#110: Creating Balanced Teams (and Avoiding Groupthink)

In recognition of International Women’s Day, and because it’s a really important topic, this is a very special episode. The two straight, white, cisgender male co-hosts of this podcast sat this episode out, while Moe took over the mic for an in-depth discussion with Alison Vorsatz from Fairygodboss and Aubrey Blanche from Atlassian about diversity (a term they both try to avoid) in the workplace. If this episode doesn’t change your perspective and compel you to action, you are almost certainly not a human being.

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Episode Transcript


00:04 (Announcer): Welcome to The Digital Analytics Power Hour. Tim, Michael, Moe and the occasional guest discussing digital analytics issues of the day. Find them on Facebook at facebook.com/analyticshour, and their website, analyticshour.io. And now, The Digital Analytics Power Hour.


00:28 Moe Kiss: Hi everyone, welcome to The Digital Analytics Power Hour. This is episode 110. I’m Michael Helb… Oh, wait, no I’m not. I’m Moe Kiss. In honor of International Women’s Day, Michael and Tim are sending this episode out. And I’m taking over moderator duties along with an incredible guest co-host. That’s right, this is going to be an all female show today, and an analytics first. Now, as loyal listeners, you know that we never shy away at an opportunity for irony. So this show is gonna be tops on that front, because the topic is “Diversity.” Many of you know this is a topic near and dear to my heart and one our industry is speaking a lot about at the moment. So joining me today on the show as a guest cohost is Alison Vorsatz who is currently the Enterprise Sales Director at Fairygodboss. She’s also previously worked at a wide range of companies, including over 10 years at Verizon, and she also developed and led a Girls’ and Women’s Empowerment Program across East and Southern Africa. Hopefully, she can keep me in line with Tim away. So welcome to the show, Alison.

01:39 Alison Vorsatz: Thank you, thank you for having me.

01:41 MK: Super excited. And also joining Alison and I is Aubrey Blanche. Aubrey is a Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian, and is the advisor to a number of organizations, including, SheStarts Accelerator at the BlueChilli group. Welcome to the show Aubrey.

02:01 Aubrey Blanche: So glad to be here, thank you for having me.

02:03 MK: I’m… Yeah, I’m really excited about today’s episode. So before we get stuck into it, I’m just curious to hear a little bit from both of you, I guess, just kind of like a short… Like, how did you get to where you are? And you’re obviously on the show today because diversity is a topic that’s near and dear to you. So, yeah, I’d love to hear a little bit about your experiences.

02:23 AV: So, this is Alison, and my experience is, I built my career in tech sales and tech sales leadership. I spent a variety of time at different Fortune 500 companies doing business to business sales and sales leadership there. I spent over 10 years at Verizon and while I learned a tremendous amount during my time in the Fortune 500 companies I worked for, I often found myself to be the only woman in the room. [chuckle] I was significantly younger than a lot of my counterparts, and while I loved what I did, it came with a lot of challenges from a perspective of both being younger and also being a female in that type of role. And with those challenges, it got to a point where one day I decided that it wasn’t the right fit for me anymore. Even though I loved the company, I loved what I did, I wanted to do something more and there was this kind of secret to message that happens in the Fortune 500 where, when there are a few women around, you see another woman and you’re like, “Hey, hey, how can I help you?” You know?


03:19 AV: You’re trying to figure out how to help each other. But I wanted to do something on a much bigger scale. So after 10 years at that same company, I decided to leave my career and I moved to Africa and I ran a Girls’ and Women’s Empowerment Program that I codeveloped across Tanzania where I worked with the Maasai girls, in rural villages in Zambia, where I worked in suburban areas and in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa. And while I was there, I had the amazing opportunity to really do some self-discovery, and understand what I felt my purpose was. And I had gone from being a woman in the workforce who advocated for women in the workforce, to being a woman who was Grassroot in Africa working with underrepresented women and helping them develop the ability to dream and to increase their skills in learning things like how to manage finances, how to read in some cases, how to write a resume, how to prepare for a job interview, how to learn additional skills that could generate income for them. And throughout that time, I was really searching for what I felt it was my purpose in this life and it came to me in my time in Africa and in that moment I realized that the reason I was in Africa was because I was supposed to be a voice for women that couldn’t be a voice for themselves.

04:35 AV: And during this journey, I saw so much progress in my time in Africa that I thought, “This is crazy, that I live in the United States, [chuckle] and we have all of these challenges for women in the workforce and women in general, and if we can make progress at a Grassroot level here, then we can do a lot more in our own country.” And when I came back, I connected with Fairygodboss and the rest has been history. And now I work for a mission-based company and our mission is to improve the workforce for women through greater transparency, and we are obsessed with gender equality and making the workforce a better place for women, which ultimately makes the workforce a better place for everyone.

05:09 MK: Wow, that’s such an incredible story. And really came to dig into it a little bit. Aubrey, what about yourself?

05:17 AB: Yeah, so probably, surprisingly, I never really meant to work in the diversity space. So maybe it’s the theme of the podcast, I’m a data person, I think, first, or I meant to be. So my background is a little bit zigzaggy. I started out college as a vocal performance major, ended up finishing as a Journalism and Political Science major. I worked as a journalist and then actually went to grad school to study quantitative political science. I feel obligated to say that I dropped out of my PhD, which I did not know was trendy in Silicon Valley when I did it, and I actually got into tech, through business development. So I worked at a company called Palantir Technologies. And honestly, when I got to tech, I moved to California. I’m a Mexican-American, Latino woman myself and so, I was really excited to be surrounded by community. And as I started to grow my network in tech, I just got genuinely freaked out by how much everybody matched. Like, it’s very abnormal.

