Video of the Week: Aubrey Blanche–Scaling Walls: The Barriers to Female Representation and How Atlassian is Eliminating Them
There’s little doubt technology has a diversity challenge. There’s a lot of conversation about why that might be – although less about what we might do about it, particularly in terms of specific action.
Aubrey Blanche from Atlassian spends her life thinking about this, and developing programs and practices to address it. In this highly regarded session from this year’s Direction conference, Aubrey went into detail about what they have done – specific actionable practices – to help achieve some quite remarkable outcomes.
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– – Alright so we’re gonna do this without slides today, which is probably great for you because I am not a visual designer.
I am in fact an organizational designer.
So thank you for the lovely introduction, I am actually quite thrilled to be here today.
It’s not often that I get to talk at, sort of, design conferences and things like that, so it’s really fun to have a new type of audience.
But I am Atlassian’s global head of diversity and inclusion, and what that means, my dad often says what do you do, why do you get paid? It’s okay, right, like I get that question at least twice a week.
But my job is to help Atlassian more effectively attract, recruit, retain, and develop people from traditionally under-represented groups.
Or put another way, to design a company that creates equal access to opportunity for every person who walks through our doors.
And the reason that that’s important is because it turns out that companies are actually quite bad at this, and the tech industry itself is actually really bad at it, and doesn’t necessarily know why.
But it turns out that understanding why that happens means that we can design to overcome it.
In the same way that we’re talking about what online harassment looks like, we can design organizations to mitigate the things that don’t work, and to encourage the types of behaviors and decision-making that does.
So the place I like to start here, is to think about why.
So why don’t we see women in technology, in the same way that we see them in a population.
They make up half of planet earth, roughly.
Probably a little bit less if you think about non-binary folks in there as well.
But it turns out there’s a few hypotheses about why this is.
Things like women don’t like science and math.
They’re just not interested in computers.
And it turns out that those are not valuable hypotheses because the data doesn’t show us that’s true.
So it turns out that there are points along what I call the talent funnel, from the time that folks are tiny children, that actually cause women to opt out of working in technology.
And that there are things that we can do to overcome them.
So, alright here’s my other slides.
I’m sorry, these are the wrong slides, but that’s okay.
So one of the first things that I hear about the tech industry, and the sort of belief that we have about ourselves is that tech is a meritocracy, and I’m here to tell you that is not true.
It actually turns out, research shows that when we have a belief, that the systems that we engage in, that is they are meritocratic, the more that we believe that, the less likely they are to be meritocratic, and the less likely we are to believe claims of bias and discrimination.
It’s something we call the paradox of meritocracy.
An amazing researcher, Castilla and Benard, published a study earlier this year, I absolutely, it’s called The Paradox of Meritocracy, check it out.
But what they showed is that when companies added the ideas of meritocracy into their company mission statements, that individuals actually engaged in more biased behavior.
So the first thing we have to do is reframe meritocracy as something that exists, and embrace a growth mindset about it.
Say it is something that we can build.
It is something that we can achieve, and it is something that we can do together.
So starting all the way back, I wanna talk about why girls opt out.
And it starts in 1985.
So it turns out about that time, personal computers started being marketed to people.
And it turns out that they were mostly marketed to boys and men.
Which means that parents bought their sons computers.
That gave boys a 10 year head start.
So in the eighties, you saw in the US that more than 40% of computer science degrees were given to women.
And over the last 20 years, we’ve seen women’s representation in engineering and STEM fields begin to come to parity with men, except for computer science.
And so, we can’t assume that fundamental computer science concepts are uninteresting to women because we have historical data that they’re not.
In fact, the first computer programmer was a women.
Grace Hopper invented COBOL.
Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr actually invented the technology that now powers Bluetooth and WiFi, right.
We have a hidden history of women in computing.
And it turns out that when that advertising came out, it not only gave boys a 10 year head start on learning hacking and how computers worked and things like that, but it also made girls believe that computers were not a thing for them.
Socialization is incredibly powerful.
It motivates the choices we make, even if there aren’t strict rules about what we’re allowed to choose, it turns out that, well, horses have to bolt to that kind of influence.
So you see that.
You see girls that are suddenly stereotyped as not.
We have stereotypes about who techies are.
We see them as this sort of lone wolf person, maybe hacking in a basement somewhere.
And there are certainly those people, and if they find that great, that’s awesome, but it turns out that there are lots of other types of people in the world.
And by painting this sort of monolithic idea of who tech is, if someone doesn’t identify with that type of a lifestyle, they’re gonna opt out of that career.
So the advertising, the way we’ve done it, I don’t have the slide for you today, but if you can Google it, Newsweek just did a cover last year, where they show the titans of Silicon Valley, and every single one of them was a white man.
And I love white men, they’re great, my dad is one of them.
Right, lots more in my family too.
I’m actually mixed race, so I’m like, the left half of me is white.
