Atlassian’s global head of diversity Aubrey Blanche has advised startup teams to take inspiration from the world of sport and ditch the concept of the “lone genius”, as the company today releases joint research with the AFL Women’s League on the effect of playing team sports on future success.
The research, titled The Imagination Gap, asked more than 1000 Australians about their involvement with team sports, and how those sports contributed to their future success in the workplace.
The research found 95% of respondents who played team sports said those pursuits helped them develop key skills for the future, with 80% saying it developed their work ethic, and 89% saying it enhanced their collaboration and teamwork.
Additionally, 82% of respondents who are senior managers said they had played team sports at a young age.
Speaking to StartupSmart, Blanche says Atlassian undertook the research as a way to further empower and uplift female leaders, especially in typically male-dominated fields such as sport and tech.
Looking at the results, Blanche says there was nothing that surprised or disappointed her, but mentions it “felt good to quantify” the importance of role models, and what a gap women experience in finding them.
“Half of the men we surveyed said they find role models in sport, but for women that was just a quarter,” she says.
“The development of more role models of women at high levels in both areas like the AFL, or as an executive of a tech company, is an incredibly important aspect. Seeing women at the elite level of their craft is an inspiration for all women in sport or the workforce.”
And seeing more women in these prominent roles doesn’t just build role models for young girls and other women, says Blanche. Rather, it “reprograms” how everyone thinks of a leader, she says.
“It’s not just equipping girls with role models, it’s making sure boys are excited to look up to female leaders,” she says.
“A lot of folks lack the opportunity to see balanced and diverse leaders in their lives, especially with the stereotype of success in tech.”
Startup teams can learn from sports teams
The collegiate and inclusive nature of sports teams is something Blanche thinks startup teams can learn from, calling for less focus on individual achievements and for startup teams to be more conscious of how their “showing up” affects their teammates and the team’s ability to move forward.
“Playing team sports builds things like confidence, resilience, collaboration skills, and the ability to give and receive feedback, which is going to matter if you’re in a tiny startup or a major multinational,” she says.
Atlassian’s leadership team has long spoken out against the concept of the “lone genius”, and Blanche reinforces the company’s ethos that “behind every great achievement there’s a team”.
“We pull apart that ‘cult of the CEO’ — no one’s ever built a company by themselves, and we would have never gotten to Mars if just one person was on the project,” she says.
The report also reveals fewer adult women are playing team sports compared to men, with 34% of women continuing in their adult years compared to 50% of men, which Blanche says is a potential disadvantage for women in leadership, but something that organisations like the AFLW are likely to change.
In a statement, head of women’s football at the AFL, Nicole Livingstone, agreed with Blanche’s assessment on the importance of role models for girls in sport, saying if they can see role models at the elite and leadership level, “they are more likely to believe they, too, can make it”.
“The existence of our national league shows this in practice — our participation numbers at the grassroots level have soared since the AFLW arrived. Females made up 30 percent of the total participant figure in 2017. We also saw a 76 percent increase in female teams across the country after the inaugural season,” Livingstone said.