“Every Job is a D&I Job. Every. Job.”: Aubrey Blanche with Culture Amp (Video + Transcript)

June 30, 2020

To build an equitable, inclusive company, every single person needs to do their part. Join Aubrey Blanche as she shares how you can turn your current job into a D&I job – and create more organizational change than an actual D&I role.


Transcript of Elevate 2020 Session

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay, everyone. Welcome back. Our next session is with Aubrey Blanche. She is the Director and Global Head of Equitable Design and Impact at Culture Amp. We first discovered her at the Atlassian event. And if you need more stuff to watch later, please go back and watch her talk from Atlassian that’s on our YouTube channel. Which by the way, housekeeping notes, we are recording these. They will be on YouTube. You should subscribe now and then you will get them all.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Why I’m particularly excited about this session today is Aubrey did a post where she said a lot of people ask her, how do I get a D&I job? And she said, “My advice is don’t get a D&I job. Really, don’t get a D&I job. No, really, don’t.” You should read the post. It’s exactly what she says. And then… Aubrey, you’re muted. Yes. Okay. I just want to hear you laugh. It’s so good. Okay. And so her suggestion was that you could have more of an impact doing D&I within your own role than you can sometimes in an actual D&I position. And so we said, “Hey, could you come in and expand on that? Because that sounds amazing.” So without further ado, please welcome Aubrey.

Aubrey Blanche: Thank you so much. I love being here. I love Girl Geek so much, so I feel really lucky to get to join you all for the live stream today. And yes, my other talk was about why diversity is a problem. So clearly, I’m a little bit of an iconoclast, but I promise I’m also pretty reasonable.

Aubrey Blanche: So to give folks context, I’m currently the Director of Equitable Design and Impact at Culture Amp. And basically what that means is I help the business and Culture Amp’s customers think about the ways that they design fair and equitable experiences, which is what actually creates diversity, both internally and then for their global customer base. Before that… Oh, hold on. I got to figure out how to do this. There we go. I was the Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian for about five years. And all the time, I am the math path. So if you know anything about my work, I am trained as a social scientist, and I take a really rigorous analytical data and science based approach to creating organizational change and fair workplaces where people who have been unjustly denied their rightful opportunities can actually thrive.

Aubrey Blanche: What I found is I get probably more than a dozen reach outs every week of people asking to pick my brain on how to get a career in D&I. And the fact is, one, brain picking is really violent. Don’t do that. But also, it turns out that I’m both not the right person to reach out to about that for a couple of reasons. The first is super practical, which is that when I got into this field, it was really different. And so I’m not confident that my advice is going to be as relevant as someone who’s getting into the field now. And it also turns out there’s a lot more folks in D&I than just folks with the title head of. So I encourage folks to diversify who they ask. We are busy, but we like to help.

Aubrey Blanche: But secondly, because most of the time I really, really believe that you should not get a D&I job. Now, that’s probably pretty surprising for me to say. You’re probably wondering, Aubrey, do you hate your job? And the answer is no, I adore my job. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do the work I do every day. But I want to be honest with you about what that job entails, because often what people think it is has nothing to do with what the job actually is, and they’re going into it for the wrong reasons.

Aubrey Blanche: So one of the things people who come to me often say is, “Well, I’m just so passionate about this. I want to help people.” What is also usually true is those folks are underrepresented themselves, and they’re burning out in their roles because they’re feeling crushed under the weight of sexism or racism or ableism or other isms, or a bunch of them combined. And what I’m going to tell you, which I wish I didn’t have to, is honestly, it is more emotionally draining to be in a D&I job. Because those moments… A reflection for me was, after the Pulse nightclub shooting. I’m a queer Latina, and for me, I didn’t get to go to work and work on a marketing campaign or go focus on software. I had to go think about the Pulse nightclub shooting at work and find other space for me. So I would say that if you’re just frustrated with the kyriarchy, understand that getting a D&I job is likely to make your burnout worse.

