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On Women in Tech

A shake-up at GitHub highlights ongoing gender bias in the tech industry, prompting a response from SparkFun

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The latest turn in an unfortunate story of tech industry gender politics has the Ada Initiative ending its partnership with GitHub. This comes in the wake of an independent investigation refuting claims of a hostile work environment for women and the resignation of co-founder, president, and former CEO of GitHub Tom Preston-Werner.

The time line goes something like this:

On March 14, 2014 Julie Ann Hovarth resigned after two years as a developer at GitHub. In doing so she described a hostile work environment engendered by Tom Preston-Werner and his wife Theresa. On April 21 the results of GitHub’s independent investigation came out:

“The investigation found no evidence to support the claims against Tom and his wife of sexual or gender-based harassment or retaliation, or of a sexist or hostile work environment. However, while there may have been no legal wrongdoing, the investigator did find evidence of mistakes and errors of judgment.”

With this was the revelation that Tom Preston-Werner was resigning. Shortly thereafter a major non-profit organization for supporting women in tech, the Ada Initiative, announced they were no longer partnering with GitHub.

TL;DR: nobody gained from this series of events and sexism is still a problem in the modern tech industry.

The Femalecodertocat - one of the handful of female Octocats in the Octodex
The Femalecodertocat - one of the handful of female Octocats in the Octodex

This hits home because SparkFun uses GitHub. A lot. In addition to over 200 public repositories (all public repos are free) $250 a month buys us all the private repos we need for new hardware and IT projects that aren’t ready or appropriate to fully open source. The GitHub platform is a vital tool in development at SparkFun by choice. It’s effective and people genuinely enjoy using it.

As the story unfolded this year it’s been interesting to watch, never really knowing what the hell is going on. But now a part of GitHub’s investigation results have resonated with some wisdom I gained this past year. Cultures of exclusion most often originate from countless tiny instances building to a strong headwind. Of course the investigation found no direct evidence – in other words nothing obvious. Individuals can contribute to this hostility in ways so subtle they honestly don’t realize. Regardless whether anything blatant ever transpired the vague bit about mistakes and errors in judgment is the real problem that is not solved by one co-founder resigning. The culture needs to continue to evolve.

• • •

Last spring I completed a grueling round of hiring. Nine months saw 64 applicants trickle through. Only three of them (4.7%) were women but that was par for the course. I never had many women apply, but this time it was finally clear that a higher proportion of qualified women must be looking so my ability to interest them was the problem. In researching solutions one resource that pulled me in was the Geek Feminism Wiki. There are many good reads throughout that site and it’s worth just poking around there for a while. In articles like Reducing Male Bias in Hiring I was able to not only pick up tips on conducting the process but gain a deeper understanding for why they work.

A new round of hiring arose in September. Rewriting the job post and seeking new job boards targeting more diverse groups produced better results: 65 applicants in only six weeks, 12% of whom were women, one of whom was an excellent fit for the position – a good step forward. Applicant quality was up across the board as twice as many warranted interviews. Lessons in balanced hiring improved all aspects of the process. Lessons like saying “Experience with X” instead of “Proficient with X”, not listing the free beer as a perk (in addition to knowing the difference between a benefit and a perk), and a thousand other little things.

Jen Sorensen's take on brogrammer culture. Don't be that guy.
Jen Sorensen’s take on brogrammer culture. Don’t be that guy.

And that’s the rub: the little things. Subtle little things that had been weighing down my job postings, perhaps hinting unbeknownst at a brogrammer culture lurking behind the trappings. I like to think SparkFun is an environment that’s positive toward all the women that work here, but I can’t speak to that point. I can only be an ally to the women with whom I work. Allies listen, learn, know they can’t fix everything, but fix what they can.

This underscores the need for self-education in this arena. So many people in STEM can be hostile to women and minorities in ways they don’t realize and can lack the empathy to listen when someone calls them on it. Even writing this blog post the irony of my own privilege is not lost on me. I’m a white dude writing about sexism and equality. I got where I am not just for my skills but my opportunities - opportunities I’ve been granted disproportionately because of my race and gender. To really level the playing field in a meaningful way those opportunities need to be accessible to everyone, and understanding how they’re unfairly rationed today is the first step. So especially for privileged folks like me, reading ideas from another perspective can replace assumptions of integrity with enlightenment.