06:17 AB: And I actually just asked that like, “Why is this happening?” And the answers that I got consistently across the industry were things like, “Well, we’re a meritocracy,” and, “Oh, we don’t wanna lower the bar.” And as again, a math person, I was like, “First of all, that’s mathematically impossible. And second of all, that’s kind of racist, and sexist.” I think I can solve the problem. And so I kind of moved into DNI because I just became really obsessed with the challenge and the idea of using social science to improve systems, specifically because I care so much about fairness and equity, and justice. So I kind of jumped into a diversity job and didn’t actually know it was a career or a field, so I feel like [chuckle] I’ve sort of learned that over the last five years. But I moved from that company over to Atlassian, and I’ve been here for a little over 3 1/2 years now.

07:08 AB: And really took what was happening at the Grassroot level sort of passion around inclusion and wanting to do better. And we’ve built that into a formal corporate function, obviously increasing the representation of women over the last 3 1/2 years, but also thinking about folks with intersectional identities and other groups like, if you’re underrepresented from a racial ethnic point of view, workers over 40, I’m happy to dive into the data there if it’s helpful. But yeah, data and diversity are basically my two favorite things.

07:38 MK: Yeah, pretty much likewise. So we’ve been mentioning the word diversity quite a bit. I’m really curious to hear how would you define diversity Aubrey?

07:48 AB: Yeah, so I think… Folks on the line know this, and I’ll give you two answers. I think there’s the way we think of as the dictionary definition and then it’s really important to talk about the way the word is actually used and what it means in terms of its constructed meaning. So, what diversity means is just the presence of difference, right? And depending on where you’re thinking about is, is the type of difference relevant? I think in our work, we think it is relevant. But at Atlassian we did some research last year. So we do something every year called The State of Diversity Survey, and it’s the only internationally representative survey about attitudes and behaviors towards diversity and inclusion in the global tech industry. And one of the things we found was that people associate the word diversity with white women and black Americans. And I think this is really important and the reason I actually really, really dislike the use of the word diversity and at Atlassian, we talk about building balanced teams.

08:45 AB: Now, the reason for that is, when you have a word that on its face looks like everybody can be a part of it, but the actual meaning is just this very narrow set of groups. What you end up doing is both disadvantaging folks who are underrepresented who don’t fall into those categories and two, making people from majority groups think that diversity is not about them, which causes them to not care and disengage. So, I think it’s much more honest and helpful for us to talk about building balanced teams, because what that balance looks like is gonna be different in every context. Diversity looks different in each geography or in a given specialty, say, in HR maybe we don’t need to work on the representation of women, but we do need to look at our underrepresented. Maybe it’s women of color who are underrepresented or maybe it’s men of color who are underrepresented. And so, I think that getting away from the word diversity is actually a way for us to make progress on diversity.

09:39 MK: I’ve read a quote actually, that you mentioned at some point which was that, it’s a little bit ironic, but basically, you wanna get rid of the term diversity. So would you always use that phrase like, creating balanced teams, or…

09:52 AB: As much as possible, I do. So it’s… What are our goals here? We wanna build balance. And then it leads you down to the obvious question, what does that mean in this context? So we’re much more context aware. So, as a good example, I think it also helps you win arguments for like, “Oh, you only care about women?” I’m like, “Well no, we just hired a male leader on HR, so we now have a more balanced team.” And the empirical research suggests that that’s actually what you want. So teams that are gender balanced, for example, tend to have better logical and creative problem solving abilities. But when you veer too far from that balance, you get decreased performance, whether it’s that you have an overrepresentation of women or men, they haven’t studied nonbinary folks in that context to my knowledge, but that would also be relevant.

10:34 MK: And Alison in your work, is… I mean, does the term diversity, I guess, come as loaded as it sounds like it is in lots of work places or I guess, ’cause you have quite a different mission?

10:47 AV: Yes, [chuckle] that’s a two-part answer, I think. So it is a loaded term. And we also like the term inclusion and balance for the reason that one of our primary focuses is based on hiring candidates that would create a balanced team. And when you say that you have diverse candidates [chuckle] often people’s mind goes to, “Well, why can’t we just hire someone that’s good for the job, that’s the right fit?’ It goes to diverse somehow can equal less than. Because it sounds like something different. That’s not what you have today, and what you have today might be “working.” And so, that is one big challenge that we see with… When you approach from a hiring perspective, and also in general to Aubrey’s point, the balance is what we’re really looking for. And so, we advocate for women and that makes some men very uncomfortable. [chuckle] Not surprising, but we’re not just advocating for women, we’re really advocating for equality. And the female workforce is our vehicle but that includes women of color, women with diversabilities, women who are veterans, women who identify as LGBTQ or any combination thereof. And I think sometimes when you say we’re advocating for women, it’s interesting that Aubrey you said that that means sometimes white women [chuckle] is the natural first thought.

12:01 AV: And our goal, particularly is to advocate for women in every aspect, in every form and making sure that they’re represented, because it’s not enough to advocate for white women. [chuckle] We have to advocate for everyone and get that message across. And one of the challenges sometimes we see when we work with organizations, is it sounds like a very daunting task to bring balanced teams. So people are sometimes looking for shortcuts. So they go, “If we could just find an African-American woman who identified as LGBTQ, and she was a veteran, then everything would… We would be able to get a lot faster on this journey.” And the goal is to really be thoughtful about how you use the intersectionality. It’s not a check box, it’s not a system to try to make it seem like you have more balance because you found candidates that fit multiple categories. It’s really a mindset change in how you’re looking at your candidates, how you’re looking at your organization, how you’re looking at your teams and to Aubrey’s point really bringing that top level of performance with different types of thought, and different types of experiences in the day-to-day workforce.

