Diversity and Feedback at GitHub

Back in April I said we would share the new initiatives we’re launching to ensure GitHub is a welcoming and inclusive company. This work is long term and will remain a constant focus for us, but I wanted to share some of the progress we’ve made so far.

A few weeks ago we identified a number of areas we’d like to improve, and so far we’ve focused our early efforts on three in particular: the experiences of women at GitHub, improving feedback, and supporting diversity both internally and externally.

Task Force

In April, a group of employees formed a task force to explore the experiences of female employees at GitHub and surface any issues that might not be obvious. The group has been gathering feedback from some of the women at the company, meeting regularly to discuss, and sharing this feedback internally.

The task force has been using a repository to discuss new ideas and individual experiences, which has been helpful in opening up the discussion to the whole company. We know not everyone wants to share their experiences openly and we are working on developing a formal feedback system (more on that later), but we have already received some good ideas and feedback from the people who have participated.

The big themes we’ve heard so far:

  • We all need to get better at respectful and constructive feedback and communication, both verbal and written.
  • We need to better educate employees on everyone’s role and function, and we need to especially get better about understanding and appreciating people in non-developer roles.
  • We need to do more to celebrate and increase diversity within the company, including women.

Some of the things we’re doing based on this feedback:

  • We’re in the planning stages of designing a diversity and communication training curriculum for GitHub employees with input from Hubbers and external experts. Topics will include diversity training, effective communication, giving and receiving peer feedback, and conflict resolution.
  • We have started informal internal workshops focused on developing leadership skills, and we are looking to create more formalized training programs by early next year.
  • We have started an internal cross-training program where different teams within GitHub educate other teams on what they do. This is part of our push to help everyone understand how different roles and skills contribute to making GitHub work.

The task force will continue to meet, gather feedback, and discuss ways we can improve, and we’re encouraging everyone to participate in these discussions. We will also continue to gather feedback from every employee so we know what we can do better.

Improving Feedback

GitHub has historically operated without any formal feedback system. While we’ve tried to encourage employees to give each other direct feedback, the lack of clear process and training left Hubbers on their own to understand how and when to have conversations with other people in the company.

We are currently in the process of developing and implementing a formal, documented feedback system for everyone in the company. So far we’ve begun rolling this out in Engineering, our largest department, and we intend to take it further. Our goal is to ensure that everyone has frequent, constructive feedback and someone they can go to with questions or concerns who can help them. We want people to know where they stand and that someone has their back, and in the past we haven’t been good at this.

We’ve also been expanding our HR team since hiring a head of HR in January and are using their experience to help develop this system, from the communication training program I mentioned earlier to clear steps to take when you need help.

Supporting Diversity

Supporting diversity has always been important to us but recently we’ve been ramping up our support, participation, and sponsorships for community groups and events that promote diversity in tech. This includes sponsoring more groups focused on helping women in tech and sending employees to conferences focused on these issues, such as the The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

We’re also planning to use the community space at our San Francisco headquarters to sponsor and host more frequent diversity-focused events, including events led by community organizations, official GitHub events, classes, and meetups.

If you’re interested in using our space, are seeking sponsorship, or have an idea for how we can help, please let us know: https://community.github.com

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past few weeks is improving isn’t just about developing solutions - a huge part is getting good at surfacing problems. Without a solid feedback system, without talking to people regularly, without explicitly focusing on these issues, without asking people how they’re doing and having them feel safe telling you the truth, you’ll never know what the real problems are. If people feel like they can’t speak up, you’ll never hear what they have to say, and you’ll never know they’re not saying it.

Making GitHub a great place for everyone is something we have to work towards every day. In the future we’ll continue to post about new initiatives, updates on our progress, information on how our philosophies around things like sponsorships are evolving, and details on events we’re hosting or participating in. Consider this post the first of many.

Have feedback on this post? Let @github know on Twitter.
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