How To Create A Diverse Workplace

How To Create A Diverse Workplace
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Workplace diversity has been a big deal for some time now. Anyone who attends a tech-focussed event can see the challenges many businesses face. Not only are women under-represented but different ethnicities, age groups and educational backgrounds are also an issue. Heather Brunner has enjoyed a long career in the IT business and is now the CEO of WP Engine. She is setting out to build a company that embraces diversity through a series of deliberate actions and policies.

Brunner spent most of her career trying not to be viewed as a woman. She was often the only female executive or woman in the room and simply tried to fit in. But her mindset has changed. She wants to engage her emotional intelligence, as well as her IQ, as she leads WP Engine.

She said “The numbers show we have a lot of work to do”.

Indeed, a look at Australia’s ASX 200 reveals some damning data. CEO and board chairs are represented by 32 men named John, 32 named peter and 21 named David. The total number of female CEOs or board chairs in that list are just 19.

She said women and minorities need to see more people in senior roles in order to model what’s possible. And men need to see that too, in order to expand their horizons.

“Diversity attracts diversity,” said Brunner. “You have to declare it and be intentional If you don’t you’ll find yourself surrounded by people who look just like you”.

In order to overcome these biases and to be intentional in hiring a diverse team, Brunner’s team has adopted three pillars in their strategy.

  • Agree to disagree
  • Open your doors wider
  • Invest on the inside

Agree to disagree

Businesses and managers need to agree that there may be different ways to get things done and be open to to those. Diversity, said Brunner, isn’t just about culture or ethnicity. It’s about accepting that people can see the world through different lenses and you need to allow people’s different views to be heard.

Open your doors wider

WP Engine sees themselves as a pathway for people from different backgrounds to enter the tech industry, even if their educational background might not be what’s expected. Brunner said the company does not require tertiary qualifications to get a job.

The also engage in “open book management”. Everyone in the business, as part of the induction program and ongoing education, is taught how ton read the company financials and understand the business’ KPIs which are released every month.

“People are learning abut their roles and the business,” she said.

That on-boarding process has developed as the company has grown from about 40 staff when Brunner arrived to over 520 five years later with plans to increase to 1000 people. It now takes several weeks with every new team member flown to San Francisco for training in financials, communications and other important company knowledge.

That big investment, said Brunner, has paid off.

Invest on the inside

Brunner said the company’s leadership development program is offered to all employees, not just this is management or leadership roles. Over a quarter of the staff were promoted last year alone.


It’s all well and good to say these things but how does Brunner put these into practice? She told me the company is deliberate in the language they use in job ads, avoiding terms like “rock star” or “ninja” as they can be off-putting to many people.

During the recruitment process, when candidates answer screening questions, names and genders are not provided to section panels in order to ensure biases based on those factors are eliminated.

No haggle salaries

Potential employees at WP Engine don’t get to negotiate their salaries. The company has a “no haggle” policy so stronger negotiators don’t have an advantage over other people. Regardless of experience, gender or any other factor, if two people are doing the same job they will be paid the same wage.

However, the company is working at being more declarative about this and has to work hard to track things closely to ensure inequities don’t develop.

“We want people to come, feel like they can be themselves, where their opinions matter . They’ll be treated as an adult and the company will invest. This has attracted a strong and diverse global workforce with strong retention”.


    • Most places typically do, most of these diversity pushes are more in niche areas.
      Majority of Australians are employed on awards or EBA’s. Where it is the best person hired.
      Flexibility in applicants is all well and good but at the end of the day if you need some one with specific qualifications your hands are tired. If people from more diverse backgrounds don’t have those, nothing you can do.

  • I’m all for equality of opportunity and I like a few of the things they’ve said in this; anonymizing applications is a great idea, as is avoiding stupid terms like rock star (unless you’re a band why would you want a rock star?). And I like that the leadership program is open to anyone. It’s never too early to start planning a long term career. Better to start learning straight away.

    Equal salaries should absolutely exist, I think regardless of gender there are people who simply don’t think about haggling for a pay rise. They’re too focused on doing their job, and they’re often the people you should be trying to keep and promote.

    That said, I’m also not a fan of diversity for diversities sake. If you have two people applying for a job you take the one with the best combination of experience and qualifications. As soon as you apply a diversity “quota” you undermine that.

    • Great question. My gut feeling is there’s also a cultural shift that’s needed. While it’s not as low as nursing, male representation in primary teaching is similar. What makes that one harder to swallow though is that I’d suggest men are ever-represented in senior positions in that sector despite being under-represented at the coal face.

      • I wonder whether some of this stems from the frankly offensive assumption that a guy who wants to be around kids must be some kind of creep. There’s a kind of stigma attached to men who want to go into child care. You see it in parents a lot.

        As to the male nursing numbers, do we really need to address the disparity? For that matter is it actually ethical to establish quotas in any job? If people don’t want to do the job then you can’t make them. As long as there is equal opportunity for people who DO want the job then I don’t see a problem with it.

        That said, I don’t think it’s right to encourage stigmas about jobs. Saying something is women’s work, or a man’s role is stupid and potentially damaging as well. Just address work in a neutral tone when dealing with the kids and young adults and let them make their mind up whether the work appeals.

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