• • •

The Ada Initiative’s decision to split from GitHub is appropriate. There are constructive reactions too that deserve attention, like the Culture Offset Pledge which encourages offsetting GitHub payments with targeted donations. SparkFun is now on board offsetting our GitHub subscriptions with an equal amount spread to the Ada Initiative, PHP Women, Black Girls Code, the National Center for Women in IT (NCWIT) and Girl Develop IT. This move seemed obvious as SparkFun has a history of promoting women in tech, but we can always do more.

As for GitHub, I truly hope their efforts to improve the work environment for all of their staff are sincere and effective. I hope they and the Ada Initiative will see fit to forge a new partnership some day, because they were doing good things together. Here in the Colorado front range too GitHub has been doing good things - local GitHub trainer Tim Berglund has conducted training sessions at SparkFun and several local groups focused on women in tech. I’m optimistic that GitHub can emerge from this dilemma as a fundamentally better company.

When I saw Coraline Ehmke (one of the creators of the Culture Offset Pledge) speak at Great Wide Open in Atlanta only a few weeks ago she discussed the flaws with the concept of the Meritocracy as GitHub began distancing themselves from the term. In an ideal world a meritocracy is terrific – those with the best contributions reap the most influence. In the real world meritocracies are skewed by privilege and influence is disproportionately meted out to those with the most opportunities – white men (like myself). The symbolic step GitHub’s new CEO took in ditching the old tenet “United Meritocracy of GitHub” in favor of “In collaboration we trust” was the right one. Interestingly enough it was taken at Julie Ann Hovarth’s suggestion mere weeks before she resigned.

GitHub's former rug. The flawed "United Meritocracy of GitHub" has been supplanted by "In collaboration we trust"
GitHub’s former rug. The flawed “United Meritocracy of GitHub” has been supplanted by “In collaboration we trust”

If equality in the tech field is of interest to you then please take a look at just about any of the links in this blog post. Browse the Geek Feminism Wiki for a while. Call out insensitive behavior when you see it. Volunteer your time or money to any one of the many organizations out there working on this stuff. Our modern tech industry is a thriving landscape of opportunity and innovation – let’s make sure it benefits everyone.

I also hope that all the organizations out there dedicated to educating women in tech thrive and expand and that SparkFun’s contributions help in that. Ultimately it seems that long-standing biases in the tech industry will only die off if we support equal access for the current and next generations of coders - something every one of us can do every day.


The latest post from GitHub on the matter can be found here with greater detail about how the investigation was conducted and what it found. The original vague terminology was replaced with refreshingly explicit transparency - the kind GitHub is known for. It appears in this case the mistakes and errors of judgment were largely coming solely from Preston-Werner and the culture at GitHub is positive and supportive to the women who work there. This is exonerating for the company and certainly restores faith in their culture. The action prompted by the Culture Offset Pledge is still meaningful, though. While GitHub may have a good culture there are many places still that don’t, and organizations working to improve equality in the tech industry still deserve support from individuals and companies determined to act.

Comments 56 comments

  • As a female working in the tech world I often get asked what it’s like being female in the workplace and it’s always a struggle to explain to people that when there are problems it’s not about being overtly harassed and it’s not easy to explain to people. So, I really appreciate how well this post points out some of the finer details. I’d also encourage people to check out Harvard’s Project Implicit which explores bias people have but don’t necessary consciously acknowledge.

  • Woot woot on the shout out for Tim Berglund! I (and Miss Toni) was at one of his Advanced Git Training for a WWC Boulder meetup and he is super awesome. He did the training while he was sick too and was a pro. :)

    1. How is “proficient with X” better than “experience with X”? I can have years of experience as a lawn mower, but I may be terrible at it. “Proficient” means that you are good at something, and that if you’re not good at something then you WILL fail. Plus, “experience” rules out people who may be good at something but may not have experience. I’m mostly refering to people fresh out of college with new degrees, which will include me in a few years (I’m about to start my freshmen year to work towards an electrical engineering degree). That seems to weed out new talent.