It was a joke, right, bad jokes.
But imagine what that means.
You’re implicitly telling people, and our brains are very plastic.
So we actually start to learn rules, like what types of people are allowed to do things.
And so this media and this advertising environment, and the stereotypes that we rely on, the fact that we talk about beer and pizza instead of things like comprehensive healthcare and flexible work environments.
Right? All of those things are great.
So we need to change the way that we advertise and the way that we brand, so that we paint a broad inclusive picture of who tech is, what tech is, and who it can be.
Because that’s gonna help to opt in.
That’s a long term play.
Next, talking about bias.
So unconscious bias is like the buzzword right now in diversity and inclusion.
Which makes me really excited because I am a perpetually recovering social scientist, so anyone that actually wants to talk about psychology is really exciting to me.
But it turns out that unconscious bias affects us in so many ways, it’s crazy.
I could throw up 15 studies in a couple of minutes for you about the way that it causes us to actually evaluate the skills of women in technical roles less, compared to their male counterparts.
This is true for black individuals, for people who are Latino, disabled.
And so what happens, is that women actually face higher barriers to entry.
My personal research actually shows that when we removed names from coding screens that a company I was at previously, when the names were there, men were 1/3 more likely to get a phone screen interview when we controlled for the quality of the code.
And we controlled for it by using the same code and putting a different name on it.
Right, identical down to the character.
And when we rebuilt our internal tech systems to actually get rid of that identifying information, that gender based pattern disappeared.
Right, that’s really really powerful.
And, so thinking about the ways that we conduct people processes, the way that we evaluate it, and how we design those environments to limit the application of the bias that we have as human beings is incredibly critical.
Because it turns out that if you’re at a tech company, you probably know that you’re in a war for talent right now.
It is really hard to find technical people.
I think someone told me yesterday that there are one million cyber security jobs in the world that there is no one to fill.
And that’s becoming even more critical.
And that’s just one specialty.
So, the third thing is culture.
So there are lots and lots of research and hypotheses about why women leave.
Because it turns out that by 10 years into their career in technology, 56% of women opt out.
The comparable statistic for men is 17%.
And these women often don’t leave technical roles, but they go to other industries where they can do technical jobs.
And there are hypotheses around raising children, and things like that, but it turns out that when you actually ask the women why they left, they will tell you it is a culture that they didn’t feel like they could thrive in, and where they weren’t going to get oppurtunities to succeed.
That’s pretty great right, this is amazing survey tool we have, just ask people what their opinions are.
So it turns out that, you know, even me, I’m a 28 year old woman in tech, like I don’t wanna work in a frat house.
And a lot of start ups in Silicon Valley, that’s the culture that they create.
But it turns out that culture is malleable, so that’s another problem that we need to address if we’re trying to address that gap.
So they’re kinda the broad things, that’s the doom and gloom portion of the talk.
Now we’re gonna talk about what Atlassian is doing about that.
So it turns out that a lot of these changes that we make are also not expensive.
So doing smart diversity and inclusion is about smart organizational design that gives your company better talent, but also it is a more efficient process for everyone.
So that’s really great.
I guess before I talk about exactly why we’ve made all of those changes, I wanna talk about why diversity, why it’s valuable.
‘Cause I do a lot of this coaching.
So what we see, is that when we have diverse teams, they perform better.
So people with cognitive diversity, or difference with perspective and backgrounds, when they work together, their individual IQs actually go up.
So those diverse teams are greater than the sum of their parts.
Companies that are more diverse are significantly more likely to out-perform their more homogeneous peers.
Mackenzie estimates that gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to have greater financial performance, and ethnically or culturally diverse companies are 35% more likely to be in that top quintile of financial performance.
So if you have any equity in your companies, diversity is good for your bank account.
It turns out also that diversity is the mechanism that drives a host of other things that we care about as a business.
So, people on diverse teams are happier, they’re more productive, they’re more innovative, they perform better on logical and creative tasks.
Companies have greater retention, individuals have greater emotional commitment to colleagues.
Right, like who’s all in for that? Me, for sure.
And so when I think about it, diversity is not the end goal, it is the mechanism by which we achieve all of this greatness.
And, that’s important because it’s not something we inherently seek out as individuals.
We as people have something called strong like-me bias.
I usually think, you know, we like people like ourselves, like our friends.
But it turns out that being around people like ourselves all the time doesn’t make us great.
So now talking a little bit about Atlassian.
So I came on board about a year and a half ago, so June 1st of last year.
And I kind of said, what is reality today? And reality was, there was an incredible group of people that are really other-oriented, really passionate, and wanted to know how to make a difference, but nothing was built yet.
And it turns out that that was great because it meant that we could build things the right way the first time.
And so we had to decided where we wanted to start because Rome was not built in a day, and you cannot completely change the composition of your workforce in a year because firing half your employees do to that seems like a really stupid business decision.
