07 June 2018

Diversity and Belonging - Lessons from Tech for the Legal Industry

Published on 07 June 2018

Diversity & Belonging – Lessons from Tech for the Legal Industry

Balanced teams are key to driving innovative solutions.

An interview with Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity & Belonging at Atlassian. 

By Sherika Ponniah


Research has shown that teams balanced in terms of identity and experience create a diversity of thought that makes us better problem-solvers, more creative, diligent and hard-working. A diverse workforce is more innovative, designs better solutions and identifies more efficient processes.

If we know we can come up with more creative solutions with a balanced team and build better products, how can we execute on this understanding?

I spoke to Aubrey Blanche, the Global Head of Diversity & Belonging at Australian tech company Atlassian, to discuss her insights on how Atlassian is building diverse teams and driving an inclusive culture.

“Education is key. Understanding the benefit of building a balanced team is really important to help people understand ‘the why’ and how we can get there,” said Aubrey.

Aubrey trained as a social science researcher before moving into tech. As an LGBTI+ woman of colour, she found that few people in the industry looked like her. When Aubrey asked why, she got responses including, “The hiring bar is really high” and “We picked the best cultural fit.”

In reality, research shows that companies with greater gender, race and ethnic diversity in their leadership teams are more financially successful. It has also been suggested “that other kinds of diversity—for example, in age, sexual orientation, and experience (such as a global mind-set and cultural fluency)—are also likely to bring some level of competitive advantage for companies that can attract and retain such diverse talent.”

In her role at Atlassian, Aubrey uses research to take a data-informed approach to building balanced teams. She is involved with teams throughout the talent lifecycle, ensuring everyone has a fair opportunity to join Atlassian and grow their career. She’s also working to build a brand that attracts candidates from all walks of life, and assesses each candidate using a set of standards that are repeated throughout the interview process. Aubrey’s team is committed to trying new ways to move the dial on D&I and sharing what works and what doesn’t.

Aubrey says that creating balanced teams is not an ‘extra’, it is a survival mechanism for creating successful organisations. Today, teams drive innovation, not individuals, and all businesses are serving a more diverse customer base.

“Forty years ago, Nobel peace prizes used to go to individuals – they are now going to teams. The biggest innovations happen when teams come together and use their unique skills and perspectives to solve problems,” Aubrey said.  

The Australian legal industry can learn from and look to the global tech industry for insights on how to foster innovation via a diverse workforce. To create this change, Aubrey offers the following advice to organisations:

  1. Make sure your branding materials, from your Careers website to your job advertisements, use language that does not alienate people. Remove corporate language, and use inclusive language so as not to unintentionally restrict your talent pool.
  2. Make sure the interview process has specific criteria to assess qualifications, and conduct structured interviews that focus on behavioural questions rather than “trivia” questions.
  3. Invest in strategies to remove unconscious bias. Be mindful that "culture fit" interviews are generally more a reflection of bias than a useful signal of job performance. Try replacing this language with "values alignment", as Atlassian does. Atlassian looks for people who want to work in a transparent environment, who demonstrate empathy for colleagues and customers alike and who are proactive in making their surroundings better.
  4. Make sure internal criteria for levels of advancement are uniformly applied, known and documented. This helps everyone have equal opportunity to advance.

To focus for a moment on gender diversity, it is noteworthy that the attrition rates of women leaving the law are at record highs. To reduce this attrition in our industry, it’s important to find practical solutions that can be integrated into our working day. Aubrey suggests:

  1. Make meetings inclusive. Women are twice as likely to be interrupted when they are speaking. Implementing a “no interruptions” rule in meetings mitigates this problem. Send out an agenda 24 hours before a group meeting to allow introverts to prepare and contribute. These changes benefit all participants, and ensure that all voices are heard.
  2. Offer and encourage flexible working hours, and make sure there are supportive leave policies in place that employees are encouraged to take advantage of.
  3. Be thoughtful about promotion and advancement. Support sponsorship initiatives, and encourage sponsorship of high-performing junior women. Carefully review exit data for insights, address shortcomings, and hold your organisation accountable if women are underrepresented in leadership roles.
  4. Create a cultural dialogue of bringing one’s authentic self to work.

“It is important to note that women does not equal diverse. There are many different types of women – it is a diverse group in and of itself,” Aubrey said.

“Inclusion is a journey without an end point, so diversity and inclusion will certainly play a pivotal role in the future of work. The ultimate goal is to build balanced teams. Educating individuals on the benefits of a balanced team will foster understanding about why there is a lack of representation and how to get there.

If everyone does one little thing differently each day, entire organisations will begin to shift to truly reach their potential.”