How GitHub Could Restore A Woman-Friendly Environment

GitHub may have thought it cleaned up its recent internal kerfuffle this week when it published the results of its third-party investigation into allegations of gender discrimination—and found no evidence of gender-based discrimination. 

However, the situation is not as neatly resolved as Github would hope. While the company says there was no gender-based discrimination to be found, the language in the statement did not specify other types of discrimination. It’s also unlikely that Julie Ann Horvath, a prominent female developer, left Github for no good reason. 

The investigation did not find any illegal activity, but it did find “evidence of mistakes and errors of judgment”—evidence so severe, apparently, that a co-founder left the company.

In other words, GitHub’s blog post hardly tells us anything.

See also: What Tom Preston-Werner’s Departure Means For GitHub

In the latest bit of fallout from the ongoing GitHub saga, The Ada Initiative, a non-profit company that supports women in technology, has just broken off its partnership with GitHub. 

“It is… contrary to our principles to be silent when our existing sponsors and collaborators’ actions consistently do not support our mission,” The Ada Initiative announced in a blog post

GitHub is facing the consequences of delivering messy news in a package that was a bit too neat. But did the fallout have to be this bad? Here’s what GitHub could have done to better mitigate this situation. 

More Transparency

The Ada Initiative is not the only voice to question GitHub’s controversial conclusion. Developer spaces all over the Web are buzzing about what really happened at GitHub HQ. Some have even doubted there was even an investigation, though it’s unlikely that GitHub could have legally said there was one if that was actually the case.

Mandy Brown, CEO of Editorially, wrote that GitHub could have done better in this regard. Brown linked to GitHub’s lengthy and almost excessive explanation of a March 2014 service outage following an especially nasty slew of Denial Of Service attacks. 

“They could have responded to this sequence of events [following the departure of Julie Ann Horvath] with the same care and transparency in which they respond to a service outage,” she wrote. 

Ellen Chisa, a product manager at Kickstarter, said GitHub’s response was unsatisfactory because it answered the fewest possible questions about the legality of the incident. 

“It said ‘he messed up enough to need to leave, but it’s not a technical legal claim.’ That’s…  ambiguous,” Chisa wrote. “It comes across as ‘something bad happened, but we’re going to pretend it didn’t to protect ourselves legally.’”

Users aren’t dumb. They saw how GitHub was protecting itself, and nothing more. 

Remind Us Of The Good Times

GitHub users won’t soon forget this incident, in which a working environment got so bad it convinced an outstanding female developer to quit, and announced it all as “nothing.” It’s a black mark on GitHub’s relationship with women and minority developers. 

If I were GitHub PR right now, I’d be working overtime to remind users that this is just one awful and individual incident in GitHub’s history. 

Remember this January, when CEO Chris Wanstrath did away with GitHub’s “meritocracy” rug after finding out it was offensive to some employees and community members? The new rug praises a much more equalizing slogan: “In collaboration we trust.”

See also: Why GitHub’s CEO Ditched Its Divisive ‘Meritocracy’ Rug

Remember when some developers posted a misogynist repository on GitHub and Atlassian? GitHub removed it immediately, while Atlassian, at first, defended users’ freedom of speech. GitHub’s Terms of Service allow users to own what they post, but this incident showed how the company doesn’t sit idly back while hate speech takes place. 

Remember how GitHub partnered with 30 different women-in-tech initiatives over 2013? That’s a direct quote from former CEO Tom Preston-Werner, to ReadWrite. Of course, it’s likely that many of those initiatives were drawn to GitHub thanks to Horvath’s Passion Projects

It’s not enough just to reflect on past successes; GitHub needs to continue making them. Now might be a great time for a donation towards women in technology, for example, or to actively seek out new partnerships with women-headed organizations. Maybe GitHub should hire a discrimination consultant to speak to the company about what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior at work. 

This is certainly a low point in GitHub’s history, and one users won’t be able to easily forget. But instead of continuing to keep it under wraps—a technique that will continue to magnify the incident—GitHub could start acting in a way that shows us what it has learned over the years by addressing issues like these head-on. 

Octocat logo via GitHub

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