Startup Advice

Ditching ‘culture fit’: Inclusive culture starts with inclusive hiring, says Atlassian’s Aubrey Blanche

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Aubrey Blanche, Atlassian

Aubrey Blanche, Atlassian

Inclusive hiring and culture practices should be in place right from the beginning of any business, according to Atlassian’s head of diversity Aubrey Blanche.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Blanche outlined the Australian startup unicorn’s latest approach to hiring for diversity within the workplace.

She notes that founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar understood from the beginning that culture evolves, saying they accept “our culture changes with every person who joins the team”.

“At a basic level, we take a very social-science approach to building balanced teams,” Blanche says.

This means identifying why there might a lack of balance and representation, and finding ways to change the processes “to be more supportive of all kinds of people”.

The company is also focused on moving away from the concept of ‘culture fit’ – which, speaking on ABC’s QandA last night, Blanche called an “intractable morass of unconscious bias” – in favour of hiring based on value alignment.

Atlassian is governed by five corporate values, which Blanche tells StartupSmart “truly lead the way we think”.

They include the famous mantra of ‘open company, no bullshit’, and the call to ‘be the change you seek’.

Blanche says: “We have crafted interviews that select for those qualities … helping us get in touch with different sorts of folks.”

Atlassian also has an internal blog series, allowing employees to share their stories and advice on how to be inclusive and supportive.

In one case, Blanche says: “An employee came out as on the autism spectrum. His team made him comfortable enough to do that.”

She adds: “The idea of working openly has always been a part of the Atlassian culture, but we’re constantly evolving and finding new ways of how that shows up.”

When teams feel they can be open and honest with each other, they are likely to be happier, and more productive.

“It’s good for business, and good for people,” Blanche says.

How to build a balanced startup?

When a startup is starting to scale, Blanche advises founders to look around and consider who might not feel welcome.

She says: “Culture is really set in the first 15 to 20 employees.”

Founders should ask: “How might we evolve to be more welcoming of people who are different to us right now?”

Blanche adds that these considerations do not take much money, or take up much time – things she’s aware startups can be lacking. But, she stresses: “The earlier you start having those conversations, the easier it’s going to be.”

Even when considering what kind of business culture they want to create, founders should consider who they might be missing.

“Hiring for a balanced team can help you understand the blind spots in your culture,” Blanche says. “What does someone bring to the table?”

Equally, in order to achieve true diversity and balance, it’s important not only to have a mix of people in the room, but to make sure their voices are heard.

Atlassian’s ‘no interruption’ rule

Atlassian has introduced a ‘no interruption’ rule in meetings, Blanche says.

“Women, people with marginalised identities, and even introverts are more likely to get interrupted during a meeting.”

Stopping this is a simple thing that “helps people feel valued”.

“The types of things that build a culture of belonging are often so simple,” Blanche says.

But, she adds that a healthy and balanced culture, and an inclusive work environment do not just come about by accident.

“They happen because we work on them.”

NOW READ: “People are greater than perks”: Why founders need to make sure their culture evolves as their startup does

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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