So we said let’s start with our graduates in Sydney because one, it’s a very controlled process, we recruit all of our graduates at the same time, they start at the same time.
So we’re in this lucky phase, we’re about to open our recs for the summer for grads to start in January.
Let’s look at everything we’re doing, what we’re doing wrong, and why.
So the first part of that project was utterly terrifying.
We pulled, we had just opened our recs for our intern and grad class in January, and we had exactly zero female applicants.
It is really really hard to hire women when you don’t have any applications from them.
Right, like, radical honesty here.
And so we said, okay, this is, we are literally starting at ground zero.
What are we gonna do about it? And so we said well there are lots of hypotheses about what’s going on, wrong.
Why don’t we have any inbound applications? What kind of sourcing are we doing? So we started at the basics.
We know that women have something that we call the confidence gap.
So that means when women and men are equally qualified, women are actually less likely to rate themselves highly.
Like women will not call themselves experts, they call themselves specialists.
Right, all the women in the room are like, yeah totally, that’s me.
Me too, like I freak out about the word expert.
I’m trying to embrace it, do that behavioral modeling.
But, we said okay, maybe there’s a confidence gap, maybe they just don’t feel comfortable applying to Atlassian.
So we sent our recruiters out to the women in tech groups at USydney, at UNSW, and other unis where we know that they have strong computer science programs.
We hosted breakfasts, and we literally just had our recruiters talk to the women about the fact that in their experience, women tend to opt out of applying even when we think that they have strong applications that are very competitive.
That’s free, it’s easy.
But it turns out that women sometimes need that encouragement because throughout their lives, they’ve been told that they’re less capable at computer science, which means they’re more susceptible to when they fail once, to fall prey to that confirmation bias.
So when they put in their application, they wanna really make sure that it’s gonna land, and they’re going to guarantee they can be successful.
We wanted to interrupt that pattern, and say throw your hat in the ring.
A lot of you maybe have heard the statistic for job applications that men will apply when they have about 30% of the requirements, and women will apply when they have about 80% of the requirements.
Actual research that’s done, and I can tell you that that is true, I have stopped doing that.
I applied for my job having two out of the nine requirements on the list, look they gave me the job.
But so that’s a silly problem, it’s an information problem, and it’s a free problem to solve.
So in addition to going out and coaching these women that we thought would be fantastic additions to Atlassian, we also said we need to re-position our employer branding.
We need to make sure that passive people, who are encountering information about Atlassian, can see themselves there, and can see a value in applying.
So we did a complete overhaul of our careers site.
We looked at the images we were using and the language, and it wasn’t about, like we have snacks and pizza, and, you know, beer on Fridays and that’s great, wine if you’re not into beer.
And we kept that stuff, but we also brought out things like, we’re a really collaborative work environment.
We talk about things like flexible work policies.
We made sure that women of all cultural backgrounds were depicted in the images that are on our website.
Because we wanted people to opt in, to feel like they were gonna be included, and like they might have a place at Atlassian when they clicked on that button.
The next thing we did was fundamentally changed our job ads.
So we know that the drop out rate for people from minority backgrounds is significant after you have more than five requirements on your jobs.
And that most companies write their job ads, is this like wish list of a unicorn person who doesn’t actually exist.
Stop doing that.
It’s really really bad for you.
It turns out that the more that you do that, the less quality candidates you get as passive applications.
So counter-intuitively, it works against.
So we actually instituted new rules.
We started using an amazing machine learning tool called Textio to both surface high impact, positive words, and remove gender bias from the language in our job descriptions.
It turns out that women don’t tend to associate themselves with words like “rockstar”, or “guru”, or “ninja”, and also in our experience, rockstars come in at 11 and are really terrible at building software.
So we remove stuff like that.
We don’t say “killer perks”, we say “collaborative work environment.” Why? Because that’s actually more true about what we do, how we work at Atlassian.
So, all of our grad jobs now only have three requirements, and all of them are skills-based, and not experience-based.
So rather than saying something like, “Bachelors degree in computer science,” we say “experience and ability of building high quality software.” Why? Because it turns out that things like what uni you went to, there’s a lot of structural factors that tell you whether you’re gonna get a computer science degree.
In fact, in the United States, the number one predictor of whether you attend a top 25 university is how much money your parents make.
It has nothing to do with your skills and abilities.
Obviously our education system is a little bit different over there.
But we recognize that even for people, we’ve seen folks from the LGBTI community who are more likely to have family issues.
They’re less likely to have the formal degrees and certifications that traditional job ads have on them.
And again, we know that if they’re requirements that people can’t meet, that’s not great.
So, why not? Think about the ability that you want the person to have, not the very narrow way that one person might acquire that skill.
I’ve seen the other things is experience in a start up environment.
Well it turns out there’s really strong selection effects of who actually makes it into a start up in the first place.
