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Businesses urged to 'raise their standards': Atlassian launches free diversity hiring tool

Inside the Atlassian office, where diversity is prioritised. Images: Supplied

Australian tech giant Atlassian is calling on businesses to “raise their standards” when it comes to diverse recruitment and is launching a new free tool to help make that happen.

The free tool, launched today (Thursday 12 September), allows business leaders and recruiters to analyse their workforce at the individual team level to uncover any workers who may be underrepresented or feel like they don’t belong.

“For us, we really think about building balance at the team level, so in our annual reports we report on the balance of the organisation across and within teams and what we found is that by focusing there, we've actually been able to build a greater sense of belonging for our employees,” head of diversity and belonging at Atlassian Aubrey Blanche told Yahoo Finance.

The pay-off from that greater sense of belonging is happier and more supported workers, and a significantly lower attrition rate.

“It's a law of the world that if you are the 'only', you're likely going to struggle with a sense of belonging,” Blanche said.

“So if you're the only one on your team, that lack of belonging is actually correlated with lower performance, lower engagement and you’re more likely to leave.

“So what we did was develop a tool that would help us identify who's most likely to be isolated so that we could then develop a set of practices or programs to help support them in improving their experience at work.”

How does Atlassian’s new tool work?

The Balanced Teams Diversity Assessment tool can now be used by any business to create custom reports depending on different worker traits, like gender, age and cultural identity - where available. It also shows a heat-map of workers who may be the ‘only’ in their team.

The next steps are to find ways to support that worker – for example, a female engineer – and ultimately recruit with intra-team belonging in mind.

Atlassian built a spreadsheet of women and paired them up for weekly coffee dates, to support these workers in building connections with other people in similar situations as them – albeit in different roles.

A formal peer mentorship program was also put in place, as were formal leadership and development opportunities.

Trial and success

The results have been notable: while Atlassian had a high attrition rate for women in engineering four years ago, since applying those team level insights and finding ways to support lone female engineers, attrition for women has halved. It’s now at the same level as male engineers at Atlassian.

“[That] tells us that what we were doing was having a positive effect on people's experiences,” Blanche said.

But, Blanche is quick to add, diversity – or balance, as it’s referred to at Atlassian – is about much more than just “straight, white, cisgender, economically privileged women”.

In Atlassian Amsterdam, for instance, balance is about hiring to provide opportunities for people from all origins, while in the Philippines office, that means hiring to recognise different religious affiliations.

While the tool will help businesses identify at-risk employees, and diversity gaps that should be filled, it’s still on the businesses to hire with open minds.

“We know that there are openly discriminatory people in the world, but what is true is that the biggest impact is well-intentioned people who think they're objective,” Blanche said.

“Another truth of human nature is that if you have a brain, you have bias.”

Tackling bias with the Rooney Rule

Atlassian uses the Rooney Rule to try to address this.

The Rooney Rule was created by the US National Football League to encourage a more diverse group of people to become coaches.

The rule mandates that recruiters interview minority candidates who are qualified and interested for the role, in addition to their broader recruitment strategy.

There’s no requirement that minority workers are hired, but it presents an equal opportunity.

“[We] build a balanced slate of candidates from which we hire, because we know that we can't hire the right person if we don't source broadly,” Blanche said.

When it comes to leadership roles, Atlassian recruiters consider if there are any underrepresented or ‘only’s’ on the team, and they dedicate time to finding underrepresented candidates. Candidates with similar backgrounds to those who are minorities on the team are also prioritised.

Blanche frames this style of recruiting as simply doing the right thing.

While she’s been asked if investing in diversity means “lowering the bar”, she rejoins that it’s about raising standards to create fairness and balance.

“Mathematically speaking, a homogenous work environment is basically evidence of discrimination,” she said.

“Because the fact is, people who are underrepresented have incredible talent and brilliance.

“Brilliance is equally distributed but opportunities aren't, and so what we're doing is actually creating fair opportunities so that truly, we actually do bring the best people into the room.”

The future of work will be discussed at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit on the 26th of September 2019 in the Shangri-La, Sydney. Check out the full line-up of speakers and agenda for this groundbreaking event here and buy tickets here.

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