I had the pleasure of interviewing Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at enterprise collaboration company Atlassian. There, she works with teams across the business to enhance access to technical education, recruiting, retention, and career mobility for underrepresented minorities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I had a weird upbringing and career that’s led me to where I am today. I was born to a Mexican American mother, and adopted into a white, middle-class family with uniquely American mixed roots. My physical appearances and cultural upbringing put me somewhere in between — neither distinctly Latina-looking on the outside, nor completely culturally Caucasian on the inside. I’ve been an outsider in some way or another to most of the groups I would naturally identify with — and I’ve learned I’m not remotely alone in this regard.
Career-wise, I’ve also followed a bit of a twisted path — from classical opera training to tech — where I am today. I studied journalism and political science, and worked in editorial roles for many years, before landing my first tech job at Palantir Technologies. I worked there in biz div. for two years before shifting into diversity, and in 2015 joined Atlassian where I now lead global diversity and inclusion efforts as the head of diversity and belonging.
My personal background has given me many liminal and invisible identities, which has helped me to see many perspectives on a lot of issues. And the experiences I’ve had throughout my life and career have absolutely shaped the role I’m in today and given me the tools I need to do this work. Today I’m hell-bent on driving change so that individuals, no matter how they look or identify, have the same access and opportunities to be successful.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading diversity at Atlassian?
Shortly after joining Atlassian I had a funny diversity learning experience. From the get-go I wanted to make sure we took an intersectional approach to D&I. I’m a Latina woman so I took specific steps to ensure we embraced Hispanics. Most of our employees AREN’T American though, so the term “Hispanic” is a construct that doesn’t exist in their cultures. I was really shocked at how many people would ask questions like “What does Hispanic mean?” It was a really humbling experience for me, and helped me see my blindspot around how I needed to support folks. I needed to talk about diversity in a way that’s meaningful to *them* — not just to myself.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think that Atlassian’s values, and how deeply rooted they are, has created something special and unique. We’re definitely not perfect, but there is such a kindness to people here that feels really exceptional. People generally have good intent, are willing to examine when they screw up, and want to learn and grow from that experience.
When I was interviewing, I was talking to an executive about the job, and he asked me to give the ‘business case’ for D&I. He stopped me halfway through my answer, and said, “Great, I believe you can do that. But I want to be really clear that we care about this because we do the right thing and care about our people.” That blew me away, and I knew I HAD to have this job.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Always! Right now I’m really excited about focusing on belonging, and collecting more data on that for our employees (I actually just changed my title from Head of Diversity and Inclusion, to Head of Diversity and Belonging). My goal is to help understand where we can do a better job of creating a sense of belonging and create progress on this front.
I’m also trying to gain a deeper understanding of how we can better leverage our team-level approach to diversity. It’s one of the differentiators that sets our annual internal diversity report apart from other companies’, and I think an important key to solving the diversity and inclusion equation. So many organizations look only at the company level for their diversity analyses, and end up with representation numbers that lack the deeper meaning that the team-level analysis provides. We focus on the team level to ensure we’re building a diverse and inclusive organization from the ground-up, and that our analysis is truly reflective of the entire organization.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?
I’d advise business leaders that they have to care personally and let people be open about who they are to really enable their success. In order to do that, you also have to be willing to go first and be open about who YOU are. It takes a lot of self-work and -knowledge, but can be so incredibly worthwhile.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Oh my goodness, so many people. Both of my parents are exceptional people…they both came from not much and have been very successful. But what astounds me is how grateful they are, and how much they try to share their blessings with others.
From a professional side, there are a few people who I think made a huge difference in my life: my college advisor Jon Caverley, who taught me that I was a social scientist, and *believed* in me when I didn’t know I could get to this point. I’m also grateful for my grad school professor Justin Grimmer, who convinced me I was good at math.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I hope I’m doing that every day! I feel unfairly lucky that I get to spend my days creating more opportunities for people who deserve it, and that as a reward I get to see other people thrive and do brilliant things. I’ve had so many advantages in life: I was able to get a good education; I’ve gotten jobs at “elite” companies; because of my invisible identities, I don’t face the same kinds of barriers others do…. I try as hard as I can to share those things with others. Privilege multiplies when it’s shared, which is pretty magical and something I try spread any way I can.
Can you share the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line.
There have been plenty of studies on the benefits of diversity on a company’s financial performance. An in-depth report from McKinsey found multiple clear indicators tying an increase in diversity to stronger financial results. But there’s more to it than money.
Diversity in the way that a company, its employees and its users are depicted can help that company connect with diverse audiences. The more people see themselves as users of our products, the more likely they will be to endorse them as Atlassian customers. At Atlassian we realized that our illustrations weren’t always representative of all individuals, so we created a design and illustration process to change this with “meeples” — our depictions of people throughout our products and organization. Our meeples, and the design guidelines that inform their use, help us tell stories that attract individuals of varied skin tones, religious beliefs, cultures, gender expressions, and abilities — and ensure those stories are balanced, equal and collaborative.
More diversity and inclusion also leads to happier people, greater engagement, employee retention, and more innovative ideas. It means institutional knowledge stays within the organization.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Well-behaved women seldom make history.” -Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
I would love to have brunch with Cindy Gallop!
Originally published at medium.com