So why don’t you say instead, “ability to work in an ambiguous and collaborative “environment at high speed with changing priorities.” Right? That’s actually what you mean.
So just say what you mean.
Because there’s a lot of people, you know, IBM has this really amazing design lab right, where it’s kind of start up-y.
And so maybe someone’s at IBM, which doesn’t necessarily fit with people who might enjoy working in a high growth company, but it turns out that they might have the skills that are an amazing addition to your team.
So be specific and be thoughtful.
Think of the requirements on your job ads as the lowest bar to entry.
The basic things that I need you to be able to do on day one when you sit down at your desk, and everything else is coachable and learnable.
Because you will get incredibly different set of candidates.
So that was a big thing for us.
Just changing our job ads.
That sounds really basic right? So that’s the top of the funnel.
And then, it went into well, we know that unconscious bias affects the way that we evaluate people.
And we know that our process may not be perfect.
So how do we remove the bias? Or how do we make our evaluation processes as objective as they possibly can be? And, so we start at the top.
What’s the first impression we have of a candidate? The first thing that we do for every candidate is they receive a coding test.
And because my research shows that when humans grade those coding tests, we’re subject to bias.
We just had a computer grade it.
Just spits our a raw score for us.
And we came up with a measure of what score a candidate needed in order to move forward to the phone screen portion of our interview.
It turns out that it also takes a ton of work off of our recruiters.
It means that we can access more talent more quickly, and that we can really bring, sort of those high quality folks into the funnel when we start investing those people resources in it, which is pretty great.
Then we said well what about our evaluation processes? So we did a bunch of research about what types of interviewing, and what types of structures of interviews actually results in more objectivity, and what problems we expected.
We expected minorities to experience perhaps more in interview environments than people who have majority group identities.
So we actually re-designed our entire evaluation process to use structured behavioral interviewing.
So if you’ve read Laszlo Bock’s book, who’s the former VP of People at Google, he talks about the fact that one, interviewing is hard, and people are terrible at it.
We are really really bad at evaluating whether people are good at anything.
As human beings, so we’re all in this together.
But structured behavioral interviewing is, has I think it’s like R equals point three four, something like that, predictive power, on whether someone is gonna be successful.
And so what structural behavior interviewing is, is that we have a structured set of questions for each role, and we make sure that each candidate is give the same set of questions.
We try to hire for different facets, so we look at things like technical ability, but also their leadership potential.
And we ejected culture fit from our vocabulary, and from our evaluation processes.
And the reason for that is, culture fit is actually just this weird intractable moras of unconscious bias.
So, that’s no good for anybody.
So again, structural behavioral interviewing, and then we changed to something we call values fit.
So, talking about the bad side of culture fit, it turns out that research shows that when we have something in common with the candidate, even if it’s completely orthogonal to the skills required for a role, we tend to have this halo effect of them.
Maybe they’re just wearing a blue jacket that we really like.
Or research in the financial industry has shown that for people who play the same sport as their interviewer in college, they’re four times more likely to be described as a culture fit.
I am totally into rowing and I watch it in the Olympics, but it does not help me create beautiful products.
So…right? Everyone’s like yeah, you’re saying such sensible things.
And so what we did is we said that’s stupid.
At Atlassian, if you know anything about our company, or you can Google it and please do, we have a set of five company values.
And a lot of companies talk about that, but I can tell you I am still quite shocked at how much people refer to them in the middle of their days.
It’s like, well I don’t, I’m trying to balance this, so our company values are open company no bullshit, it’s one of the reasons why I’m actually here talking to you all, is because everything we learn about our people and the way that we build teams, everyone else should know.
You should learn from our failures and our successes, so you can take them and build brilliant, beautiful things with you.
The second is build with heart and balance.
So we believe in bringing your whole self to work, and balancing those things.
That’s everything from your work-life balance to the composition of our teams.
And then the third is, and pardon my language, don’t fuck the customer.
So what that is, is our commitment to empathy and to putting our customer’s needs first, even when it means making hard business decisions.
And it turns out that because we know diversity drives innovation, diversity has to be a part of that conversation.
The fourth one, which is my personal favorite value, is play, as a team.
So, there’s a little comma after play, which we care a lot about.
But what it means is that we can have joy and happiness when we come to work.
And, but we are always a team, we are always together.
You will hear our founders, if you ever hear them, they will talk about the fact that we do not believe in the lone genius.
We believe that everything beautiful and wonderful in the world has been built by groups of people with a shared purpose.
And our last one is be the change you seek.
And that is our commitment to allowing people to build a better Atlassian.
We tell everyone every week our new starters, that Scott says, we hired Atlassian, hired you at Atlassian so that you could change Atlassian.
We don’t want you to keep it the same.
And so we found that that concept of culture fit was boxing us in.
The idea that we were describing our culture as a little box that it could fit in rather than the sort of amorphous growing thing.
But we care about our values.
Our values never change.