13:02 MK: I’m just curious, so the data and analytics community, I actually think is doing a pretty good job at the moment. Most of the guys that I know in the industry are incredibly supportive, incredibly involved. We have women in analytics events, we have speeches, we have stickers, conferences are making efforts to have more diverse speakers. There’s a mentoring program, there’s a chat group. I feel like as a collective, we’re actually doing a pretty good job and I’m really proud of kind of where our industry is at. But there’s always this subset that are just really resistant. And any time this topic comes up, get really uncomfortable, and I guess, kind of go down the, “Well, there’s not really any issues, we just hired the best person for the job.” How have you… Like, how do you tackle that? Or do you just think that you create so much momentum, eventually like the wave crashes on them?

14:02 AB: So, I usually like to answer that with a question. What makes you think that you are doing that today? Because I think people see this sort of best person for the job versus diversity, as in either/or, and what the math… These are data people, actually tells you is that a balanced team is the outcome of hiring the best people. That you have lowered the bar, if you have hired a homogenous team, because you have given people who are unqualified the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity that you wouldn’t have given someone if they had a different gender or skin color. And I think that’s really… I straight up tell people that, or I say, “Can you bring me data that suggests that I am wrong?” And I think people really quickly kinda go, “No, I don’t have any data, except for my personal experience.” And then you talk through, ’cause I like data people, I’m like, “Alright, so let’s talk through selection effects, and network effects and how we might have gotten to this outcome that has nothing to do with merit.” And I think if you take people on that journey it can be a little bit easier, but I wanna hold for a moment that, one of the reason that people are really resistant is actually not because of an intellectual misunderstanding, it’s actually, because in order to get them to agree and understand that it’s a problem, they have to fundamentally reform their own self-identity.

15:21 AB: So if you are, for example, a straight, white cisgender man who is in technology, who believes that you’ve been successful solely due to your own hard work and brilliance, to believe that you may have had a tailwind of help from those demographic characteristics literally requires you to reframe all of your own success in life. And so, I think approaching those conversations with that knowledge is really, really critical. Because if you’re just trying to attack the head, like the front of someone brain with it, you’re not necessarily gonna get it right. You have to understand, it’s a whole person kind of conversion, and that might not happen in one conversation.

16:00 AV: Yeah, that’s spot on. And to add on what Aubrey said about reframing your own success and how you evaluate your career and who else might be great for the job. There’s a lot of talk right now around unconscious bias, and something that comes into it is, if you know you are raised a certain way in a certain type of community, you go to a certain school, you’ve had a certain career path, and certain success, the natural idea would be that people that are like you will also be successful in the role, and really extending outside of what you think would be successful and really drilling down into what are the core qualities? Because if the core qualities of your candidate, if there are things like self-disciplined or driven or detail-oriented or organized, or whatever it might be, those qualities are blind. They can extend across any type of candidate in any environment. But the trap we fall into is to Aubrey’s point, is that when we see people like us, we assume they’re gonna be successful like us. And then, that acknowledgement is scary that you’ve had help at some point in your life, that you didn’t just do this on your own.

17:02 AV: And this is something that a lot of companies are trying to tackle right now. Unconscious bias training has become top of mind for a lot of HR organizations and they’re really asking people to think about it, but you’re also asking people to unpack decades of how they’ve thought about the world, [chuckle] the way they grew up, the communities they lived in, how they feel subconsciously about people of different genders, different racial ethnicities, different sexual orientations, different types of abilities. And so, you’re asking people to unpack their entire life of how they socialize and that is not an easy task, and companies are really taking the right direction in terms of these types of trainings, but it needs to go to the next level because the training is not enough. Everyone on some level can identify that, “Oh, perhaps I think this way because of how I was raised and the experience I’ve had.” But how do you take it to the next level of getting to then, thinking the interview process and in the day-to-day socialization as you promote, as you engage within your own company and be able to strip back those biases and say, “Can I really see someone for who they are, what they really bring to the role as a potential candidate, and give them a fair shot? Because the way it’s being worked today, that’s not happening very often.”

18:08 MK: I actually really wanna touch on something that you just mentioned there, Alison. And being a field of data analysts, we’re very familiar with the term heuristics. It’s something that we think about all the time in terms of, is a way that we’re thinking about this problem influencing our analysis and the outcome of our findings, our recommendation? Aubrey, I’ve heard you speak previously on this topic, can you just talk to us a little bit about how this same… I guess, this same path would happen as it relates to hiring the best candidate, or even viewing performance?

18:45 AB: Yeah, so I think that one of the things that’s often misunderstood… And I think Alison is totally correct, unconscious bias training is like the thing that everyone does in diversity and inclusion, and for the data people out there, the bad news is that running training on its own has absolutely no effect as far as we can tell on people’s day-to-day work experiences, and it has the potential if run poorly to actually create more bias and backlash in an organization. So, I wanna caveat to doom and gloom and flip a little bit to the good news, which is I think there are ways that it can be implemented that are actually meaningfully helpful. And I think Alison kinda touched on the ways that shows up. So I’ll speak a little bit more corporately, but in the sense that when you run a training that’s really focused on giving individuals actionable strategies that they can use in their day-to-day work to mitigate those biases, that has actually been proven to be helpful, but I think what’s also important is if you’re going to run a training, you also need to develop a comprehensive audit strategy for your people processes.

19:51 AB: So it’s a yes and. The training can give people a common language to discuss the gaps in their own objectivity and some behaviors that they can begin to exhibit in the workplace. But as a head of DNI or an HR department, you also need to be looking at your hiring rates, looking at the gender and racial distributions of your promotional velocity, looking at who’s getting promoted to director, what are those attrition rates, the distribution of performance scores, because that’s where bias shows up and where it’s come, also around pay equity across all sort of different parts of pay. So I would say that unconscious bias training can be a force for good if it’s implemented well, and it’s complemented with actually monitoring the systems where bias shows up. But that folks shouldn’t be thinking that a training in and of itself is gonna fundamentally shift to someone’s behavior. You also need to think about the incentives that you’re giving them to actually practice the things that they learn in the training.