Aubrey Blanche: So we talk about this concept of compassion fatigue. And it’s something, that, if you’re not careful in a D&I career, you will get. So compassion fatigue. What is it? The technical definition is that it’s an indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of those who are suffering, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such requests. There isn’t actually good data on how many D&I professionals suffer from compassion fatigue. But I can tell you that I’ve never talked to one of my peers who hasn’t at some point in their career suffered from this. So we know that 40% of nurses suffer from this. And given that D&I is also a caring profession in a lot of ways, because we’re not only asked to be organizational strategists, we’re asked to design HR and people programs, we’re asked to write policies, advise on sensitive legal and ethical issues. But we’re asked to be therapists and counselors, not just for underrepresented folks who are needing support, but also for majority group, often leaders, who are going on their own journey to understand what they’ve done to re-entrench the systems that keep people out.

Aubrey Blanche: It’s heavy work. And I will be honest that I, and almost every effective practitioner that I know, has completely rearchitected my life to be able to sustain this kind of work. So it’s a thing you can do, but I hope that folks know the totality of the work and what it is. So now that I’ve been a little doom and gloom, I do want to tell you about why I think you don’t need a D&I job. Why, if you’re passionate and you care about making the world better, you don’t need the job title in order to actually create change.

Aubrey Blanche: Oh, one quick thing. I want to talk to you a little bit about my self care routine to make it a little more real. So I do meditation yoga, I take physical supplements, daily affirmations, and I mostly have gotten sober. I also have a huge community. So I have my girlfriends, a bunch of them, on WhatsApp. I have a personal integrity coach, a coach that helps me deal with my family system and ancestral trauma. I do somatic bodywork to remove the secondary traumatic stress that this work requires. And I also have a therapist to deal both with a lot of my childhood trauma and the stuff that I deal with every day. I recognize not everyone has access to all of these resources for economic reasons. But thinking about leaning on your friends or journaling or the amount of time it takes to offload the emotional work that you’re doing in this field is super important.

Aubrey Blanche: So now I want to talk about what the job actually entails, because it’s probably not what you think, even though I think it’s really fun. So first, you are educating, always. You know that feeling where you say, people of color shouldn’t have to educate you? The fact is when you’re in D&I, you do have to educate them. You have to do it patiently. And if you want to be effective, you have to do it compassionately. And you have to be comfortable answering the same, very, very basic questions a lot. The fact is that creating change, while we can do it on a systemic level, often requires those one on one conversations to really take people from good people to active allies, or people who aren’t blocking the types of change that you’re wanting to make. So if you like repeating yourself and if you love teaching, it’s a great thing. I love it. But again, check your own patience and your appetite for that work.

Aubrey Blanche: The second is a lot of this is HR strategy. So I’ve seen a lot of people who wanted to go into D&I who have expertise in things like engineering. And while they’re incredible advocates who have amazing ideas for this, often they’re not actually interested in the day to day work of the job. So crafting HR strategies, designing programs and communication, measurement strategies to make sure that the programs you designed actually worked the way you wanted them to. And I say this, not as a deterrent, but so that folks who get into it know what you’re doing.

Aubrey Blanche: And a part of this job that no one wants to talk about, but we really should, is that you spend a lot of time convincing leadership to do the right thing, in most organizations. And I mean that both on an ethical sense. And also, most of the time, leadership will fund branding projects and unconscious bias training, the first of which definitely doesn’t solve structural racism, and the second of which, if not done really carefully, actually makes your organization more racist. So I think what we see is often that even the most exceptional leaders have smaller impact than they want because the amount of their time they have to spend convincing folks to do something and then justifying their budgets is a lot more than folks in similar roles in an organization that aren’t coded as diversity and inclusion roles.

Aubrey Blanche: The last thing is you have to like designing processes. So I think the previous wave of D&I looked at ERGs and building community and running splashy brand campaigns and trying to get your company on the best companies for diversity list. But the fact is that that work, while some of it can be crucial to creating safe spaces for underrepresented people, the things that matter the most in an organization are the structural aspects. So evaluative processes. So if you’re not jazzed about designing a performance review process and then measuring to see whether it was actually fair, there might be a different job for you than diversity and inclusion where you can have even greater impact on these things that you’re passionate about.

Aubrey Blanche: So like I said, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince you not to go into the career that I’m in. But the reason is really because I believe that each and every one of you have something incredible to offer this mission, but you’re often thinking about it differently. And what I mean by that is you can do a D&I job. You can do diversity and inclusion, equity and justice work in any job that you have in an organization. One of the reasons I’m really passionate about this topic is because of this idea. I’m sure folks have heard of the Uncle Ben principle: with great power comes great responsibility.