Our culture simply reflects the different types of Atlassians that we have here.
So we developed a set of behavioral questions that we believe answer the things that we wanna know.
Is this person collaborative? Do they show an initiative to help the people around them? Do they prefer to work in a transparent, open information by default environment? And, really really simple questions.
My favorite, I like to ask people, are you kind? Right, everyone looks at me like I’m crazy, I’m like it’s not a trick question.
Right, but if you’ve never thought about it, we probably have a problem.
Right, like if you’ve never though about being nice to another person, you will not do well at Atlassian.
I have to be like, look this is a co-interview.
But, it’s so easy, values fit, things like one of the questions that I always use, have you ever worked on a dysfunctional team? Why was that dysfunctional? Talk to me about what you, talk to me about your role within that team, and what you did to help alleviate that dysfunction.
And then we have a rubric.
A strong answer is someone who understands their role within their team, and did what they could, within the context of their role to help.
They did something.
They don’t have to do a specific thing.
But we’re looking for that quality.
A poor answer is someone who says, I just put my head down.
Because, and maybe helping was, I realized there was nothing I could do, and so I looked to change.
Right, that’s okay, that’s an okay answer.
Because we’re looking at your analysis of your ability to create change, and then you’re taking initiative you wanna go somewhere that you can.
So things like that have helped us hire a completely different group of people.
And, so right, values fit.
If your company is super stuck on culture, that’s totally okay, but I have two suggestions for you.
The first is, when someone says something culture fit, your first question should be what do you mean by that? Articulate what you mean.
Because sometimes that’s based on bias, and sometimes there are actual data points.
It also turns out that not using the word culture fit protects you from a lot of lawsuits.
Right, that’s like a side benefit.
So we look at diversity inclusion from a opportunity prospective, and the compliance will take care of itself.
Right, or the legal team deals with it.
But, right, so culture fit, don’t use it, but use culture add.
So your culture question should be what does this person bring to my team that we currently don’t have? That will help you select for diversity.
So, that’s a pretty basic set of things that we’ve done, right? And the reason it’s so important is because many people, when they think about doing this diversity work, they actually think about quotas.
How do we manipulate the hiring numbers? How do we get more women into the organization? If we’re focused on women.
As a side note, at Atlassian, we actually believe that diversity is inter-sectional, and so our focus on women and oppurtunities for them is only one small part of our larger diversity strategy.
That’s important that we never think that diversity’s just about women, it’s about all of us.
Turns out 1% can’t be diverse.
So, yeah, it’s, you can’t change the hiring numbers because what you’re doing is manipulating the wrong part of the system.
Right, X causes Y, and quota manipulates Y, without actually dealing with the deficiencies in X, and the problems with the mechanism by which X transforms into Y.
So what we did, is we changed X and we changed the mechanism.
And, when I tell you it works, I promise you it works.
When I came on board at Atlassian a year and a half ago, we had about 11.5% women in our technical roles, globally.
That is way below market average, but it is not crazy out of bounds with our peer companies in Silicon Valley.
So doing some benchmarking for a high growth company that was about 1000 in head count, that was actually not crazy out of the ballpark, it’s objectively really terrible, but it’s not out of, outside of the bound of what I would have expected when I came in.
And all of these methods, when I tell you they work, this is what I mean.
Last year’s intern class was 46% women.
Our graduate class that year was 17% women, which was twice the representation of the year before.
And it was also our biggest grad class ever.
The latest intern class was 47% women, and our incoming graduate class in January 2017 is 54% women.
Yeah, I know, like what? That’s what I said too actually.
Yes, applause for that right? I think that’s cool.
That I could like, I can do all of those things, right? That’s not rocket surgery.
I told you, I tell really bad jokes.
But, it’s that organizational design.
How do we understand the way that psychology, sociology, and organizational theory come together to create the behaviors and outcomes we want? And the, I think one of the reasons we’ve been so successful is because something that we didn’t change was that we left it up to the hiring teams to make the final decisions.
We empowered them and trusted them that they were going to make the right decisions.
And part of the way that we did that, is we also offered, for every single person that’s involved in our hiring process as a first priority, and all other Atlassians as well, training in unconscious bias and how they can mitigate it, or optimize their own decision making.
So that means we’re equipping people with tools, and building the kind of environments, where they can create the outcomes they want, or as I like to say, they can align their behaviors and decisions with their intentions.
So, we’re doing these things at other levels of the company as well, and it’s really simple, once you get it up and running, it turns out that it’s actually more efficient.
When you build a set of structured interview questions, it takes less time to prep for an interview.
It’s much easier to create and write up your feedback on an interview when you have a rubric.
That kind of guides you through the process.
And it turns out that when you hire for diversity, you’re actually hiring a higher quality talent pool more quickly, which means your people will be spending less time interviewing and more time doing, but you’re gonna get this amazing set of people.
