Focus on teams to boost diversity

Why corporate-level diversity metrics are the wrong answer to improving representation and opportunity in tech.

Aubrey Blanche, The Mathpath
3 min readJan 17, 2017

This article originally appeared in USA Today on March 8, 2016.

It’s no secret there’s a serious lack of diversity in the tech industry and the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging it. Many companies now release diversity figures in an effort to be more transparent about the degree to which certain groups are underrepresented. More progressive companies are trying to take that one step further by launching programs aimed at closing those gaps.

But there’s a lot of criticism that very little has actually changed since these reports and programs launched. Corporate-level numbers haven’t helped us move the needle. Why?

The answer is simple: We’re only looking at a small slice of the data. The key to making real change requires us to go deeper. We need to focus on where diversity matters most: teams.

Increased representation isn’t always increased diversity

Corporate-level data helps us understand where we are as an industry. It gives us a great sense of the make-up of the tech industry as it stands now, and allows us to compare how companies are doing relative to each other overall.

But it doesn’t tell us how to move forward. Nor does it tell us anything about the specific gaps a particular company has. In fact, corporate-level numbers can distract from the fact that an increase in representation doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in diversity. That’s a critical distinction to make. For example, a company could increase its representation of women of color by two percentage points. But if all of those women are working on the same team, the company is unlikely to get any of the benefits associated with diversity.

And these are not minuscule benefits. Diversity provides companies with important competitive advantages. Research shows the introduction of people who are demographically different within a group drives greater innovation and individual and team performance. In fact, team performance has been shown to increase by 58% with the introduction of a diverse team member. That’s why the only way for meaningful business impact to occur is ensuring diversity is represented at the team — not just corporate — level.

Teams are key to driving business benefit

At Atlassian, we are all about teams. We know that behind every lone genius, every transformative innovation, is a team working tirelessly to make it happen. And it turns out, teams are key to improving the diversity of our company — even our entire industry. Diversity of thought happens when people with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives are given the chance to collaborate. Drilling deeper into diversity data to look at the state of diversity within teams is the only way to discover if people from different backgrounds and identities actually interact. After all, it’s this interaction that drives real business benefits.

Team-level diversity data is the only way to get at the meaningful gaps within a company. That, in turn, can help leaders develop actionable programs to address those gaps. If a company sees that most women are grouped together in only a few teams, programs that boost the recruitment of women should focus on teams with lower levels of representation. If people of color tend to be spread across teams, it becomes clear that programs are needed to encourage cross-team communities that foster a sense of belonging and inclusion. Creating specific strategies to improve representation and inclusion at the team level will drive change in corporate-level numbers, in a more transparent way with greater impact.

We need to change the diversity conversation

On Tuesday, we released the industry’s first team diversity report to provide an understanding about what Atlassian teams look like. Driven by our deeper understanding, we’ve made important improvements that helped us hire and retain the most diverse groups of Atlassians yet. But we’re not yet where we want to be ((75% male globally, and 73% white, 17% Asian, 5% Latino and 2% black in the United States).

We’ll continue analyzing these numbers to design programs that address the specific needs of each of our teams, and sharing our successes and failures with the rest of the industry.

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Aubrey Blanche, The Mathpath

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