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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sexist culture and harassment drives GitHub's first female developer to quit

Deutsch: Logo von GitHub
Deutsch: Logo von GitHub (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It's no secret that open-source coding community GitHub is one noted branch of a tech culture that continually struggles with sexism at every level.

Now, a leading female developer at GitHub is calling it quits, lashing out at what she calls a culture of toxicity.

Just over a year ago, Julie Ann Horvath created Passion Projects, GitHub's women-friendly outreach program designed to teach more women to code, get them interested in being a part of GitHub's open-source community, and hire them to work for GitHub.

But last night on Twitter, after praising a successful Passion Projects event, she unexpectedly did an about-face, confirming she was leaving GitHub at the end of the month and launching into a series of accusations against GitHub's "systematically fucked" culture of bullying and harassment.

Here is a sampling of Horvath's statements on Twitter:

While at GitHub, Horvath worked to change tech culture to be more woman-friendly. Last year, in the wake of the tech community's backlash against Adria Richards over #Donglegate, she wrote an eerily prophetic missive of her struggle:

I've tried my best to point things out that are fundamentally wrong within organizations I'm a part of, and have often been dismissed or given the ultimatum of keeping quiet or losing my job.

I've digested those experiences, have tried my best to move past them, and instead of continuing to lend power to people who thrive on conflict, have decided to focus my energy toward making my own company and this industry a better place for women to be. It makes me really sad to think that I could be martyred for this.
She's not alone in her frustration. Last fall, a community member of GitHub's code base, Ruby on Rails, blogged about being sexually harassed by her own boss while attending a Ruby conference. She later deleted her post due to receiving an onslaught of victim-blaming, rape, and death threats. Last night, Selena Deckelmann, the Passion Projects speaker for the evening's event, spoke of women needing to cease trying to change the existing, white-male-dominated tech community, and start trying to make their own, new tech spaces:

@amysue key i think is making our own things. Building our own system, not trying to fix existing.
Meanwhile, on the anonymous iPhone app Secret, a GitHub employee using the name "greenshirt" aired numerous accusations of incompetence and "a history of RAGING against any professional criticism:"

As greenshirt urged current employees of GitHub to form "a safe [anonymous] place where we can talk," Horvath said, "I have never wanted to quit tech more than after having startup PTSD like this."

Horvath found plenty of supporters both from within and without the GitHub community:

But with women like Horvath packing up and leaving, it may take even longer for that culture to see real change.

Update:  In an interview with TechCrunch, Horvath elaborated on her accusations. She claims that the source of the harassment related to hostile actions taken towards her by the wife of a an unnamed cofounder.

Horvath recounts a confusing HR system in place to deal with the relationship between Horvath, the founder, the founder's wife, and Horvath's partner, another GitHub employee whom Horvath claims was subject to investigation because of Horvath's dispute with the wife. Horvath claims intimidation by the founder and his wife, and an unequal grievance system to deal with the issues. Additionally, Horvath alleges various other sexist incidents, from comments on pull requests, having her code reverted by a male employee, and being made to feel "unsafe" because of an incident involving numerous male employees "gawking" at a pair of women dancing with hula hoops

Update: GitHub issued the following statement Sunday night:

"This weekend, GitHub employee Julie Horvath spoke publicly about negative experiences she had at GitHub that contributed to her resignation. I am deeply saddened by these developments and want to comment on what GitHub is doing to address them.

We know we have to take action and have begun a full investigation. While that’s ongoing, and effective immediately, the relevant founder has been put on leave, as has the referenced GitHub engineer. The founder’s wife discussed in the media reports has never had hiring or firing power at GitHub and will no longer be permitted in the office.

GitHub has grown incredibly fast over the past two years, bringing a new set of challenges. Nearly a year ago we began a search for an experienced HR Lead and that person came on board in January 2014. We still have work to do. We know that. However, making sure GitHub employees are getting the right feedback and have a safe way to voice their concerns is a primary focus of the company.

As painful as this experience has been, I am super thankful to Julie for her contributions to GitHub. Her hard work building Passion Projects has made a huge positive impact on both GitHub and the tech community at large, and she's done a lot to help us become a more diverse company. I would like to personally apologize to Julie. It’s certain that there were things we could have done differently. We wish Julie well in her future endeavors.

Chris Wanstrath
CEO & Co-Founder

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