And I focused a lot on women here, but the other thing to consider is that when you make these changes, you actually start attracting a different type of men, too.
So people who are maybe a little less into competition, more into collaboration.
And I think we’re at a really interesting spot in Australia in particular because we haven’t quite figure it out here yet, but the industry’s a little bit younger than in Silicon Valley, and so I think the pace of change can be so much greater.
That’s kind of the context that I prepared because I find that a lot of people have a lot of like burning questions about this stuff, so I like to create a lot of space for that.
And this talk is a little bit different than I planned it this morning ’cause I wanted to address the elephant not in the room today, which is what happened in the US last night.
I can tell you that I’m like almost shaking talking about it, and I spent most of my day got blown up because I’m in HR, and when that stuff happens, you spend a lot of time on the phone.
And the reason that this work is so important now, that thinking about this and using all of our analytical abilities, is because we’re seeing that is companies who are gonna lead this movement for quality and for opportunity and for innovation.
And technology is the forefront at the bleeding edge of all of these things.
And we do not exist as closed systems in a vacuum, but rather the people that come to us, come to us having faced completely different oppurtunities based on structural factors beyond their control.
But we as companies can start to correct it.
We can prove the model, and we can start to change things.
Because imagine the power, the other things is we try to create a feedback loop with this, so after we hired all these brilliant amazing people, we started doing advertising featuring them.
It turns out that that attracts more people like them.
Right, and there’s this great feedback loop.
So I wanna put something out to all today because as an American, and as a woman, and as a Latina person, and as an LGBTI identified individual, especially for the white men in the room, like one, like kudos to you, seriously.
Just for existing because you, of all of the people that exist, have this amazing power to do this.
So research shows us that your voices and your opinions and the things that you want happen much more quickly than those of us with one or more minority identities.
And I am a big believer in collaboration, positivity, and optimism.
And so, while recognizing that the world is really hard today, and I’m sure there are a lot of people here that are struggling with that, myself included, but talking to you all is actually me feel really great.
Take this opportunity to take these pieces of learning, and these things that you have, you’re all designers, right, so this is totally in your wheelhouse.
Because you can completely change the composition of this industry.
And for Australia that is so important.
In order to continue to help us, and I say us because I’ve been at an Aussie company now long enough, I have a lot of love for this place, is that we can actually change it.
This is part of the key of keeping Australia relevant and competitive in the global economy.
By taking advantage of all of the talent that is already there that we just need to create oppurtunities for.
And so I really really encourage everybody, but especially the white men in the room, to recognize, embrace, and celebrate the power that you have and this amazing opportunity to change something that’s awesome for you, but also awesome for everybody around you.
So that’s what I wanted to close with ’cause it’s been a really hard day, and I wanna be like yes we can do it, right? But I also wanna take some questions, or chat, or whatever the best format is, ’cause I know we all have a lot of, how did you do this, what did you do? I’m kind of freaking out right now.
Like that’s okay.
This stuff is really hard to talk about, but the more we talk about it, the more we can make progress.
Yeah, thank you so much, yeah.
– Thank you Aubrey.
Why don’t we sit down? – Sure.
– I loved all the emotion and all the sort of conviction that was in those, not only last words, but everything you said before.
– Oh absolutely.
People call me Polly-Anna.
– Just to pick up what you just said, the asynchronicity of what is happening on the global stage, and at the same time, what is happening in enlightened companies, do you have any reason why these things are so out of sync? – Yeah.
It’s really really hard to change hearts and minds.
And what we know is that, for people that we’re closer to that we’re interacting with, it’s easier for us to have empathy and understanding and communication for them.
And so the larger these systems get, the harder it is to maintain that connection, and empathy is really the thing that motivates people to help others, especially unlike themselves.
And so companies, by virtue of being these smaller systems, one are actually more interesting playgrounds for testing out a lot of this, so but we also have this really interesting opportunity, and I’m really into the idea of the potential of marketing, and PR, for this because all of the research on bias, and sort of brain plasticity, shows that the more we see counterstereotypical images, the more our expectations about what happens in the world changes.
So that means that companies, by publicly and openly investing in these things, just talking about the problem is actually part of the solution.
And so we can test and we can move faster than, the US government is, you know, presides over 350 million people.
Like that’s just a lot of people to get all moving in the same direction, right? Like how many times have you been in triad in universe, trying to get everyone to agree with each other? It’s really hard.
So I think that’s a cool thing, is that by engaging in that, and by, you know, we have a video we call Women of Atlassian Building the Future, that just highlights a lot of the amazing work that the women at Atlassian are doing, but we think that’s part of it, that the more girls and the more boys and the more people, non-binary people, see images of women doing interesting things like technology, it’ll just become normal, right? It’s to the point where the sort of homogeneity becomes abnormal, and we’re already starting to see it, in the US in particular with Millennials, right.
There are eight year olds right now that have never seen a white person as president.
