Diversity 101: The Value of Diversity

If you’ve logged into a browser or EAC lately, you’ve probably heard that “diversity” is a pretty hot topic. In the last few years, the tech industry has been widely criticized for having a largely homogenous workforce: the most represented group within the industry is men, and those men are largely white and Asian. Before a few years ago, the standard answer to this type of critique was that tech, more than any other industry, is a meritocracy. That is, the people who are hired, promoted, and considered successful can attribute their success solely to their hard work and intelligence. If this is true, it would indicate that people from one or more minority groups (e.g., women and/or people from underrepresented ethnic groups) simply don’t have the ability or interest to work in technology. If this is true, that means that the current composition of the tech workforce is optimal. It ensures the brightest and most innovative people are hired and funded.

Then what’s the problem? Well, empirical evidence tells us a very different story than the meritocracy theory would indicate. Data shows that there are significant structural and psychological barriers–independent from any measure of ability–for many people that prevent them from choosing a career in technology. Research also shows our lack of diversity hurts us: by limiting the number of perspectives we have on any given problem, we are less effective at finding the optimal solution for the thousands of challenges we face every day.

The Business Case

Mountains of empirical evidence supports the idea that diverse teams perform better. Perhaps the most rigorous treatment of this theory was penned by Scott E. Page, professor of complex systems and political science at the University of Michigan. In The Difference, he constructs a careful theory about the way that cognitive diversity–the union of individuals with a varied set of perspectives–leads to gains in both group decision making and intelligence. The theory employs, among other techniques, game theoretic models a careful survey of literature from cognitive science, psychology, and organizational theory to argue that “when solving problems, diversity may matter as much, or even more than, individual ability.” His conjectures are supported by a wide variety of research, from economics to sociology.

The majority of the research in this area is focused on gender, but the principles described here can be easily extrapolated to diversity of any kind: racial or ethnic identity, sexual orientation, age and/or experience, disability status, etc. Starting from the top, it’s been shown that increased gender diversity on corporate boards leads to a host of benefits, including “higher returns on equity, higher price/book valuations and superior stock price performance,” according to the Credit Suisse Research Institute. According to research from Columbia University, greater (gender) diversity is associated with higher-quality managerial task and firm performance. Experimental evidence has been able to isolate diversity as the causal factor in increased group and firm performance, rather than another spurious explanation.

But What About the Values?

Data about firm performance is great, but it’s not the most compelling reason to get involved with or care about efforts to diversify our offices. Something that makes Atlassian so special is that everything we do comes down to the values; since the beginning, Atlassian has done unconventional things because they were the right thing to do (and it turns out, it’s usually a good business move too!). So what does this have to do with our values? Here’s just a sampling:

  • Open Company, No Bullshit: Part of openness and transparency is recognizing and celebrating our differences. Rather than allowing them to divide us, we can look at the uniqueness that each Atlassian brings to work. By appreciating perspectives different from our own, we’re able to learn and grow in ways we’d never be able to without that outside influence.
  • Build with Heart and Balance: Almost by definition, diversity is about about creating balance on our teams. It’s about having the heart to be open to other perspectives, and understanding that not everyone has the same experiences (or requires the same treatment!) as we do.
  • Don’t F&*# The Customer: We build better products when we understand our customers. As we expand to unleash the potential in every team, we need more people who understand what those different kinds of teams need and want.
  • Play, as a Team: We want everyone to have an equal chance to make our team and to receive the support they need once they make it.
  • Be the Change You Seek: This is our opportunity to re-write the rule book on what it looks like to create a diverse, inclusive company. We have an incredible pipeline of things planned this year, but there’s always more to do. Whether it’s starting up a new initiative, following this blog each month, and/or learning a bit about your own unconscious biases, you can absolutely be the change today.

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Equitable Design & Impact @CultureAmp. Advisor, investor. Mathpath = (Math Nerd + Empath). Queer dog mom, Latina. Your contribution matters. She/her.

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Aubrey Blanche, The Mathpath

Aubrey Blanche, The Mathpath

Equitable Design & Impact @CultureAmp. Advisor, investor. Mathpath = (Math Nerd + Empath). Queer dog mom, Latina. Your contribution matters. She/her.