Startup Advice

“It’s on you”: How to build an inclusive business, from Atlassian’s Aubrey Blanche

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Aubrey Blanche, Atlassian

Atlassian head of diversity and belonging Aubrey Blanche.

As Atlassian releases its free tool to help other companies measure and improve their diversity metrics, head of diversity and belonging Aubrey Blanche has some tips on how to foster an inclusive culture, even for the earliest of early-stage startups.

The new Atlassian Team Playbook is touted as a ‘no bullshit guide to unleashing your team’s potential’, allowing businesses to analyse their people data on a team level.

It’s essentially making Atlassian’s internal tools public, in a way that’s designed to make the data easy to access and easy to process.

“We take a really data-informed social science approach to build what we think of as an equitable and balanced company,” Blanche tells StartupSmart.

Focusing on the diversity of individual teams is intended to give more of an insight into where there might be problems to address.

Most companies aim for 50/50 gender representation, for example.

“If all of your female employees are in HR and marketing, you’re not actually creating diversity,” Blanche notes.

At least, not the kind of diversity that leads to positive business outcomes.

“What’s actually important is that people different from each other are working together, day-to-day,” she explains.

Since 2016, when Atlassian started using this tool and publicly releasing the data they found, the startup has reduced attrition of women in its engineering teams by half, she says.

Now, it’s making the tool public, and free, in a bid to empower others and encourage broader change in the industry.

“The fact is, if Atlassian becomes a perfectly balanced organisation and we get it right, there’s still an industry-level problem,” Blanche says.

“The reason the tech industry isn’t representative now is because, historically, the culture in the tech industry has tolerated really bad behaviour against folks who are underrepresented.”

But, even if you’re not an Atlassian-sized business, or even one that has multiple teams, there are things you can do to make sure you’re bringing inclusivity into your business from day one.

And, not only will this give your business a better chance of success, but it will also allow you to serve more of the population, in a way that suits them.

“Everything is technology now and our lives are so influenced by it,” Blanche says.

“We can’t have only a small section of the world designing the technology that runs the rest of our lives. We all need to have a seat at the table.”

Build an inclusive culture before you need to

For those startups who hire a hotshot developer who they have worked with before and trust, and who may happen to end up with an early team of white men of similar ages, all is not lost. There is still room to create an inclusive and diverse culture as the startup grows.

“You can build an inclusive culture, regardless of who is in the room,” Blanche says.

And, getting this right early on is crucial to future success in the diversity stakes.

“The fact is, you can hire underrepresented folks all you want, but if your culture isn’t supportive, you’re not going to keep them anyway,” she explains.

At this stage, startups and small businesses can focus on belonging.

“Are you running meetings that actually allow everyone to get their ideas in the room?”

“Are you making sure that the ways that your teams are collaborating and bonding aren’t just getting drunk at happy hour?”

Make an effort

Equally, when it comes to the next stage of hiring, founders can consider whether their company appears to be a welcoming and respectful environment, Blanche says.

“Why would underrepresented people apply for your jobs? Do you have connections to that community? Are you publicly advocating and supporting that community?”

There is a lot founders can do from the very early stages to make connections in those communities, even if they’re not a diverse founding team.

“It does take effort, but you get a long tail of impact in return for that kind of work and that kind of investment,” Blanche says.

Watch your language

Finally, in order to create a diverse workforce and inclusive culture, Blanche says startups could take a look at the language they use in their advertisement.

Atlassian uses a machine learning tool to remove gender-biased and racially biased language from its job ads, she says.

You might think you want a ‘rock star’ developer.

“Actually, they usually don’t come in until 11am, and they can’t actually code. I don’t want to hire a rock star,” Blanche says.

“But that kind of language actually drives women away from job ads.”

If you want to improve balance in your team, and you’re not seeing the outcomes you would like to, then consider what you could change in order to make that shift.

Take responsibility

“First and foremost, for any chief executive or leader, take responsibility for the outcomes,” Blanche says.

“It’s on you.

“That doesn’t mean you have to shame yourself, but if you take responsibility you become more focused on what you have to adjust to help align your intent with your impact.”

If companies share what is working for them, they can share that information and help others to do the same. And, startups are exactly the place for experimentation.

“Startups can be an incredible lab, where you can try new things and see what works,” Blanche explains.

“And startups should be brave and should be bold about trying to solve a problem that none of us have completely nailed.”

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].