Growing fatigue around diversity and inclusion conversations
One might imagine she'd be excited to talk about diversity and inclusion in tech firms. But Blanche is not really enthusiastic. "Conversations on this topic started to gain ground around 2013. Despite talking about it for the last five or six years, there has not been much meaningful change," Blanche reflects. She points to a growing fatigue that has set in when it comes to talking about diversity and inclusion and says progress has stalled. "People are emotionally exhausted from pushing for change and not seeing enough progress," she says. Plus, because of the current sociopolitical environment, everyone is struggling with the depth and dimension of diversity issues and are easily overwhelmed, she adds.
According to a report on the state of diversity and inclusion in U.S tech, commissioned by Atlassian in 2018:
- 80% of respondents felt diversity and inclusion is important yet there was a decline of individual participation by 50% on a year on year basis.
- 40% of people believed their company's inclusion programme (of underrepresented people) needed no improvement.
- Adoption of company-wide initiatives remained flat.
- 10% decline in companies with a formal Article by diversity and inclusion programme.
The mission at Atlassian is to move past the traditional understanding of inclusion and diversity and focus on something far more fundamental to human beings - a sense of belonging, something that Blanche says, can only be created.
According to her, the sluggishness around diversity and inclusion stems from having the wrong conversations and following the incorrect metric. "Most companies are looking at corporate level statistics. If you have 50% women but all of them are in human resources or marketing departments, or perhaps at entry level positions, there is a problem," she says.
This also does not translate to individual level action and contribution because the average employee does not know how to contribute to company level statistics - something Atlassian deeply reflects on while tailoring its belonging programmes. Blanche offers a solution - equip individuals with skills that make an impact within their sphere of influence and attempt to raise the collective standard of how people engage in the workplace. After all, belonging is often forged by small but significant aspects of human interaction; a greeting or perhaps, a gesture. "When the focus is on individual action and what one person can do on a daily basis to improve the team environment, there is much less chance of feeling fatigued or burnt out," notes Blanche; it is about using emotional intelligence and effective collaboration to create a team-level experience.
And it is a win-win. Blanche says having more diversity on teams is gainful because it is proven that a diverse group of people are better at problem solving. But when companies do not take a team-level approach to diversity, they obviously miss out on the edge it offers.
Blanche is a self-confessed data nerd. In fact, she strongly recommends a data informed approach; measuring and testing before figuring out a solution has been key to her implementations. True to her taste, Atlassian conducts an internal engagement survey of the inclusion index.
Blanche explains the questions it asks and what it seeks to measure.
One reason why Blanche propagates the expansion of diversity and inclusion to belonging is to create far more equitable processes. "At Atlassian, we have been intersectional from the start. We understand that individuals have layers. When inclusion refers to gender alone, it creates a silo. We include mental health, parental status, age, temperament differences - all of which, have a strong bearing on the feeling of belonging," she adds.