Over the last few years, companies around the world have begun to proclaim their dedication to diversity & inclusion, making investments to build more fair and equitable workplaces for everyone. While these efforts are admirable, they often struggle to move the needle.
One of the hardest parts about beginning these efforts and making an impact isn’t developing tactical programs (although that’s no cake-walk). It’s understanding where to focus your efforts at any given time. Today, I’m thrilled to announce the Balanced Teams Diversity Assessment, designed to help D&I professionals and those managing large teams do just that. Now, we’re making it publicly available at no charge.
Because of this tool, we’ve been able to implement programs that have created a sense of belonging for those who lack it and cut attrition rates amongst women in technical roles in half over the past 3 years. (Actually, more than half.) And it’s not just us. We partnered with other companies on a beta program to ensure the tool help improve balance and belonging on any team.
It’s hard to develop actionable insights around D&I data without looking at the functional and team levels. [This tool] helps you easily identify gaps to develop meaningful business-led interventions.Amber Boyle, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at VMware
As Global Head of Diversity & Belonging, I’m tasked with ensuring we build more balanced teams over time, become more effective at welcoming people from underrepresented backgrounds to Atlassian and make sure everyone feels they belong here. That takes some serious number crunching. Analyzing how balanced or imbalanced a team is – and in what way – helps identify who is most likely to be isolated on their teams, and therefore lack a sense of belonging. But turning raw data into actionable information is hard. I spent the first four years in my role manually cross-referencing employee stats in mile-long spreadsheets – something few HR professionals and department heads have time for.
Also, most of us are in the habit of tackling the broadest use cases first. When it comes to fostering belonging, however, the opposite is best: focus first on improving things for the most marginalized people. Because when you do, things will improve for the big group in the middle as well – two birds, one stone. But this is so counterintuitive that few people outside of academia understand it (we can thank Black feminist theory for this idea).
To make matters worse, viewing diversity at the company level is insufficient. For example, when Atlassian first began analyzing the demographics of our teams in 2016, we found that just over 13% of our technical roles were held by women. While this is relatively “good” by compared to our peers in tech (yet clearly unacceptable), it doesn’t tell the full story. When we dug deeper, we realized that many of the women on the teams that build our products were the only woman on their team, meaning they were likely to feel alone and unsupported.
This concerns us because research shows that being the “only” on a team in terms of gender, race, generation, disability status (the list goes on…) can be isolating and contributes to higher attrition. In fact, simply lacking role models or balanced representation of people from your identity group is strongly associated with a lacking a sense of belonging. While today these issues are most acute for historically marginalized groups in technology – Black people, women, people with disabilities, those with multiple excluded identities – these patterns hold for people broadly across industries and settings.
We can’t manufacture teams across our companies such that each perfectly represents the demographic makeup of the geographies we operate in. But we also know that demographically homogenous (e.g., all male, all Latinx, all Gen-X) teams aren’t as innovative or effective. Diversity of thought leads to more creative solutions and stronger outcomes, and the only way to achieve it is to have people with a variety of identities and life experiences on the team, although not every team will have the same mix.
What we can do, however, is foster a sense of belonging for those at the margins – the “onlys” on their teams. Using the Balanced Teams Diversity Assessment tool, Atlassian and other companies have been able to quickly identify pockets of “onlyness”. The tool reads in employee data from a .csv file, then displays charts showing which people are most at risk of feeling isolated. Speaking from personal experience, the confidence of knowing exactly where to direct your energy and budget (if we’re being honest) is invaluable.
From there, you can design programs that connect those at risk with others across the company who have similar backgrounds. We started small with a coffee date program and women’s mentoring rings. And we’re happy to report that it’s working! Morale is up and attrition is down amongst these groups.
Our mission is to unleash the potential in every team. By reframing the diversity and inclusion conversation to be more about balance and belonging, we can remove obstacles that prevent people from performing at their highest level. It’s not enough to have people of different backgrounds working at a company, they need to feel like they belong in order to do the best, most meaningful work of their lives.
Special thanks to Sarah Goff-Dupont for her editorial contributions to this piece.