Implementing Values: Learning from GitLab: Diversity & inclusion

This is the fourth value covered in a series of blog posts on what we can learn in implementing values that are the same or similar to GitLab’s CREDIT values. For background and links to the other posts, please check out the overview post.

Diversity & inclusion

There are a number of initiatives around diversity and inclusion, though some of them are fairly new and still need time to mature to see the impact of them. In this post, I’ll focus more on things that have consistently happened and strategies that GitLab has had for a little longer.

Inclusive language

It’s no secret that the English language is skewed towards the masculine side. In the past, it was considered best practice to use “he” as a grammatically singular third person pronoun when the gender was unknown. For some, defaulting to “she” was an answer, but in general, it seems fairly common now to use “they”. While not technically grammatically correct, using “they” is gender neutral, which not only encompass male and female, but those who identify as outside of the gender dichotomy.

At GitLab, we have a couple of ways we have integrated more inclusive language into our day-to-day. In Slack, choosing the pronoun you want others to use is part of the individual profile. We also have an auto response for when people use “hi guys” or “hey guys”. While it’s an accepted slang in many regions to mean “hi people”, that’s not the case in most areas where team members reside.

At the same time, we understand and accept that people will use expressions or words that are particular to a region. In turn, people who do that don’t take offence if asked to explain them.

Saying something

At GitLab, we also ask people to call out if something doesn’t fit within our values. We do our best to provide feedback with kindness, but our values include the expectation that we speak up if something doesn’t fit.

In most organizations, I have never felt comfortable calling people out of things, but as I mentioned in the collaboration post, seeing others provide feedback in a clear, straightforward, and kind manner (verbally and in writing) means that this is now a “normal” thing to me. Seeing others at all levels do this was quite the culture shock for me, but also cemented the idea that GitLab has built a culture where it’s safe to say something.

Diversity in hiring

GitLab encourages a diversity in applicants. No one is given a preference during the hiring process, but minority groups might be targeted in where job postings are advertised (e.g. posting on a women in technology job board) or in other ways, attempts to make job postings more visible.

In going through the interview process, each candidate should be interviewed by at least one female (or non-male) GitLab team member. It doesn’t always happen, and I admit, I communicated with a couple females to set up interview times, but didn’t have any “real” interaction even by email with a female GitLabber until I was going through the final part of the process with reference checks and the offer.

Nevertheless, in Support for example, we’ve come up with a new format where the first behavioural interview is a panel of two people: the region’s manager and a female IC, and the last bit of interview time is exclusively with the female IC so that the candidate can ask questions of them. All the females on the team have gone through or are finishing up their interview training, and we hope to switch to the new format soon. While a panel interview is new for our team, some other teams do them, though sometimes for different reasons (such as having an engineer to evaluate technical skills in a non-engineer role).

I also haven’t seen recent statistics, but I believe that we have a decent ratio of females even within engineering. Certainly a lot better than any of the IT departments I’ve worked next to, or seen.

Multiple promotion tracks

Every time I hear that you need to become a manager to move up, I despair a little. In every organization I have worked in, there are amazing ICs that feel like they become stuck, leave for a better paying position, or give in to the fact and make the move to manager. However, it is no secret that a good IC does not automatically make them a good manager.

I fell victim to this exact situation and became a middle manager (in a previous job). It was fairly early in my career as a librarian, only 5 years after I graduated, and I was 5 years younger than the youngest manager already on staff at the time. Not to say I was too young, but that it was a little unusual.

I am thankful I had the opportunity and learnt a lot during that time. I got the chance to work with some great people and made many positive contributions. Based on the feedback I got, I did fairly well overall.

Still, it made me realize that it’s not really what I want to do. It’s one of those things that I can do but given a choice, I’d rather be an IC.

Thankfully, at GitLab, engineering has two tracks: management and IC. The company recognizes that excellent ICs should be recognized and promoted while letting them keep doing what they do best.

Not only does this improve results, I believe this more inclusive way promoting people increases retention and attracts greater diversity.

Reducing bias

GitLab may be a tech startup, but I have never felt that being female makes me part of a minority (though technically it is, since the majority of people in engineering are male).

In the past, I’ve been told that I’m too “straightforward” and “results oriented”, not “feeling” enough. I even had a manager once admit to me that it’s because I’m female and that if I were male and voiced myself the same way, it wouldn’t be seen in a negative light. Maybe it’s because GitLab is global, which means we have people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds with people who present their ideas in different ways; maybe it’s because we promote diversity, quirkiness, and results; regardless of the reason, I don’t feel like I’m being treated entirely different in the manner I express myself because I’m female.

While I am obviously in a minority ethnicity-wise, I don’t feel like I stand out because of it. I get teased about being Canadian on occasion (in good humour), but then those who live in the US also accept that there are things about the USA that baffle the rest of us.

Values fit

In many places, you won’t get hired unless you fit the “culture”. At GitLab, in a way that’s true, because our values define our work culture. However, we tend to hire people we think fit the values and add to the company, rather than keeping the status quo, which is what’s often implied by “culture” fit.

Even our performance reviews often focus on how well we exhibit our values, but we can exemplify the values in individual ways, often in whatever way works best and plays to our strengths.

Take away

Being a diverse and inclusive culture is a lot less about the make up of a group, and much more about how people treat each other. However, it’s also important to have a diverse group because then we learn to accept diverse ways of thinking and doing things. From the top, all the way to the bottom, it’s crucial that we build an environment where people are comfortable to, and say something when they should.

group of animals

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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