Diversity is a hot topic in modern business. But many make the mistake of thinking that it is just restricted to women in the workplace, or flexibility for working mothers, when in reality the umbrella covers a much wider range.
If you’re considering crafting a diversity strategy for your business, knowing where to start can seem like an overwhelming task.
Aubrey Blanche is the head of diversity and inclusion at Atlassian. Personally, she identifies as an LGTBQI Hispanic American woman. Professionally, she is an endless resource of knowledge about how businesses can implement and succeed at diversity and inclusion.
1. Start small
Rather than some grand gesture, Blanche says small things consistently can make a huge difference overall.
“If you’re thinking ‘I have to solve structural inequality’, like anyone would have an anxiety attack trying to figure out how to do that,” she says.
“But when you’re like, ‘Oh, I can name my conference rooms in a way that highlights both men and women’… it can be little things like that, that make a difference, which is cool because it makes the whole process of creating an inclusive workplace feel a lot more possible.
“We’re in the process of updating our bathroom signage in one of our San Francisco offices.
“We had two single cell bathrooms and our experienced team took the gender signs off and just put all gender on both of them. It’s those little tiny things that any company can implement. It’s not rocket science, it just takes a little bit of thoughtfulness. There are certainly higher order programmes that you can do but I think those things are what matter the most to people day-to-day. It’s how do you remove those little moments where they question whether they belong?”
2. Think broadly
“I think in all of the markets where the tech industry is starting to talk about diversity, they tend to start with gender diversity. And I think the reason for that is because everyone knows someone who is female, right? It’s what feels easier, to sort of pick one group and start there.
“But I actually think that’s the wrong approach, and the reason for that is because if you really focus on that one group, you end up with two bad outcomes. One is, everybody who’s not in that group feels like you don’t care about them. And then two, you tend to build programmes for the largest group within the category (of) women.
“So in the US that would be white women, who certainly need additional support but you end up then further leaving out women who have different identities or needs. So what we’ve tried to do at Atlassian is actually talk more about the concept of intersectionality, it’s a really huge word that just means than everybody has a bunch of layers. We all wear a lot of hats.
“The idea is if you actually start with this idea of intersectionality, it influences your strategy… and then when you’re building specific programmes you’re always asking ‘who am I leaving out?’
“Maybe you are building a women’s programme, that you want to think about the way that women have other, maybe marginalised identities. Maybe they’re LGBTI women, or they’re women of colour or they’re immigrant women or they’re Muslim women. You can say okay, how can I imagine that this might sit with them and you can actually build with them in mind. Then the programme becomes, it still supports white women but you’re also supporting all these other women as well, right?
“So you end up with a win for everyone as opposed to a win for the smaller group. But by embracing the complexity it actually becomes a lot easier.”
3. Don’t just provide the answers
“Encourage people to ask a lot of questions as opposed to provide a lot of answers,” says Blanche.
She says by opening up the dialogue, and giving people a space to express their needs, they’re going to do the hard work for you.
“People will start showing up and telling you what that diversity is. I don’t have to think of it in my head because people will tell me if I have created the space for them, what’s important to them. And it’s really exciting because it means that someone who maybe has never connected with a diversity and inclusion programme before (are suddenly involved).
“Maybe they’re a white man who’s straight, and they’re ‘oh that’s not about me’, but they’re also over 50 and so suddenly (they are included).”
4. Treat people as individuals
“There’s a great line that our co-founder Scott said, which is people come to Atlassian not having had equal opportunities but we don’t have to passively comply with that, right? So we can intentionally create equal opportunity, but that doesn’t mean giving everyone the same thing.”
Blanche, who is a petite woman, explains: “It’s a silly analogy but my colleague Dom Price is really tall. And so if you treated us equally and we were both trying to get a glass off the top shelf, we would have very different outcomes. If we were both given a stepstool, Dom doesn’t need it but I’m very small and so I do.
“So the way an equal opportunity would work is that I would get a stepstool because that’s the barrier that I have. But if he was trying to do something else maybe I would have an advantage, then he would need support to do that.”
5. Back up your decisions with data
“The way to make sure something is fair… is you really need to get down to the data,” Blanche says. “Look at the numbers and see what’s happening.
“We have more ability than ever before to measure what’s happening in companies in a really statistical, significant way, that can guide and say, maybe there’s an inefficiency here that we can fix. If you take that mindset that we’re actually optimising our company and optimising our teams so that they can do amazing work… it’s suddenly it’s a lot more exciting.”
6. Don’t hire to fill a quota
“People say, ‘how do I hire more women without taking gender into account in my hiring?’ I think that’s a totally legitimate question and it’s really common. My answer is you don’t have to.
“Atlassian is proof we don’t take gender into account but we’ve moved from hiring about 10% women in our technical roles three years ago, to our latest graduate class being 57% women. We didn’t do that with a quota.
“Instead we looked at the process and we said, are we actually reaching those women, are we branding ourselves in a way that they know it would be a great place for them? Are we ensuring that our evaluation process is objective for people no matter what background they come from? By asking those questions, it turns out that we were able to even that out without ever saying, we must have a certain percentage of women.”
The company has a standardised interview process, whereby everyone who is applying for a job at Atlassian gets the same treatment, no matter who they are, or which job they are applying for.
*The author travelled to Barcelona as a guest of Atlassian.
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