20:47 MK: I think that’s really important though because I think the thing that drives me most nuts is when people are like, “Oh you have a least unconscious biases, just become aware of them and you’ll be able to change your behavior.” And it’s like they’re unconscious, like you can’t just become aware of them, you actually need, you need a strategy, you need a framework to help you be like, “Okay, how do I make sure my job application will appeal to the most broad range of people and not cause some people to not apply because of the language I’ve used, or how do I make sure that I interview in a way that makes people feel really comfortable.” And I don’t know, I just… Yeah, I’m a little bit sick of unconscious bias, just work on it…


21:28 AB: Right. But you’re like my brain isn’t architected to, that system works in a lot of ways. So I think it’s that, I think it’s training to just get you to the point where you understand that bias is a thing, because that’s not a universally known concept, so you need to take people on that journey. You need to hold them accountable for changing their behavior, and then you need to monitor the higher order systems processes that are gonna be sort of the lagging indicators of whether those biases are happening.

21:54 MK: Okay, so then how do you actually get the business to care about this in the first place? ’cause in order to have a program, you need to have some kind of momentum, you need to have some leadership. I guess when you’re trying to convince an organization that this is the path to take, I guess what’s been your strategy, yeah, to get people listen?

22:13 AB: Yeah, absolutely. So I think you need to speak in the language of what a business cares about, and quite frankly, I think that all of the goals of diversity and inclusion are completely aligned. So it’s, “Hey we know that bias is something that can be reduced and we know that it causes churn, it causes attrition, it causes people to not be contributing as much as they could to the business and here is a comprehensive strategy for us to mitigate that. That means that we’re gonna be retaining talent, that that talent is gonna be more balanced, meaning it’s gonna amplify the problem solving ability and the solution development ability of our individual teams. For us, it also matters that we serve a very global customer base, the more we reflect our customers internally, the better we’re gonna build for them externally, which quite frankly turns into revenue.”

23:02 AB: And so I think positioning it that way is, it’s definitely the right thing to do, but it also just helps us achieve our business objectives especially when you’re thinking about losing high performers. I think that focusing on that sort of high performer retention question is really motivating to the business to say, “Well, if we have an amazing person who’s contributing, but they’re experiencing this level of bias, they’re likely to go somewhere else,” we can prevent that pretty easily or at least lower the chances of it.

23:29 AV: And in addition to that, Mackenzie did a great study last year that showed that companies that have, for example, gender diverse executive teams out performed by 21% in terms of their revenue and what they return to their shareholders. So there’s actually a business case using the data to say that if you have a more diverse workforce that will generate more revenue for your company, happier shareholders, happier customers in your day-to-day customer experience, customers wanna walk into an organization and feel like the person behind the counter or the person they’re talking to on the phone, possibly looks like them. And so making sure representing that across the board is good for business and it’s good for performance and profitability too.

24:07 MK: So if you were starting completely from scratch, what would your dream I guess balanced team program look like? We’ve talked about training and we’ve talked about some different strategies, but if you were just… Yeah, it’s day zero.

24:22 AV: That’s a good one. So my dream balanced team, and this is interesting ’cause I work at a company that’s focused on women empowerment in the workforce [chuckle], so we definitely have more women working for us [chuckle] than we do men. But I think that it would be to go in and really think about what are the types of thought leadership that you’re looking for, and what are the types of experiences of people that are gonna bring that thought leadership. And forget about education, forget about where they’re from, forget about age or gender or ethnicity or any of that, just to start, and put together a profile of the types of people that you would wanna engage with, and then really think about how you’re gonna connect with them. And ideally, I would love to be on a team where I was the only person that looks like me, that’s really my dream is to be in a space where I’m the only one that has my experiences, I’m the only one that has my life path and the only one that looks like me, and so when I walk into work every day, it would be such a blessing to be able to be surrounded by people that come from different walks of life, different experiences, and bring that different thought leadership.

25:24 AV: So if I could do that from scratch, that would be amazing. And something I’m seeing a lot of companies starting to do is they’re removing indicators from resumes, they’re removing names, they’re removing locations or even removing education, ’cause there’s a lot of education bias out there, particularly in Silicon Valley, people like to hire from Ivy League or Stanford. And so the poor person that went to state school doesn’t get a chance. [chuckle] So I would do that perception and really take a chance and look at people from a completely unboxed way. And also there’s been some great other types of tools out there where you interview and it’s a MAST interview, so you can’t hear the person’s voice so you don’t know if they’re a man or a woman or how they identify, you have no idea of age. And so there’s a lot of tools that are out there to use that, but I think the real start comes from understanding what you want to be surrounded by and acknowledging that there’s this old adage right, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room,” [chuckle] it should be the same for this.

26:20 AV: If everyone in the room looks like you, you’re in the wrong room, you’re not in the room, that’s coming up with the most innovation and the most thought leadership and the most dynamic conversation and sometimes that difference in opinion is what sparks really brilliant ideas because if a bunch of respected professionals can sit in a room and they can hash it out and someone can bring out an idea and someone says, “No, I don’t like that idea. Here’s what I think we should do instead.” And at the end of the day, you can all walk away still respecting each other, but knowing that you got the best of the ideas that come from those types of environments that’s the dream, because every idea that comes out of there, it’s gonna have been vetted. You’re gonna have a lot of different perspectives and by the time you take that to market, whether it’s for a product that you’re launching or a company initiative, it’s going to have been vetted by all these different types of people and it will be set up for success.

27:05 AB: I feel like I wanna plus one everything Alison says.


27:09 MK: I should have made someone controversial come on, just to shake things up.