That’s gonna change soon, but think about that.
– An orange president– – Right yes, this is true.
I have had those disasters myself, a self-tanner, but yeah so I think that there’s this really interesting thing where because it’s a small system, we’re creating that empathy and that engagement is easier, and the levers that we need to push to change things are closer, we can move faster, we can be more agile than these sort of enormous systems.
We can prove the models, and then bring them up to those higher systemic levels.
– Can I just ask, what was a big obstacle you actually faced, I mean everything sounds great in the end where you got to, but what is a problem that anyone here in the room might face if they try to take on some of your advice.
So I think the biggest, I genuinely believe that the biggest obstacle to making progress on this is this attitude or belief in meritocracy.
And that’s because there’s two really really important reasons.
The first is that the people that are represented are the people in power in tech right now, have a lot emotionally to lose by believing that the meritocracy does not exist.
So we need to have empathy for how hard that is.
I, just totally honestly, I watch, especially white men, but lots of other people, I think that they have often the furthest to go and the hardest job, and we need to support them in doing that, is you have to accept the things that you have achieved in your life are not solely due to your own talent.
And that is a really hard emotional journey to accept.
It does not mean that you’re not brilliant and you haven’t earned everything that you’ve gotten, but we need to understand the structural factors that allow us to achieve.
In my own life, I can tell you, I was adopted when I was three years old.
And I was adopted by the most amazing couple in the universe, in my opinion, I’m highly consciously biased about that.
And, but I’m Mexican-American, and my adoptive family is white.
And they’re middle class.
And my dad’s an attorney.
And he told me that I could have whatever book I wanted growing up.
He didn’t put a time clause on that, so I’m still taking advantage of it.
But imagine that, I just had parents that cared about education, and had the financial means to send me to a great school.
My dad was an engineer before he as an attorney and told me that I was great at math and science, and so I should do that.
But he was fighting against the idea that everything else in the media was telling me me I shouldn’t do that.
And I also really like languages so I went and got a degree in journalism in Arabic.
That’s not super useful anymore, but and my Arabic is really bad now, but right, just those types of things, those oppurtunities that we had that we don’t think, and I think we think in that way, in a systemic way, it makes that emotional journey easier.
– Do you have any sort of advice on how you can do one little thing today or tomorrow, I’m just reminded of my colleague, Andy Bolaine, who just before I came here, said you know, whenever I get asked to be on a panel, I ask if there’s also women on the panel, otherwise I don’t do it.
And if they don’t want that, then I can swap out myself for a woman on the panel.
You know, that’s an easy thing to do.
I think the biggest thing is if you’re involved in the hiring process, demand, just say I will not do interviews until you give me a diverse slate of candidates for these open roles.
Because I don’t believe that I can actually assess and get the best person without seeing a broad set of candidates.
A statistical trick, it turns out, that if there’s only one woman in the group, the statistical chances that she’s hired is like zero.
But if there are two, or two minorities or some type, so it depends on what type of diversity, you know, your organization lacks, or wants to focus on.
But once you have two the odds go up to like 40% no matter how many other people are on the slate.
So right, cool, like use math.
Math is great.
So that’s a little thing.
The other thing I’ve been telling people, just as humans, that’s really good, is we know that viewing counterstereotypical information can make us less biased.
So I actually, and I bunch of people are going go check me on this, about every two to three months I go on to my Twitter, and I make sure that I’m following roughly 50-50 gender balance of voices, and I look for culturally diverse people to follow as well.
I literally go on to Google and say, like, black women in machine learning, and like people come out of these lists, like I can find them, and through network effects you can find other people with those identities working on those really interesting topics, so it’s topical to whatever you’re interested in, most of my Twitter is about diversity and social justice because I need to know what’s going on, and that’s based on my job.
But, those are little things you can do.
And if you are a person in your workplace, all of us have privilege in some way, shape, or form.
Think about how you use that privilege for someone next to you.
Think of your self in a constant state of ally-ship.
So right, I might be a racial minority and a women in tech, but I’m also, I don’t have any physical disabilities, and so that provides me with oppurtunities that maybe some of my colleagues don’t, and so I can be an ally to that.
Or I can be an ally to more senior folks in the workplace because we know ageism is a thing.
And so– – Just yesterday I was having a chat with Vince Frost from Frost Design, which is around the corner here, and they shot a film about disability and had a disabled director, and they had a teenage director for a teenage film.
You know it’s like those things where you say, when we co-create, and we try to design something for family tax benefits let’s say, you know, do we have a family person in the group, or do we have, you know, people who are disadvantaged? – Absolutely.
Yeah and I think that’s a really really interesting, exciting space that I’m getting more interested in, is in product design around diversity and inclusion.
So that’s something that we also think about at Atlassian with our diversity and inclusion strategies, it’s not just about workforce, it’s also about the way we do business and our DNA, and how we deal with our partners.
