Scaling Walls: The Barriers to Female Representation and How Atlassian is Eliminating Them

It’s not a secret that women are extremely underrepresented in technical fields around the world. In this talk, you’ll see scientific evidence of the barriers that women face in the technical workplace, and hear about concrete strategies to overcome them. Collaboration software company Atlassian has used this knowledge to develop tactics and initiatives to overcome these barriers, resulting in >46% female technical hires in their last three intern and graduate cohorts. Join Atlassian’s Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion to learn about what you can do to overcome the gender gap. The talk will include a Q&A session, so please bring questions!

Aubrey’s job is to attract, recruit and retain people in minority groups. This is necessary because the tech industry in general is really bad at this.

A good place to start is “why”: why don’t we see more women in technology? There are many hypotheses which are false, like ‘women don’t like tech’; but there are points through the talent funnel that discourage women from entering or staying in tech.

Tech likes to think it’s a meritocracy, but it’s really not. When companies added ideas of meritocracy to their policies, research showed people exhibited more negative behaviours.

To understand how the current state, you need to go back to the mid-1980s, when computers were marketed specifically to boys. That gave boys a multi-year head start to learn IT fundamentals; and socialised girls to simply think of computers as ‘not for them’.

We have strong and blunt stereotypes of people in tech – predominantly white, male, exhibiting particular behaviours. The reality is obviously something else entirely, but the stereotype still drives and shapes the tech industry. It ignores amazing women like Grace Hopper and Hedy Lamarr, who are somehow forgotten in tech history.

Unconscious bias consistently shows in research, for example screening applicants without gender-identified names removes a heavy bias to male applicants. We have very strong “like me” bias – we like people like ourselves.

You need to build an inclusive culture. Culture is a major reason people leave tech, particularly women, because who really wants to work in a frat house?

A lot of the changes required to build a positive culture are not expensive.

There are easy business-case incentives: diverse teams work better. Diverse companies are more successful – they simply make more money, they have higher retention, higher rates of employee happiness.

Atlassian had to start from scratch more than ten years in. They started with graduate recruits in Sydney, because it was a clear and controlled process. The first year they had zero female applicants. So they had to go back to the absolute basics – they went to women in tech meetups, held events for women and simply talked them. They found the confidence gap was stopping people applying at all – when men have 30% of the requirements on a job description they will apply; women will apply when they have 80% or more.

They overhauled their career site’s imagery and content, to ensure people from minorities were depicted as part of the team. They changed the focus of perks to put more emphasis on flexible working hours (and less on snacks).

They completely changed their job descriptions. They have tools to ensure biased language is weeded out, hyperbole like “rockstar” is removed, “computer science degree” is replaced with “ability to write software”. The JDs focus on what the role needs to do, not the way one person might have acquired those skills.

Then they had to dig further into the process. The first thing people do is a code test, so to eliminate bias they just automated that step – a computer gives a score, no humans means no bias and lots of time saved.


Patima™ 💁🏻✨ @the_patima

Serious wow town from Aubrey’s talk. Value fit, not culture fit.. Gold! @adblanche #Direction16

4:32 PM – 10 Nov 2016

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Interviews were changed to use structural behavioural interviewing techniques. There is a structured set of questions and each candidate gets the same questions. The questions cover a range of skill types; and ‘culture fit’ was removed entirely as it was far too hard to avoid bias (if you played the same sport as your interviewer, they are four times more likely to say you’re a good culture fit).

Instead they have ‘values fit’ (company values).

If people are really stuck on ‘culture fit’, ask them what they mean when they say ‘culture fit’. It’s also worth noting removing culture fit will make the legal team happy.

Atlassian had 11.5% women in tech roles when Aubrey joined. Which is terrible in general but common in tech. The latest Sydney graduate cohort was 47% women, so the pipeline has improved where the changes have been applied.

It’s not just women who are affected by these sorts of changes – you also start to attract a different type of male applicant as well. People like working in diverse teams!

Addressing the elephant in the room – Trump – Aubrey finishes with a call to embrace the power conferred on the (white-male heavy) group. White males have great power to effect change, it is something to be aware of; it is something that can have positive impacts when collaborating with minority groups to push for social change.