Aubrey Blanche: I will be really honest with you that when you take a diversity and inclusion job, in most organizations, you give up all of your power but still have all of the responsibility. So often, diversity and inclusion teams are under resourced in terms of headcount. Often at multi thousand person companies, there’s only one person doing this work. And the budgets that they are allocated are so small, to be spread across so many groups, that they’re set up to fail. And so what I’m suggesting is that you go into a place in an organization where you have great power and then take great responsibility.

Aubrey Blanche: So the fact is, every job in an organization is a diversity and inclusion job. Let me talk about what that looks like. So let’s say you’re a director of marketing. The fact is, you’re responsible for hiring and promotions, compensation of your people, the culture in your organization, you probably have control of a budget, and you have influence over how others in the organization act and think about these issues. You can simply demand that the hiring processes in your organization are fair and that they’re audited. You can insist on pay equity audits to make sure that people are compensated commensurate with their value. For the culture, you can enforce standards of behavior and respect for other people. Budget, you can pay people to do diversity and inclusion work. You can decide that the employees in your organization that lead ERGs, that lead work that creates equity and belonging, deserve spot bonuses, deserve special leadership opportunities for the initiative and the impact that they’re bringing to the organization. And you can influence, just by your behavior, the way that other leaders in your organization can show up as allies.

Aubrey Blanche: So when I say don’t get a diversity and inclusion job, I’m not telling you to give up on creating systemic change. What I’m recommending is that you go from influencing people to bring equity and justice in the world to actually bringing equity and justice into the world yourself. As someone who deeply loves my career and does this all day and feels very grateful, I always know that the leaders who step up and don’t need my help are the ones whose organizations thrive. The ones where underrepresented people grow and get the opportunities that they deserve, and so do majority group folks. And so I would encourage you not to think about your job title, but about what you’re doing every day to make the world just a little bit more fair and balanced than it was before.

Aubrey Blanche: That’s what I have for you all, but I’m excited to take Q&A.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Thank you. That was just exactly what we asked for. So perfect. We have quite few questions. We’ll try to get through a couple.

Aubrey Blanche: Awesome. I’ll try to be snappy. And oh wait, if folks, for some reason I can’t answer your question, you can tweet at me later. Oh, my Twitter’s on there. Great. You can find me on my digital soapbox.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. Also, you should just follow her, because once I discovered her at Atlassian, I’ve been following her ever since. And so now I’m a superfan and it’s a little awkward sometimes.

Aubrey Blanche: No, it’s great. It’s fun. We have fun online.

Gretchen DeKnikker: First question. All right. So I’ve been fired and/or retaliated against for organizing against sexism, unfair pay, racism, and other D&I work as an IC in engineering and product. How do I gain the social capital to point out the uncomfortable truth about organizational failings without the shield of the job title?

Aubrey Blanche: Totally. So I would say that the job title doesn’t actually shield you that much, so I want to just give you that honesty. I think one of the things is I would say going in, be really honest with leadership about that’s the type of leader that you are. Because what I’ve found is that, and obviously this is speaking from a place if you feel that you have choice in your career path. But I think there’s that… is be really honest about the types of things in your values. Know that, especially if you’re an engineer, this is a very, very competitive talent market. Also, cultureamp.com/careers, call me. I’m Aubrey at Culture Amp. I can pass your resume on if you’re not interested in us. But I think that’s, it is go in and make it really, really clear who you are and what you want to advocate for so employers who aren’t going to support you can select out.

Aubrey Blanche: The second thing is, quite frankly, crush your day job. People try to act like advocating for this work is somehow opposed to being really excellent as a contributor. And I hate that I’m saying that, but it’s very practical advice, which is being excellent is a good way to veer from that. And I think second, especially when you don’t feel like you have organizational power, try not to do things alone. So something that people forget is that collective action is still possible. One, if you can get out of your forced arbitration agreement when you come in, please do that. But number two, something that I think people often forget is the power of banding together.

