a little bit more inclusive, so that everyone feels belonging. That will help retain female leaders, which will ultimately grow their representation in leadership.

[Editor’s note: Value and Belonging form the basis of any organisational inclusion framework, until this baseline is met, the benefits of inclusive cultures are difficult to realise – refer Deloitte’s Inclusion Maturity Model p12]

Recently at an event in Sydney, you spoke of your own experience as a Latina LGBTI woman in today’s world, and intersectionality is an increasingly discussed topic among HR practitioners and also business leaders. With this in mind, how do you think organisations can do a better job at recognising intersectionality in all employees? 

There’s a couple of things we’ve done that any organisation can try. For talent or HR folks, I suggest they design specific personas, taking into account peoples’ intersectional experiences. One of the things I do is – I often ask: how do I design, for example, for the Black LGBTI woman? And if I’ve designed really well for her, guess what, the straight White woman is also going to benefit largely from that strategy. So I would say, design for someone who is a “stress case” (an example of a case that is more challenging to solve), if you can solve that one, you solve sometimes the ones who encounter fewer structural barriers. 

The other way is to encourage broad dialogue about diversity. Internally we have discussions about what it’s like to be a working parent, a person with addiction, a woman or man or from a racial minority, transgender, etc. We have a blog in a Confluence space for this, which allows people to realise that no matter their background they have a stake in this – we have found this to be very powerful for straight White men, who often feel yelled at, as it brings them into the conversation and activates them as allies. 

In the same presentation you mentioned there are days where you feel more strongly some aspects of your intersectionality – for example some days you feel more Latina or other days more LGBTI or more woman depending on the circumstances. Can you elaborate a little more on this and how Diversity practitioners can use this insight practically? 

Yes that’s true, but also for me, I also moderate how I show up. When I’m having a really sort of direct, racial conversation about ethnicity, I might lean less on the fact that I’m Latina as it might create more distance between myself and the person I’m connecting with. So it helps me to act as an ally toward my White team mates. So in that way, I might leverage my particular identities. 

But I think that for me, there’s the other piece where I am trying to show up as who I am, AND it’s my job to create a culture where people can be authentic – so I feel sometimes that there’s a higher bar placed on me, and some days it takes more courage to bring all those parts of myself to work. Basically: how am I supposed to help other people show up as themselves, if I don’t go first?

You’re a self-professed data enthusiast – what advice would you give to other organisations who may be thinking about taking a data-driven approach to understanding diversity and inclusion within their workforce? 

Yes! I am, but I would say when it comes data – it’s really important to know what your top level goals are. What representation do you want to drive? Once you know this, it is a matter of specifically testing the impact of your initiatives. Historically, diversity initiatives have been a bit of a check box, and what was lacking was truly understanding where and how to deploy initiatives in a way that would actually move the needle. 

Often we hear people say “I want to start an employee resource group” to which I always ask why? And people say “well everyone else has an ERG”. There’s not going to be much overall impact if community and connection is actually lacking for your folks, so a diversity manager really needs to know what they’re building and why before doing it. 

To give context on what I mean by having specific targets, I’ll use an example from a women’s leadership program we piloted in Sydney. We had two guiding goals in mind: 1) we wanted to help our women feel more confident and capable; and 2) to have higher promotional velocity. 

We hit it out of the park on the first metric. What we didn’t find was that it had any meaningful accelerating impact on their advancement. So we said, OK we’re not running that program as we did before, we took the aspects that worked but went back to the drawing board on the other aspects. We had to be willing to reinvest and willing to throw out those things that might be amazing at another company but weren’t right for us. 

What’s a key focus for you and Atlassian in 2019 as you build on your D&I achievements to date.  

We’re incredibly excited about the progress that we’re making over the last year. One of the best years we’ve had in terms of improving representation. One of the biggest focusses for us bringing on more leaders from underrepresented groups. Women are 30.1% of senior leaders in our global workforce, and 19.4% of our employees in technical roles identify as women or non-binary. But still, that for us is not enough, we want to get to true gender balance and it will be a big focus for us over the next few years. 

Also just being super open about what’s working for us and what’s not, then sharing it, in the hope that we can learn from our peers and vice versa. 

At Deloitte we talk about everyday acts of inclusion, simple things that people can do to help build more inclusive teams – do you have one for our list? 

The thing that I love the most – where belonging matters the most – is in that people just want to feel valued and that their ideas are valued. So for me a big act is not allowing interruptions in your meetings – and if you’re not in charge and you can’t make the rule – simply interrupt the interrupter. You can do this in a non-confrontational way, you don’t have to sound like a jerk. For example, let’s say you, me, and Steve are talking and I interrupt him. You could simply say “Hey Aubrey, could you hold up for a second, I want to hear where Steve was going with that…” Being interrupted has an incredible impact on how valued a person feels, and so we can all be vigilant in stopping that when it happens.