One of Gittip’s core values is a love of self-critique, so as we watch the story unfold of Julie Ann Horvath’s harassment while at GitHub, we thought it an appropriate response to ask ourselves, “In what ways is Gittip at risk of enabling harassment?”
We are an open company, which for us means that we share as much as possible, charge as little as possible, and fund ourselves openly on Gittip itself. In fact, our purpose in helping drive the open company movement is precisely to address the root causes of social ills such as harassment. GitHub’s fall from grace is so sad because it’s so predictable: it’s simply too easy for harassment to fester behind closed doors. Open the doors! Fresh air! Fresh air! Many eyes make bugs shallow, both in code and in culture.
Speaking personally as someone who ticks all the standard boxes of privilege (straight white male, etc.), knowing that my conversations and interactions are public helps me pay more attention to what I’m saying and doing. Why do I want to pay attention to my words and behavior? Not, I hope, out of fear of reprisal (whether in court or on social media). I want to avoid bullying and harassing others out of love. I want my avoidance of harassment to be a byproduct of my pursuit of positive relationships with everyone I interact with.
But open companies, like open source, are not magic pixie dust. One lesson we’re taking away from GitHub is that a flat organizational structure has challenges. There may be no clear path or authority figure to go to for conflict resolution. Combined with “hidden structure” (re: Valve), the lack of conflict resolution pathways especially hurts those most in need, those without power. Of course, traditional HR departments have their own issues. Ideally they are an objective third party to resolve conflict, but to the cynic they exist to limit the company’s exposure to lawsuits. GitHub’s most recent statement suggests this approach.
GitHub is a fantastic and inspiring product, and we heavily depend on it in building Gittip. We pay GitHub $25 a month, mostly because we believe in paying for the products and services we use (we do use private repos as part of our security issue workflow). We haven’t yet used a purchasing decision as activism, and it’s not obvious to us that this is the time to start. For now, we’re keeping our repos at GitHub.
As this story unfolds, we’ll keep asking ourselves whether we need to vote with our dollars, and as we grow as a company we’ll keep an eye out for policies Gittip needs in order to resolve conflict early, and to properly handle harassment when it comes to that.
Chad Whitacre is the founder of Gittip.