Diversity & inclusion5 min read

Why the word ‘diversity’ is blocking our progress

“Culture Fit is one of the worst talent concepts that’s ever been invented. I genuinely cannot understand why we would invent a concept that was basically anti-innovation.”

Aubrey Blanche, head of diversity and belonging at Atlassian, believes most businesses seeking to diversify are doing it backwards.

In fact, data has shown that even just the word ‘diversity’ can have a negative effect on equity and fairness in the workplace.

Instead, Aubrey focuses on building ‘balanced teams’, looking for specific behaviours such as a commitment to candor and transparency and thinking about those around you.

Here’s a preview of just some of the brilliant insight Aubrey shared on the latest episode of the Inclusion Works podcast.

Inclusion Works Episode 14 with Aubrey Blanche

Atlassian did some research last year; we do a globally representative survey called the State of Diversity report, a globally representative survey that looks at attitudes and behaviors towards what we are calling ‘diversity and inclusion’ in the tech industry.

And it turns out what we found was that the data and those labels that we were using for the field were actually getting in the way of progress.

So the word diversity, I believe is actually a substantial blocker to us making progress on equity and fairness in the workplace.

Our survey found that the word diversity specifically was associated primarily with only two groups – white women and black Americans. Even in our home country of Australia, more Australians were likely to say that African Americans were ‘diverse’ than indigenous Australians. And so what we realised was that the word diversity was incredibly narrow.

It didn’t take into account people with disabilities. What about caregivers, folks with military backgrounds? And we also found that it meant that the words diverse and diversity with it didn’t have anything to do with people from majority groups. And that’s a problem.

Because what we need is folks from majority groups to engage in dismantling these structures of power.

And so we actually shifted to talking about building balanced teams. And the reason we made that shift was because frankly, it just actually encompasses our goal. We want to build teams that are balanced in terms of the people, their identities on those teams and their life experiences. Because we know that when we build that balanced team, they’re going to be more innovative. The individuals are happier, right? It leads to all sorts of great business outcomes.

Inclusion vs Belonging

I usually say that inclusion just isn’t good enough. Inclusion sort of assumes that I want to be able to show up in these traditional spaces, which really have been built for, in many cases, straight white, cisgender men. And the fact is, I don’t want to be a tack-on to that space.

You know, I don’t show up that way. That’s not how I want to project my power. Instead, I have to be in a space where I belong, a space that was built for me in the first place where I was considered ahead of time.

Psychological literature says that any human wants to belong and I think that by using that language that resonates so deeply, we actually create something that’s a little bit more about ‘we’ and about building a team.

Whereas I think with diversity and inclusion, the language has almost become divisive – and so it’s time for us to evolve to use language that’s more connective and collaborative.

What tips can you give listeners on how we engage everyone in building healthier team environments? And what were some ways you went about embedding these new behaviours, these practical actions and little mini tips across Atlassian?

There's like 500,000 tiny little bullets that you have to shoot all at the same time.

I’ll give you a couple of examples just because the fact is that in this work there’s not really one silver bullet, right?  There are 500,000 tiny little bullets that you have to shoot all at the same time. So when I think about how to build belonging, I think it first starts with space and at Atlassian our workplace experience team is so incredible; they look after our office spaces and our cultural events in our offices. They’re really, really thoughtful about the little signals that they’re sending to people, that create a feeling of ‘you belong here’.

I sit in our San Francisco office; this building opened up last November and in the centre of each of our floors you’ll see an all-gender restroom. Our signage doesn’t actually have any depictions of people on them; the ‘men’s’ room just has a picture of a toilet and urinal. And that was done to make sure that everyone who walks in gets a signal that we’re thoughtful about including our trans teammates.

Or we have reflection rooms and parents rooms in every office so that folks realize that they belong here and that we want them to bring their authentic self into their workplace.

And then I think there are larger sort of structural process pieces that companies also have to tackle. And that’s where I think most companies get stuck.

Everyone is in love with the concept of culture fit and culture fit is not only frankly I think one of the worst talent concepts that’s ever been invented, but I genuinely cannot understand why we would invent a concept that was basically anti-innovation and highly discriminatory. So instead at Atlassian we interview for something that we call values alignment.

So we’re not selecting for culture fit, we’re selecting for folks who want to work in a way that we think is collaborative and that is positive and additive to our culture – but doesn’t assume that a person needs to fit a perfect mold. Just that they are willing to go above and beyond to support and help their colleagues. And you can learn those skills and you can demonstrate them whether you are running a global P and L function or whether you are just getting your kids to soccer and dance and putting dinner on the table.

For more top tips to build balanced teams from Aubrey Blanche, download the Inclusion Works podcast in your favourite podcast app or by visiting the Inclusion Works page on our website.

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