27:14 AB: I think there’s one thing where anyone that works in the space, we have just like a default appreciation for other people doing it because we realize how hard it is to change the structural institutions of the career-chy. It’s just hard. So yeah, I would say my ideal program, I don’t know if I can give you a smart answer to be totally honest because I think it’s gonna depend so much on what the company is and what it does. But if a company could from day one prioritized creating a culture where people are kind and are rewarded for bringing in people who are different from them, whatever that means in your context, and that would be really incredible. I also want to just plus one the idea about educational diversity, so fun fact for all of you who have those core school lists and they include Stanford and MIT. I went to Stanford. Not all the brilliant people in the world go there. And in fact, the number one predictor of whether you go to a school like that is how much money your parents have, not how much brilliance, potential or anything else you have to offer someone.

28:15 AB: Third reason you shouldn’t do it is because if you have a narrow set of education opportunities, you’re literally saying, “I wish I could hire for group think and limited problem solving ability,” [chuckle] which I don’t think anyone would admit, but that’s what you’re doing by hiring from only a tiny set of schools.

28:31 MK: Yeah.

28:31 AB: So yeah, I think my dream program would be building and monitoring from day one. So when you see problems, that you flag in and address them before it gets huge. Once you start investing in DNI when you’re a 5000-person company, time and numbers are against you. And so I would say, anything you do at the beginning of a start-up or at the beginning of a team is gonna pay huge dividends, and it doesn’t have to be resource intensive, it can be making sure people aren’t interrupting in meetings, asking that the people intentionally meet colleagues different from themselves, making a personal effort to mentor or sponsor or engaging community across lines of difference, hopefully across alignment. I always think about, we all have privileges and we all have disadvantages. And so how do I think about something that I’m really lucky to have, whether that’s the fact that I pass for right or that I had the opportunity for a great education, and how can I share that with someone who maybe doesn’t have that advantage? And I think those are things we can all do. But my dream program is basically those principles, turned into organizational structures.

29:33 AV: That’s amazing, I loved when you dropped the mic on group think [chuckle] and then limited ideas because of it. But one thing I wanna add to what Aubrey said that’s really important is when you’re talking about engaging with other communities, a lot of companies have built affinity circles or resource groups. So they’ll have different types of groups, but you’ll have a Women’s Resource Group that’s filled with all women [chuckle], and for this to work, and for people to learn outside of their current space, and to engage with their people, you need to have men in your Women’s Resource Group. [chuckle]

30:04 AV: You need to have people that don’t identify under LGBTQ in that Resource Group to be allies across the board and if you have a women of color or an African-American resource group, you need to have people that are not identifying as that there. And that’s a really good opportunity for companies that, I don’t know how much it’s being taken advantage of, at each individual company where you have all of these resource groups you’ve set up, but then what is the level that you can engage everyone in the company to join those resource groups and say, “you don’t have to identify as one thing, we’re here about lifting everyone up together and sharing that perspective and you happen to be a Caucasian male executive, great, you should join all the resource groups, you do join all of them and be a part of that story, and listen and then be able to learn and take that back and communicate that to other people as well.”

30:47 AB: Yeah, I would also say make it easy for people to belong to multiple groups.

30:52 AV: Yes.

30:52 AB: Yeah, so it’s really, really hard as a career Latina woman, I have to be Mexican in the POC Group, but I can’t be a woman of color in the women group. And so I think it’s really important to create structures that allow ERGs to mingle and cross. So at Atlassian, an example is Women Wednesdays, that’s sort of a monthly get-together for women in the SF office. But every other month, we actually focus on an intersectional group within women. So, often June is Pride Month, so often will do some kind of LGBT thing or something like that, to make sure that we’re centering different identities within that group, which I think is both great for folks who are in the majority. But it actually creates a better sense of belonging and different types of people feel that they can show up.

31:36 AV: Let’s say that’s a best practice. A lot of companies should be doing more of that instead of categorizing people. And going back to the diversity piece, here’s how you identify, it’s the intersectionality of all those different pieces that makes you whole, that you’re bringing your whole self to work and you feel comfortable doing that and being able to share that whole self with your colleagues.

31:53 MK: I’m just curious, when you’re looking as a job seeker and you are always doing your research and you check out the board and the executive team, and you look at them and realize they’re all pretty much the same person or a very similar from the same group, should that be a flag for you as an applicant? And would you say no to a job if you kinda saw that as you were doing your research?

32:20 AV: I think that depends on the company and the messaging behind it. I wish I could say that we lived in a world that there were women across every executive team and it was equally dispersed, we’re not there yet, and we don’t have people of color across every diversity team and we don’t have… That’s the first challenge right? Is, there’s not a lot of companies out there where you’re gonna see a truly diverse executive team and the ones that you do, Yes, you should definitely apply there, but for everyone else, I think it’s about the messaging and the story behind it. I feel strongly that I’ve seen companies that have executive teams that look very similar, but are really actively working to create programs to develop people into leadership roles to be thoughtful about how they hire and their work is in progress. They’re not there yet, they’re not the perfect place for everyone to work but they’re working towards becoming a more inclusive place.

33:12 AV: And then of course there are companies that are not doing that. So I think it’s not so much what you see on the outside, it’s do the digger deeping, or the deep diving I should say into, looking into review sites like Fairygodboss or other review sites to see what are the employees saying about their day-to-day experience. Because I think it’s okay for an employee to say something like, “Hey, we didn’t have any women in leadership before, but I’ve noticed in the last few months that we’ve been promoting women into leadership, we’re making progress.” And that’s something that people wanna be a part of, as opposed to someone saying, “Listen this place is not changing,” [chuckle] and kinda giving you the warning that way. So the power of an employee’s voice, and what their current experiences can really help you sort out the companies that look like they may not be diverse, but are actually trying, and then companies that are not actually trying [chuckle]

34:03 AB: Yeah, I whole heartedly agree. So I would say first is that, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to ever tell anyone what they should personally prioritize, but I don’t think that just looking at the make-up of an executive and the board team is a useful indicator in a lot of cases. And the reason for that is you have situations where it could be that the company is really dedicated, but there actually haven’t been any open roles at that level in the last couple of years. So those roles just don’t open up or turn over that much. And so you see that companies that take the opportunities when they’re there but if they’re not adding board members… No one who is dedicated diversity comes in and fires half of the existing team to replace them. And so a lot of the composition of those most senior roles are legacy issues. So I would say, if that’s critically important, make your choices that way, but I don’t think it’s the best signal of how you’re gonna feel day-to-day, which is totally right. Like utilize whisper networks, talk to people actually work there.

