Thursday, 18 October 2018 09:07

Cultural fit is as important as technical fit, says GitHub VP


How do you build, and then protect, the right company culture? According to Merritt Anderson, the answer is you work at it.

Collaborative code repository GitHub has made a definitive stance about its commitment to diversity and inclusion. iTWire asked Merritt Anderson, Vice President, Employee Experience and Engagement about how GitHub developed its culture, and what advice she can offer other companies.

“My advice is to invest in it early to make it a part of how you do business,” Anderson said. “Sometimes where companies slip up and falter is they place it in the hands of one person and make it the responsibility of one leader. You have to make it the fabric of your company’s culture and purpose, driven by the recognition that practising diversity and inclusion leads to a high-performance, highly-engaging culture.”

GitHub’s journey has been evolutionary, she explains, but now features hammock rooms for jetlagged international GitHub workers — or “Hubbers” — unisex bathrooms with wall-to-wall lockable private stalls, prayer and meditation rooms, and other features.

Hubbers who work from home are provided a stipend to outfit their office with similar furniture and equipment to that used in the office. A gym membership benefit, as offered by some companies, was considered by GitHub as not inclusive for those who are not fully able-bodied so has instead been implemented as a stipend to all employees for spending on whatever may help them with their physical or mental health in their own personal circumstance.

A mother’s room allows nursing mothers to take care of their babies in a private, safe setting, with the millennial population now starting to come of the age where they are starting families.

GitHub puts a lot of thought into these things, Anderson says, and they’re not actually out of reach for other companies. “Small things that don’t cost a lot, like the bathrooms or prayer and meditation rooms, create inclusive practices so people can rest, meditate and worship during the times of the day they are working. We don’t want to interrupt anyone’s productivity. It’s not costly to do these things.”

Another example, Anderson gives, is at events like the annual GitHub Universe conference employees can bring a caretaker or spouse with them. Their participation is not limited because they are new parents, and she says GitHub is rightly proud of its work here.

On the topic of women in technology, Anderson says it’s a long-tail strategy. GitHub invests in STEM partnerships such as Black Girls Code, Girls Code, and other organisations that encourage young girls to get into technology. “When I was seven I knew I wanted to be a lawyer,” she says. “I didn’t know technology was a thing. GitHub can use its social impact and strategy to get women thinking tech is cool – and it is cool,” she adds, “with wearable technology, projects that build community awareness and social movement – these are things where technology is much more accessible more than mainstream tools.

“From a reputation standpoint, as young girls see more women doing these things as models and mentors it will ignite the next generation of developers.”

Another project to assist is the newly created Octoprenticeship intern program, targeting women who have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time — perhaps raising children or caring for elderly parents — who had a career but now want to get into technology. It’s really a “returnship”, Anderson says.

“I’m exceedingly proud of this,” she said. The program received hundreds of applications, but for now, six have been selected, who commence tomorrow. “We intentionally kept it small as it’s still a pilot program. This is our first cohort and we want to make sure they have a great experience. We kept it small so they can help us build it out.”

The internship is in conjunction with PathForward and expresses GitHub’s long-tail view of engaging women in technology as well as what the company is doing right now. The ladies in the initial cohort will go into sales, account management, and into the technology group working on engineering projects alongside developers.

“Everyone is responsible for developing culture,” Anderson says. “At GitHub, our priority is making sure our drive is to create the absolute best place to work. It’s our North Star. We have a globally distributed workforce and embrace all that comes with it - languages, culture, gender, geography - and collaborate on our platform transparently and through code.”

For other companies, Anderson says you must “come from a place of wanting to be inclusive and ensuring new starters are engaged, feel they belong and are empowered to do the best work of their life.”

It is essential, Anderson says, that you — both as individuals and employers — have core values that ground you, that set strategy, develop your programs, launch your initiatives, and how you interact with others. “It’s everyone’s job,” she says.

Culture is important, and you have to make it part of your hiring process. “Every candidate that comes through has a set of questions which assess them against our inclusiveness and commitment to diversity and belonging. We are very intentional in training how people are asked these questions and assessed,” she says.

In fact, “it’s critically important in building culture and hiring that this carries an equal amount of weight as technical competency”, she says.

GitHub puts all its job descriptions through Textio, Anderson explains, to ensure the language used is gender inclusive. This means certain pronouns, or hard-edged vocabulary, are filtered to move from limited language into words that are more inclusive and not associated with gender.

When it comes to the big Microsoft question, Anderson states she has had an integral role in the process as Microsoft and GitHub move to close their acquisition agreement. “Microsoft’s values and missions are very much aligned with ours, but at a different scale,” she says.

“I’m very delighted to see culture and purpose is very aligned between GitHub and Microsoft. Some learnings and sharing will have to happen, but as far as core tenets around values, inclusiveness and commitment to diversity, they have that at their core and fabric of their existence.”

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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