One of the biggest mistakes that companies make when it comes to diversity and inclusion is only looking at it from a corporate level, according to Atlassian’s Global Head of Diversity and Belonging, Aubrey Blanche.
While corporate level data is useful for tracking overall progress, it’s not nearly specific enough in order to help identify what’s going wrong, and how you can fix it.
“That’s why we report on diversity, or balance, at the team level,” Blanche told HRD.
“We identify where folks are least likely to belong; and by focusing on the team level you empower each of your employees to make positive change.
“One of the other things we’ve found in our State of Diversity Report was that individual action around diversity inclusion fell 50% year-over-year.”
According to Blanche, the reason was because people were overwhelmed by the scale and the scope of the problem. They’re often being told things like, “Empower women,” but what does that mean?
“Does that mean buy Dove deodorant? No. So what we’ve done is by taking it at the team level and asking people to look at something they can meaningfully impact they feel empowered to do it,” said Blanche.
For example, Atlassian encourages people to implement a no interruptions rule in their meeting because that means you get better ideas on the table.
Research shows that women are three times more likely to be interrupted by speaking – not at Atlassian – that’s more broadly, according to Blanche. Moreover, the “no interruptions rule” doesn’t just benefit women.
“What about introverts? What about folks from more East Asian cultures who might not be as comfortable butting into a discussion? We’ve actually incorporated those practices into our inclusive meetings practice in the Atlassian Playbook,” said Blanche.
“I think one of the most wonderful and most difficult things about my job is that I will always be underqualified for it because diversity means literally everything.
“Instead of positioning myself as someone who knows everything, I have to be relentlessly curious about other people’s perspectives – I think the key to that is empathy.”
Blanche added that she always tells people empathy is actually a skill because you can actually grow your ability to be empathetic.
“It helps me sit down in the shoes of the people I’m supporting and advocating for – whether that’s as an American coming in and learning about the different language and perspective on these issues in Australia,” said Blanche.
“Or even thinking about, as an LGBTI woman of colour, what does it feel like to be a white man who’s experiencing these programs, and how can he feel seen and included?”
According to Blanche, when you say that you understand someone and you want to support them, that’s going to motivate them to go do the same thing for someone else.
She added that the technology industry has a reputation for not being very welcoming, but what she has found is that when you look at that gap in representation, what’s even more pervasive is that feeling that you don’t belong.
“So, when I first started in the tech industry, I loved my team. I was doing interesting work that I thought was important but was one of very few underrepresented women of colour – so black or Latino,” said Blanche.
“And then I just felt so incredibly isolated, and I didn’t talk about my culture at work. And not because anyone told me I couldn’t, but because I just didn’t see people like me. As a leader now, I always want to say, “What can I do that makes the person who comes after not have that experience but have a better one?”
According to Blanche, the Atlassian leadership team are very different in terms of age, sexual orientation, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and gender.
“But every single one of us sees the unique perspective that it brings in, and it’s incredible to be myself at work,” said Blanche.
“My dad told me I would never get a job if I had facial piercings and weird hair, and so just the fact that I can show up as I am at work is really a function of what that feeling of belonging does.
“I think it makes my work better, and hopefully it makes my collaboration with my teammates better too. And I think that’s what we want to create for everyone – no matter where they come from.”
Workplace inclusion is not a static, one-off act of service. It’s an ever-evolving experience that requires the contribution of every employee — regardless of their level of seniority in the organization — to make each other feel included.
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