35:00 AB: I did it at Atlassian, I was like, “I get what you’re saying to me, but I wanna hear how people actually feel internally, Am I stepping into a trash fire, or am I stepping into something that I’d feel I can actually improve and there’s momentum.” And I liked what I heard, which was one of the reasons I took the role. I would also say to candidates, one of the worst questions you can ask an interviewer is, “Does your company care about diversity, and inclusion?” There’s no useful signal out of that question because everyone knows that they’re supposed to say yes.

35:28 MK: So what should they be asked?

35:30 AB: Yeah, I think what you should ask people is, it also depends on the role. I wouldn’t expect my average front-line manager to be able to rattle off all of the diversity programs that we have. But what I would ask them is, “In the context of your role, how have you thought about helping underrepresented teammates or what have you contributed to this?” I think that’s a great question because if you’re just an interviewer, maybe it’s that they’re mentoring someone or maybe they participated in ERG but I think that’s more useful for you as a candidate to see whether people are engaging and then follow up with your recruiter when you want a bunch of information about programs ’cause they’re gonna have access to that from HR. And so, it’s not about not asking, it’s about asking the right questions to the right people and looking for the right signals, like Fairygodboss, other things that provide real-life testimonials are gonna be much more relevant to you than who’s in the C-Suite, especially if you’re thinking about a large company.

36:24 AV: I just wanna touch on that. You’ve both mentioned a little bit about the business and messaging it and everyone, it does seem like most companies are making some traction in this space but as a business, how do you message the fact that you do have all these programs and that you’re working really hard on this without being like, “Yeah, we’ve got this, we’ve nailed it, we’re amazing,” and sounding a bit douchey to be honest.

36:48 AB: So I can give you my answer because I’ve been trying to do this for three and a half years, and my best piece of advice is be super out-front about what you’re fucking up. Sorry, I work with Australians…


37:00 MK: No, that’s totally fine, we’re explicitly rated for the past.


37:03 AB: Great, but I think that’s actually, so a lot of companies come out with branding, and I think partners, I think partners like Fairygodboss actually vet the people that they work with, they’re not just like, “Oh you’ll give us money, so we’ll work with you.” I think that working with partners like that is a great credibility signal, but also as a company not pretending you know what you’re doing, this is a completely unsolved problem and no underrepresented person is fooled by your brand page. That’s like, “We’re an inclusion wonderland.” No one believes it. And so certainly we try to highlight the great things that we’re doing at Atlassian but you’ll also notice in our diversity report every year, we’re really open about what we tried to do and didn’t do well. So last year that was actually how our black employees felt at work, and we put that right in our report that not only have we not really grown the representation of that community, but that they had meaningfully different experiences, and there were things we could do to improve that, and that’s actually a strategic priority for us now going into this year, right? So I think there’s the important second part of if you’re open about what you’re doing, also talk about what you’re doing to address it.

38:06 AB: Because what I’ve found is that that is actually the biggest trust building exercise. I do a lot of cell calls with candidates who wanna know about diversity, and the number… I kind of AB tested this over the last year, and the line that I’ve been using in candidates that I think is completely truthful is I can’t tell you that we’re perfect, but I can tell you that we take it seriously, and if you have a problem, we’ll resolve it for you. We’re still building and this is an opportunity for you to help shape what that looks like, but we are here to support you. And it turns out that that’s been really credible to candidates. And Alison can probably speak as she works probably so much more with those folks specifically whereas I’m also balancing our plays internally.

38:47 AV: Oh, Aubrey, you nailed it. So we have done a lot of research on this, and we’ve shown that for women in particular, no one’s expecting the perfect place for women to work. I have yet to find that company in our society, but until then, what they wanna know is if you’re committed to it, if you’re on the journey, if you’re being transparent, you’re showing not just the things that are the good things, but you’re showing the things that you’re working on and you’re using data to power of the conversation. And it’s okay if 10% of your management team is women and you’re trying to move the dial to 20% next year, if you’re sharing your progress, even if you’re like, “Hey we didn’t make 20%, we got to 15”, it still shows that you’re moving the dial and that data shows the investment and it also holds companies accountable to not just… Like Aubrey said, the beautiful inclusion page. Look how wonderful it is to work here. But here’s the initiatives we’re taking and here’s what we’re doing about it, and we’re serious. Because we have some companies we work with that even up to the executive level some companies are rating their executives in their annual reviews on the increase of inclusion in their company culture.

39:48 AV: Now, when you put that on someone’s annual review now it’s top of mind as part of who they are and it’s holding executives accountable, it’s holding companies accountable. And we found really that the true process is that if you’re on the journey and you are making efforts and you’re sharing that data, women in particular wanna be a part of that journey with you, and what an amazing opportunity to be a part of a company that is shaping the company they want to be, and to have that opportunity to say, “I’m part of this movement within this company, I’m part of reshaping and redefining who we want to be from an aspirational standpoint and I’m gonna help this company get there.” And that in particular I think resonates with a lot of candidates because people want to be a part of the journey, they want to help and they want to know that they contributed to something really phenomenal in the end.

