Over the past few month, stories of harassment, assault, and discrimination have peppered national news outlets, and the tech industry has not been immune. Back in March, programmer Julie Horvath announced her resignation from GitHub, advising that encouragement to join in rampant “boys’ culture” made her wish that she had quit sooner. Soon after, The New Republic ran a piece about age discrimination in Silicon Valley, which describes the permeation of young male culture – ping-pong tables, “Whiskey Fridays,” and constant references to male genitalia – in everyday life at an average tech startup.
Unfortunately, sexism, ageism, and racism permeate every workplace to some degree. So why does it hurt so much when it comes from the technology world?
Take GitHub’s core philosophy: “Build software better, together.” This platform embraces an open source credo: releasing your ideas for others to build upon them, devoid of very little pretense, effectively uplifts the group and the medium. Everyone contributes, and even the smallest tweak in coding can have the largest impact.
Open source technology feels pure and idealistic, and many startups have embraced this belief in the workplace. Flat organizational structures abound; besides, when a company only has a few employees who all look the same, who needs rules to get in the way of creativity?
But successful startups eventually increase in workload, and businesses grow beyond the realm of someone’s dorm room. What starts as a simple attempt to connect and uplift others turns into a legitimate organization, with problems that include business development and taxes. This requires a larger breadth of professional tasks, which leads to hiring outside of a very small group of skills and personalities. Suddenly, these startups have larger and more diverse staffs.
And herein lies the question: how can businesses in the technology sector continue to support their mission of inclusion and acceptance while fostering a safe, non-discriminatory work environment for all employees?
How can we remain open-minded in our output without becoming close-minded to different genders, races, and ages?
It appears that offering a system of checks and balances within an organization is a positive step in the right direction. GitHub took a step by building a human resources department, allowing employees to anonymously report discrepancies. This move sets a standard for other Silicon Valley businesses to embrace small bureaucracy standards, not as a “softening” of the technology crunch, but as a way to promote creativity and check assumptions at the door.
Code, in its most raw form, has no human characteristics. Let this facade not disguise the fact that there is a living, breathing body behind it. Let the coding sphere utilize its love of no-holds-barred, radical collaboration to leverage these talents and create a safe workplace for all.