“How We Culture” With Aubrey Blanche of Atlassian
Are you gearing up for the Culture Summit? Let us help you get in the mood by introducing you to one of this year’s speakers, Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity & Belonging of Atlassian.
Name: Aubrey Blanche
Position: Global Head of Diversity & Belonging @ Atlassian
What initially attracted you to the Culture space?
I honestly didn’t join this space on purpose, necessarily. I’m profoundly motivated by a sense that the world should be a fair and just place, and I’m flabbergasted when people just accept that it isn’t. When I joined the tech industry after dropping out of my PhD, I was shocked to find that I was one of the only Latina women I could find. When I started asking around for answers, I heard myths like “we’re a meritocracy” or “we don’t want to lower the bar,” which are just excuses the industry has used for years to justify discriminatory hiring practices and toxic cultures. That really motivated me to do what I could to make the system – and therefore work culture and a substantial part of people’s’ lives – better.
How has that attraction evolved throughout your career?
Most days, I wake up and can’t believe that I get to go to work and help people all day. But what really keeps me excited is the constant challenge – the issues I solve are systemic and culture is constantly evolving, which means that there are always new things to learn and ways to continue improving.
If you couldn’t work in the Culture space, what would you be doing?
Practically, I’d probably still be a researcher, perhaps still looking at the use of private military contractors in counterinsurgency. In my dream life, I’d curate and own an independent bookstore that was a gathering place for the community and had a really excellent tea and snack selection.
How do you define culture? Do you think there is or should be a universal definition?
Culture is fundamentally how people interact and get work done. Defining exactly what culture is, is a bit difficult, but we’d likely all agree that we know how it feels. At Atlassian, we talk about the fact that our values stay the same but that our culture is constantly evolving. I think that helps us move past damaging concepts like “culture fit” and instead look for people who are excited to work in line with our values: with candor and directness (Open Company, No Bullshit), a sense of fun and consideration for your teammates (Play, as a team), and willingness to go the extra mile to make things better (Be the Change You Seek). We’ve built these values into our interview process and our performance assessment, which helps our culture align to those values even as it’s changing as we scale.
What are some common misconceptions about culture?
The biggest misconception is that you would want to look for “culture fit” in a teammate. Empirically speaking, culture fit is really just a morass of unconscious bias and helps ensure that teams have low innovative potential and huge potential for groupthink. Teams are better off looking for people who align with the type of work practices you’d want to encourage and add something new – a perspective or competency – that wasn’t there before.
What’s the best culture advice you’ve ever received?
“Culture is what you repeatedly do, what gets rewarded and punished.” I think this is incredibly valuable because it’s easy for us to define culture by how we want it to be or based on some abstract principles. But if you take it from that lens, we’re all accountable for our actions and their impact, and it’s really empowering.
If you had to pick one culture-enhancing practice or “tactic” most companies could or should implement, what would it be?
Delete referrals. Knowing someone is not a job qualification, and indexing on people very similar to who you already have on the team builds a homogenous, exclusive culture.
If you could impart one universal understanding about company culture to every senior executive in the world, what would it be?
Every choice you make about the design of people processes and business influences your culture. Do you prioritize hiring from elite schools? Then you are actually just providing opportunities for people whose parents are economically privileged. Look for geniuses or rockstars? You’ll likely hire many more straight White men because fixed mindsets about talent cause us to rely more on stereotypes than objective data in evaluating candidates. Spend more on the beer than learning & development budget? That’s what your values are. All of those things are choices and ones that leaders actively control. Make sure you’re choosing intentionally and aligning yourself with what you truly value.
It’s the year 2030, what is the workplace culture dialogue talking about?
I hope that we are having a serious conversation about how to build roles that give people balance and fulfillment. I’d love to see companies intentionally designed for individuals’ full-life wellness, and helping people learn and grow in ways that are important to them.
What are you excited most for at Culture Summit this year?
I’m always excited to learn what other amazing practitioners are doing in the space, to get ideas and increase my knowledge. Also, kind of hoping for some excellent book recommendations.
Hung Pham is the founder of Culture Summit, a conference that brings together founders, thought leaders, and culture champions to share insights, strategies, and best practices on transforming company culture from the bottom up.