40:35 MK: So I wanna just quickly move to something completely new that we’ve never tried on the show before because today is a day of firsts, but basically, I’m gonna pin each one of you with a person at a company, and I’d like to hear what one piece of advice you’d give to that person would be. So firstly, Alison, and the CEO of a company.

40:58 AV: Oh, any CEO of any company?

41:00 MK: Yeah, if you had to give them one piece of advice on diversity, or building balanced teams, what do you think you’d say?

41:07 AV: Only one? Okay, this is a tough one, ’cause I’d say there’s a lot of great pieces of advice, but I would say to survey your employees and ask them what is the kind of company that you want to work at, what is the kind of company that you want to be at? Because I don’t think as an executive or as any single person you should make a decision about your entire company’s journey, but I think engaging with your employees and understanding what is it that you’re not seeing because if you are an executive, you’re not on the ground floor, you’re not in every team meeting, you’re not seeing and hearing the experiences of your employees. So I would ask from their perspective first to make sure that you are asking them what they want, that you’re tracking the progress on it and really listening to the voices of your employees ’cause they’re ultimately the ones that are impacted every single day by what your environment looks like. And I think that there are some companies that are doing a great job of that and there are a lot of companies that aren’t as in touch with their employee base. So really taking the opportunity to engage with them and learn from them about what they’d like to work in an environment to live what that looks like.

42:10 MK: Yeah, nice, okay. Aubrey. This time it’s a female product manager, she manages an eight-person tech team and all white tech dudes who can occasionally be a little bit hostile towards her.

42:24 AB: Oh, that’s such a good one. I was like, I was so prepared for the CEO one. I would say write down the collaboration rules. And what I mean by that is having something written down about that’s like a contract to each other about how you engage with each other is a good, really, really good way to keep people accountable, so that can be something like no interruptions or criticism must be radically candid, and I think those types of things are really helpful. Again, because you have a document that you can go back to. It’s like, “Hey here are the rules. I need everyone to adhere to those. I would also encourage especially if you’re leading the team to think about bringing diversity, into the conversation in ways that don’t just deal with gender, so research shows us that, for example, when women advocate for women, they’re often socially punished. And so if there are ways that she can actually bring diversity, and that don’t directly talk about women, and ask everyone else to get involved, so whether that’s… What would it look like if we were trying to design for someone with autism or how would we change this meeting structure? I think that that can get people excited and engaged in ways that dealing with a challenge directly don’t, and then working back to that can be more productive and it’s less likely to result in that social sanctioning on behalf of the female leader as well.

43:39 MK: Yeah, nice.

43:40 AB: I don’t love that ’cause I’m like, “Oh it’s the Lenin method. Just deal with the patriarchy and change yourself.” [chuckle] I don’t love that, but that’s my really practical advice that hopefully one day I never have to give again.

43:55 AV: That’s great, also I wanna hear to what… I wanna hear what Aubrey would have told the CEO also.

44:00 AB: Oh, I would have said, you can’t change the culture without changing yourself and the worst of you is the worst of your culture.

44:07 AV: Oh, there’s a drop the mic. [laughter]

44:10 MK: Damn. Okay, Alison, I’m gonna flip back to you. A white male individual contributor. He’s early in his career, but he’s also starting to get a bit concerned that he might not get advanced, I guess quickly enough because of his skin color and gender.

44:27 AV: Ugh. This one sort of makes my skin crawl. Okay, so I would say two things. So I think it’s important to ask first, what the concern is. What is the concern, what is the real concern? Because just saying that you might not advance based on the way you look, what are you really afraid of here? Because it’s gonna be one of two things. He’s possibly either afraid of, that he doesn’t have the skill set or the talent that he thinks he does and he might need to invest in himself. So the first thing I would tell him is I would… And I would tell this to any person that work for us, actually. I would worry much less about what people are doing around you in terms of them being the best version of themselves because your job is to be the best version of yourself, and if you’re the best candidate for the job and someone better than you gets the job, well, you know what, good for them, they earned it, and good for you for doing your best. So I would tell them, initially that his number one priority should be to worry less about other people who might take his job and really focus on being the best version of himself and taking classes or taking stretch assignments to prepare for whatever that promotion is that he’s looking to do.

45:30 AV: And then the second thing I would probably ask is tell me about how you got to where you are. And I would challenge him as someone who was growing in his career and looking to be holding more responsibility and having more advanced positions to take a look around and see who he could help with the same gifts and time and training that was given to him at different points in his career. And I would ask him to extend that altruistic nature out and as a leader in the business that is something that he would be able to speak to in a promotion opportunity or in an interview, the fact that he mentors people or that he’s helped teammates that were struggling or whatever it might be. So that’s what I would say, but that’s a tough one.

46:11 MK: Oh, that’s a really tough one. Okay, Aubrey, a small data company with six employees, they’re old white dudes who like to hang out together, outside of work.

46:22 AB: Oh, okay, I have so many tips. So first, your number one question should always be, “Who are we leaving out and how is that gonna hurt our ability to hire the best people going forward?” And so I think that you can begin a lot of practices. How do you think about running inclusive meetings, regardless of who’s in them? If you want some tips, the Atlassian playbook actually has a play about running inclusive meetings that you can get for free on the internet, so we will help you out. I would also say, “What are you doing as a company, to ensure that your network isn’t biased towards people you know instead of people who are great team members?” And I’d really, really push you to consider how you’re bonding and how can you mix those things up, because a lot of times companies build cultures where people come in and feel super alienated and no one went for that to happen. So what if someone is sober, or what if someone is a parent who actually has to get home at five, but logs on again at eight, or whatever it is. And so I would say if you think that happy hours is your bonding time, or you insist on going to paintball, that you could make it up, right? Why don’t you have a picnic or why are you go bowling or…

47:29 AB: But get in the habit of rotating what you’re doing and being thoughtful about who would feel like crap in that situation, ’cause I think people generally can actually figure out a lot on their own. And I would say also, in that, especially when people are saying maybe that’s not how we wanna be eventually, but these are the folks on the team now, ask how everyone else is forming personal connections with communities different from them. So is that through mentorship or sponsorship? Maybe once a quarter, everybody on the team goes to a meet-up for an underrepresented group that they’re not a part of. There are lots of ways to make that happen that are little but those little things really, really add up over time, especially when you’re a small company, ’cause you’re setting the culture then. It’s a lot harder to turn around later.