It’s everything from our suppliers, we prioritize trying to hire suppliers who are diverse, but also even in our product design.
So things like looking at the default genders that we have as options, or what types of avatars are in the products, or to reference back to the talk before, thinking about the effect of comments and privacy policies on your products, like you have consumer facing stuff.
Because it turns out that the comments tend to drive women off the platforms, and things like that, so make more intentional design decisions because people are starting to look more and more at the business side of things when they’re evaluating.
I’m gonna get in trouble for saying this, but Slack actually, no one left, we have, so.
I’m not supposed to talk about Slack.
But, they have a senior designer there, his name is Diogenes Brito, he’s a black man, and just tiny little ad campaign that they did, but they made a Back to Slack button, and it was like a cloud and a hand came down and grabbed the Slack button, and it was a black hand.
And he wrote this like, you need to go read the media post, it’s amazing, about it, but he talked about he basically freaked out for like an hour in his head about the design choice to like make a black hand because it was so crazy because no one shows black people in tech advertising.
And the incredible outpouring of the black community in tech at that, was just like insane, they were like, oh my God, I’ve never done that, and for us, we have these little people called the Meeples, like our little avatars and cartoon characters, and we do periodic design refreshes, and last year we added a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, to sort of the composite of the little meeples that we use.
And I publish blog posts a lot about what we’re working on, and I made this little group and I included the hijabi meeple.
I got more engagement about Muslim women freaking out about how excited they were that we had a hijabi than any of the content that I wrote.
Like I don’t even know if people read the blog post.
Hopefully, but, so I think it’s like really cool as designers, you have so much power to shape those narratives, and shape those things.
So don’t even think it’s just about the HR people.
Thank you very much.
I think we still have a few minutes, so if people feel compelled to grab a mic and ask a question, I don’t know actually where the microphones are, but if somebody does have a question.
Yup, anyone? Possibly? Alright then, second row.
– [Audience Member] You’ve spoken openly about gender diversity and also touched a little bit LGBTI diversity, I’m wondering if you’ve had a look at diversity in aspects of ability, be it physical or mental and intellectual disabilities as well? – Yeah absolutely.
So to back up a little bit broader, and then I’ll answer your question directly, which is, we talk about diversity as an intersection of different things, and we think part of that is it drives engagement ’cause I know, and I talk about white men a lot, but I think they’re really important in this work, so I talk about them a lot, and I don’t think diversity professionals do.
They often feel really alienated from it.
And so we talk about intersections as a way to bring everyone together into that.
And when we think about disability is absolutely something we think about.
Both from a workforce point of view, and from our product design.
So to tell a story that actually happened to me yesterday that felt awesome.
I, or not yesterday, Tuesday.
I land in Sydney at about 7am, and I went straight to the office and I got out of elevator, and I went to the bathroom, and I realized that inside all of the stalls were posters about how to design products for people with different types of disabilities.
So physical limitations, eye sight problems, hearing impairment, which isn’t as relevant to our products.
And some others.
But, so in terms of diversity of our workforce around disability, we don’t necessarily have particular recruiting targets around that population, but we partner with sourcing agencies that we know provide oppurtunities.
So we’ve partnered with Enabled Employment here in Sydney, and also the California Department of Rehabilitation in our SF and Bay Area offices, so we think about making sure that folks with disabilities know that we have oppurtunities for them, and we’re really happy to have them there.
And then we have sets of resources.
Obviously the compliance based things, you know, the right bathrooms and all of that.
But yeah, we think about that as well.
And we talk about neuro-diversity, so it’s really important, especially for us, we found folks sort of around mental health and then folks who are on the autism spectrum.
So as a lot of people know in tech, people with autism tend to do better, or there are a lot of jobs that really work for them, which is great.
And so part of that is education.
We encourage our Atlassians to write blogs about their life and their experiences because I believe in the power of storytelling to create empathy and to create those connections, and understanding about what people need.
So we’ve had a few of our employees, and interns even, on the spectrum, write about, you know, their oppurtunities and challenges of living, you know, with autism.
And it’s really great because it helps our managers understand what they need to do to better support those folks, and for those of us that don’t have it, we understand how to be better colleagues.
And then of course we have our HR team, who is always available.
You know, we make accommodations for folks that need it.
You know, little things like, right now we’re sourcing vendors to make sure that we have captions on all of the videos for our staff on hands, and our Atlassian summit, which is our biggest user conference of the year, this year we actually added sign language interpreters to all of our sessions.
So we try to think about those principles, both for our workforce and the way that it impacts our ecosystem.
– Thank you very much, I hope you’ll take some inspiration for that, for your companies, or if you’re interested in Atlassian obviously, you can try to join them right here.
– Seriously, Atlassian dot com slash careers.
– That’s exactly right.
– We’re hiring.
If you’re awesome, we’d love to have you.
– Thank you very much Aubrey.
– Thank you.