What "Belonging" Really Means at Atlassian, and How They’re Leading a New Conversation

By Caroline Van Dyke
on Sep 5, 2018 10:15:00 AM


Words like diversity, representation, inclusion, demographics—the list goes on—have been swirling in the People space, particularly in tech, for a few years now. While the conversations, the reports, and the headlines continue to percolate, many have felt the need to reevaluate what diversity and inclusion means to them and the grit it takes to make a marked impact. How are leading organizations creating a place where all people feel welcome, can excel, and do their best at work? 

Aubrey Blanche has had a front row seat to these conversations as Atlassian’s Global Head of Diversity & Belonging, so we took our chance to hear a bit more about what she’s learned and how she’s shaping culture at Atlassian.

Your State of Diversity report touches on an interesting point—people aren’t having the right conversations. Could you talk to us about your unique concept of diversity and belonging at Atlassian? What conversation should people be having?

Unfortunately, many companies are still focused in increasing the representation numbers of a few demographics, instead of looking at the entire employee experience. We need to be building balanced teams across many different demographics, and we need to focus on fostering belonging.

We also need to look at team-level representation and belonging, not just company-level statistics. This is important for two reasons. First, company-level representation doesn’t show whether certain demographics are siloed on specific teams or clustered in specific areas of the company. Do all of the women in the company work in marketing or HR? Do you have an Latinx employees in leadership? It’s important to have a variety of skills and perspectives on each team.

Second, belonging happens at the team level. Do all employees feel that their perspective is valued? Do they have a connection with the people they speak with daily? These kinds of insights aren’t actionable and can be difficult for the average employee to affect on a company-wide scale.

It can seem daunting for companies to find a place to start; what was your approach and how are you picking which initiatives to invest in? Above all, how do you measure success?

In addition to looking at the team level, we’ve taken a really practical approach. As a starting point, we looked at key stats from the talent lifecycle -- hiring; representation at various levels, locations, and products -- and retention to start. We invested in the areas where our biggest gaps were. We found that we could strengthen our recruiting practices to ensure that we were better connecting with underrepresented candidates.

We use Textio to ensure that the language in our job ads will not deter traditionally underrepresented candidates. For example, “work hard, play hard,” “ninja,” and “crushing it” subtly imply that a workplace might not be welcoming to women or older workers.

We’ve also mitigated bias in the interview process by switching from interviewing for “culture fit” to “values alignment”. Instead of hiring people with similar interests, this ensures that we’re hiring people with values like empathy, initiative, and open communication.

Atlassian takes a “diverse slate” approach to hiring at the director level and above, and we utilize HackerRank in our engineering interviews to ensure all candidates are evaluated fairly based on their skills.


Most in the industry have come to learn that this conversation doesn’t simply apply to recruitment, but retention as well. When it comes to creating bias-free performance evaluation and development opportunities, what have you found most successful?

The fact is, we can’t completely get rid of the possibility of bias in evaluative processes, but there are a lot of things that we can do to mitigate it, where possible. At Atlassian, we’ve tried to take a comprehensive approach that involves training our staff on bias and how it appears, designing our processes to be as bias-resistant as possible, and auditing those processes to identify gaps in equitable evaluation.

Many leaders in the space have honed in on the importance of something we often subconsciously overlook that holds immense power—the words we use. How do you pay attention to phrasing in job descriptions or the way you describe top-performers?

As I mentioned above, Textio has been instrumental in keeping us accountable when crafting job descriptions.

Research also shows that women are less likely to apply to a job if they don’t feel that they match 100% of the criteria, whereas men will apply if they match only 60% of the criteria. We take great care to make sure that we’re writing our job descriptions for the goals that we’re looking to achieve, instead of focusing on a laundry list of skills or experience that might unintentionally cause a great candidate to self-select out of the process.

This can also present itself in the conversations we have day-to-day and the feedback different genders give one another. Have you noticed more attention around how women or men give one another critical feedback, and what can leaders do to make sure equal conversations are taking place?

Yes! More and more research is showing that feedback in performance reviews is often gendered, and that often, the same behavior is praised in men but criticized in women. A man arguing for his opinion in a meeting is seen as “smart” or “passionate”, while a woman doing the same is seen as “difficult” or “stubborn”. So, we have to think critically about how we’re perceiving behaviors.

We suggest the SBI framework for giving feedback, which stands for Situation, Behavior, Impact. This ensures that the feedback is timely, actionable, and less likely to be biased, because it’s focused on sharing the facts of the situation, and the impact of the behavior.

On a final note, what are you looking forward to most from Atlassian’s D&B initiatives and where do you expect to see the greatest wins? What can other companies hope to learn?

One of the things I’m most excited about is moving away from the word and the concept of “diversity”. That probably sounds counterintuitive, but know that it’s how we’ll make continued progress as we scale.

Our 2018 State of Diversity Report showed that people associate the word “diversity” with underrepresented people. This is a problem, because it subtly suggests that people from majority groups aren’t a part of diversity, which isn’t right. Instead, we talk about building balanced teams. We believe that helps everyone feel like they have a stake in the conversation, and helps us focus on the unit that matters: teams.

We’re also thinking beyond “diversity” as our ultimate goal. Instead, we’re focusing on how people feel, whether they feel that they belong on their team. We know that this is crucial in order for people to feel like they can be authentic at work, and for them to do the best work of their lives, which is what we want for every Atlassian.

Final Thoughts

Creating a space where people truly belong and are given the tools they need to succeed is something organizations are all working to achieve. From implementing tools that allow you to create fair, bias-free processes, to having more open dialogue about what belonging means and hearing diverse perspectives are just a few ways to make an impact. At Zugata, we equip organizations with a way to fairly develop and evaluate employees to foster amazing places to work, for everyone. To learn more, read, ’Building Inclusive Cultures: A Guide to Limit Bias & Unlock Potential.’

Topics: Employee Development, Diversity & Inclusion, Performance Management

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