48:12 MK: Oh, I… I hate to say it, but we’re running out of time, and I need to wrap up or… Well, Alison is gonna have to hold me to account today. But this has been such an interesting discussion and I am incredibly thankful for you both coming on. Before we wrap though, I’m keen to hear your last calls. Sorry, Alison, would you like to go first?

48:35 AV: I have two. So the first one is on this topic of unconscious bias. I read an article and it’s a few years old, but it’s called 20 Cognitive Biases That Screw Up Your Decisions, and why I loved it is it talks about the psychology behind the different types of unconscious bias, and there’s 20 different ways that you need to hold yourself accountable. And as we are a growing organization, as I’m interviewing candidates, I read this article and take notes before every interview, just to make sure that I’m on point. So that’s something that if unconscious bias is of interest to you and understanding the psychology of it is really great. And then the second thing is that Fairygodboss actually releases a report every year, and it’s called Creating Gender Equality at Work, and it talks about recommendations for 2019. And if you’re interested in gender diversity in specifically, it really talks about the things that women are dealing with, it involves a lot of proprietary surveys, we’ve done and recommendations for action. So if you care about gender diversity and you’re also a company that’s trying to figure out how to be more inclusive of women it’s a great resource too.

49:35 MK: Yeah, nice thank you, and Aubrey?

49:36 AB: Yeah, I’m gonna plug Atlassian’s 2018 state of diversity report again because I think our data was really useful in informing why a lot of companies haven’t seen progress, and also has a lot of recommendations about what to do that’s worked for us. So from our own internal Laboratory. The second is a little bit probably off topic but this book called “Why we Sleep”, and it’s related to Alison’s previous point, which is that, when we’re tired… What happens to us when we don’t sleep, I’m now freaked out by this book, but I fundamentally believe that we make more biased and discriminatory decisions when we’re tired, because our brain is always trying to give us excess capacity. And so I’m getting really obsessed with the idea of how do we create employees who are well and well rested, which is just good for them, but how could that actually create greater equity in the workplace? So if anyone wants to spar with me on Twitter about that, after reading the book, like please get in touch. I love that.

50:35 MK: Oh, you just gave Tim an open invitation.

50:38 AB: I love that.

50:39 MK: Be very, very worried. Okay, mine is actually very topic-related but how I first came to find out about Aubrey’s work was that one of the engineers that I worked with, who’s an awesome dude, sent to our entire tech team one of her talks and asked us all to watch it. And so, I recommend if you thought today topic was really interesting and you wanna learn more, you can literally just like Google Aubrey’s name, and then go to videos, and you’ll find a whole bunch of her talks. And some of them, like the one that I watched on Heuristics is really incredible ’cause it gets into a lot of detail around how our biases influence our decision-making, which lots of the data nerds listening will love. So yeah, now I just wanna say a very big thanks for listening. Don’t forget to join the conversation. We’re on Facebook, on Twitter, on the Measure Slack group, and we welcome all of your comments and questions, so feel free to visit us at analyticshour.io or @AnalyticsHour on Twitter. I know Aubrey has a Twitter, adblanche. What about you, Alison? Do you have a Twitter people can reach you on?

51:50 AV: Yes, you can find us at @fairygodboss.

51:53 MK: So for all of those out there listening, keep analyzing.


52:01 (Announcer): Thanks for listening and don’t forget to join the conversation of Facebook, Twitter or Measure Slack group. We welcome your comments and questions, visit us on the web at analyticshour.io, Facebook.com/analyticshour or @AnalyticsHour on Twitter.

52:21 Charles Barkley: So smart guys want to fit in, so they’ve made up a term called analytic. Analytics don’t work.


52:29 Tom Hammerschmidt: Analytics. Oh, my God. What the fuck does that even mean?


52:38 MK: I think it’s more just keeping the dialog going ’cause normally I have the two guys who were… Especially Tim, budding in with lots of questions and comments. I probably should have told you also that you can swear. And then I don’t know if you saw my note about Rock flag and insert some word, if you’re not comfortable doing it, then I’ll add it in somehow.

53:03 AV: I can do it, I just don’t understand what it is. That was gonna be my next question. Yeah, we’ll do it at the end [53:09] __ something… Hopefully Aubrey will give us another token soundbite. [chuckle]

53:15 AB: What can I say, I don’t know. Sometimes I just get on a roll and say things. Oh yeah, I’ve got so many. It’s just like What flavor of salt am I?

53:25 MK: Well, take the most interesting flavor of salt and then I’ll say it at the end.


53:29 AB: I don’t know what do you guys think, you’re the Rock flag experts.


53:33 MK: Tim’s the expert. I still don’t get why it happens.


53:36 AB: I told you, it’s like maybe I was like Himalayan pig salt today. Not French gray, but yeah, always a little salty.


53:45 AV: Rock flag and group think and limited problem solving ability.


53:52 MK: [53:52] __ You totally nailed that! I’m so impressed.

53:55 AB: That was great. [53:56] __ saying that.

53:58 MK: I’m so impressed!

2 Responses

  1. […] For complete show notes including transcript and links to items mentioned in the show, see the original show page: #110: Creating Balanced Teams (and Avoiding Groupthink) […]

  2. […] (Podcast) DAPH Episode 110: Creating Balanced Teams (and Avoiding Groupthink) with Alison Vorsatz an… […]

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