Aubrey Blanche: So I’ve seen at a large enterprise software organization, women were concerned about promotional equity. And one of them, I happened to know her through my network, and she was talking to me and she said, “We’re all really upset and we’ve all talked to our managers and nothing’s really happening.” And I said, “Well, have you all gone to the director together?” And she said no. And I said, “Well, why not? Why can’t you?” And about 15 of them got together and went to the director and they did an audit, and they actually ended up changing the procedures. So that’s the other thing I would say, is slowly start to build a community of people who do support you and are willing to do that. And maybe start with that step before you start a lot of really active advocacy so that you’ve built that safety net, and people who will speak up, whether those folks are also from your community or acting as allies or accomplices.

Aubrey Blanche: But my last piece of advice is, if you can, and I recognize this a somewhat privileged piece of advice, so couch it with that. Work somewhere where they’re happy to have that voice. They exist.

Gretchen DeKnikker: We need a secret list of them, though. They’re hard to find and very difficult to vet. Or some of them make it very obvious, but you know. Okay, one more question. So she wanted to thank you for your honesty, which I do too. But this is a thing that I really, really appreciate about the way that you do the work, not just the work that you do, but the way that you do it. So her question was, what can we do as an individual contributor to make sure our company is moving in the right direction with regards to D&I if we don’t have a D&I person?

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah. So I would say ask simple questions. And this is the most boring thing, but I swear it’s the key to good D&I, is really enforce structured process. So this goes to a question I saw around recruiters. So ask questions about what processes are being followed. If you’re an IC, ask your manager for the next role. What structured process are we using to make sure we minimize bias? What sourcing strategies are we using to make sure that we connect with underrepresented communities? Because often what I’ve found is that folks don’t do that unless they’re asked, but many of the changes that you can do to make a hiring process more inclusive, those are not that complicated. Not that they’re easy, but they’re not that complicated. And when it comes to team dynamics, I think you can make small suggestions that shift the needle.

Aubrey Blanche: So I’ll give you a couple things. One of the best tactics, so a fact, is that women are interrupted three times more often while speaking, by people of all genders. So this is a thing that happens to women, and especially women of color and often Asian women, in particular. But be really careful about interrupting the interrupter. So this is one of my favorite tactics, really simple, also. Let’s say Sarah has just had a really great point and Naveed has just interrupted her. Say, “Naveed, so, sorry. I just wanted to hear the rest of Sarah’s thought.” Suddenly, Sarah has the floor in a way that she didn’t before. And the fact is Naveed probably did not mean to be rude, but we have these socialized patterns of behavior. Or make sure that you claim credit for underrepresented peoples. Help them claim credit for their contributions.

Aubrey Blanche: So women in the Obama White House had this tactic called amplification, where what they noticed is that men were basically stealing their ideas. Not necessarily intentionally, but it was still happening. And so it can be as easy as saying something like, “Oh, Angie, that was an awesome idea. And…” Because it’s now claimed that idea for Angie. And what it does is it actually changes the balance of who’s contributing to the room. And there’s an extra bonus if you identify as female when you do this, or are on the femme side, I would say, is that women are expected to socially support other people. And so when you do that, you’ve not only claimed the idea for your maybe female or femme colleague, but you also now get social brownie points, if there is some kind of thing. So I think watching for those collaborative behaviors is something huge that you can do. It feels small, but you know what it’s also just going to do? It’s going to make your team work more effectively together. So this is good management training.

Aubrey Blanche: But I think often, we think of D&I as super social justicey, which it is, but the way that it shows up can actually be very simple. Hey, let’s pass around the note-taking responsibilities. No, I don’t think that Cheryl needs to plan the offsite this time. Maybe Derek should do it. That type of stuff is interrupting the outcome of inequity that ends up hurting people’s careers. But it doesn’t always have to be couched in the same type of language that we would talk in justice oriented circles, because sometimes people don’t get it when we don’t use language that they’re familiar with. So I would say just do that stuff. It’s basic. And also, it’s really, really hard for your manager to get mad at you for things like, hey, I don’t think we should interrupt each other. And let me know how you go. If you come up with any other great tips, please let me know. I love to share them and I love to get better too.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, thank you. We are at time, but this was amazing. Thank you so much, Aubrey.

Aubrey Blanche: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. Have a wonderful Friday. I’m excited for the rest of the live stream.

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