Julie Ann Horvath’s GitHub Departure Shows Silicon Valley Has More To Learn About Gender Equality

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GitHub developer Julie Ann Horvath originally planned to quit the social coding firm quietly Friday, leaving what she describes as a toxic work environment. The sight of her male coworkers leering at a group of women in the office was the last straw for Github’s first female hire.

“Two women, one of whom I work with and adore, and a friend of hers were hula hooping to some music. I didn’t have a problem with this,” Horvath told TechCrunch on Saturday. “What I did have a problem with is the line of men sitting on one bench facing the hoopers and gawking at them. It looked like something out of a strip club. When I brought this up to male coworkers, they didn’t see a problem with it.”

That scene, and the apathetic response she received from management, echoes what many women and other marginalized groups in tech endure at the workplace. Despite more women getting STEM degrees and entering jobs, the field is still male-dominated, especially in leadership roles. Almost 85 percent of Standard & Poor’s top 150 Silicon Valley companies — with nearly 200,000 employees combined — have no more than one woman on their board of directors. Many tech companies justify the dearth of women in their ranks by claiming female applicants don’t fit the culture or just aren’t qualified. But recent research shows women are also less likely to be hired when matched up against a male candidate with an identical skill level.

Horvath, one of the few prominent women in tech, has defended Github against criticism that it perpetuated a “brogrammer” culture that shuts out women. She also helmed a women-targeted outreach program, Passion Projects, to help address the problem and give women in the tech industry a voice and a safe community that celebrates their work. Though she brought more women into the company, Horvath said she still felt undermined and dismissed because of her gender. “I had a really hard time getting used to the culture, the aggressive communication on pull requests and how little the men I worked with respected and valued my opinion,” she told TechCrunch. Over the weekend, she tweeted that she regrets “defending Github’s culture to feminists for the last two years.”

The attitude Horvath describes is seemingly ingrained in the tech industry. Women’s work quality and intelligence are called into question more often than men’s, and they have a harder time landing investors for startups. This bias goes widely ignored and spills over into policies that overlook issues such as online harassment.

Horvath’s experience stresses not only the importance of an inclusive and diverse staff, but how badly tech companies, especially startups, tend to handle ongoing gender harassment and discrimination. The harassment from both a male employee and the founder’s wife, according to Horvath, went unchecked for over a year after she brought it up to her superiors.

“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,” Horvath wrote in a blog post last year.

GitHub’s CEO and cofounder Chris Wanstrath announced Sunday that he suspended the relevant co-founder and barred his wife from coming into to office while the firm investigated Horvath’s complaints.

Wanstrath apologized in the statement, writing that GitHub has hired a new human resources manager and adding, “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.”