    2. Please find a different word than “privilage.” That word has become so abused. Maybe I’ve spent too much time on Tumblr, but it seems like anyone who is a member of a majority in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. is “privilaged” and has automatically abused that “privilage.” I am a white, male, straight American and I come from a middle class family. That means nothing about my merrit, or who I am. You can make all kinds of assumptions from that, but you still would know absolutely nothing about who I AM from those facts. In some cases, it seems to me like people wear the fact that they are “unprivilaged” as a badge of honor. Again, maybe I’ve spent too much time on Tumblr. That site has some excellent content, but it’s riddled with people on “moral missions” and lots of self deprication that is actively encouraged.

    3. Meritocracies are objective. If you do good work, you get the reward. One should only ever be assessed based on one’s merit. In this situation, “In collaberation we trust” appears to mean “We all work together in the sense that all achievements are the products of the group,” which is ludicrous. Under systems like that, the least and most skilled people are not differentiated between. There is no individuality.

    4. It seems like SparkFun has decided to take the position that GitHub is a sexist organization, because someone felt the need to “offset” payments to it. However, GitHub has clearly stated that one man was responsible for this incident, and he has been delt with. So, does SparkFun still consider GitHub to be a sexist organization? As it stands, that’s it’s only reason for “offseting” it’s payments. The bigger problem, however, is that SparkFun continued paying a company that it considered sexist in the first place. That’s like going to work in a helicopter and buying carbon offsets because you “want to stay green.” If you want to stay green, bike to work. If you don’t want to contribute to sexism, don’t pay sexist companies. At the time, from Sparkfun’s perspective, GitHub had no integrity. So why would it even continue paying GitHub? I don’t care about how heavily a product is integrated into SparkFun. If something lacks integrity, it isn’t worth supporting because the product won’t be any good.

    I am aware of the issues of discrimination. I know that humanity can do better, and I challenge it to do so. Being part of humanity, I issue that challenge to myself as well. I can confidently say that I’ve met that challenge to the best of my ability. Some may call me out on this with something like “Oh so your judging yourself? That’s conventient.” My answer would be yes, I am judging myself. I hold myself to a standard, and I meet it. I can’t base anything about myself in the minds of others. Thats how individuality is lost.

    Ultimately, the issue is objectivity. People need to ignore race, gender, class, etc. and focus exclusively on ability. If I was hired over someone else becuase I was a white male, I wouldn’t want to work at that company. Nothing produced by it, or at least nothing that involved the person who made the decision, would be any good. A lack of integrity leads to further lack of integrity, and that shows in every single product. Objectivity is unbiased, honest truth, and it is exaclty what is needed to solve this problem.

    (Just as a side note, the college application process is extremely relevant to this discussion. Most applications have areas to fill out one’s race, gender, the names of any family that work at the institution, etc. Generally, this information is used for affirmative action, which is, to me, an extremely absurd concept that acts as a deterent to progress. Applications should carry no irrelevent data, like the data I mentioned above. That way, admissions offices are blind, and diversity occours naturally.)

    • To address a few of your points:

      RE: Proficient vs Experienced–words mean different things to different people. Person A might have taken 2 semesters of Spanish and consider themselves “proficient,” when the job posting really means they want you to have an advanced degree in it. Added to that, women tend to underestimate their abilities, so a woman reading that job posting with “proficient” may not think she’s qualified when in reality she is. SparkFun is a little different than most other companies–for one, we’re more interested in aptitude and potential than other places might be, and two, we actually ask you to “show your work.” Engineering applicants are asked to provide examples of projects, devs are asked to provide sample code–when I was interviewing, I was asked to give examples of campaigns I’d run. So we don’t have to worry about how someone evaluates their own skills–they’ll show us, and it becomes very clear what they’re good at.

      RE: Privilege–I think you’re misunderstanding how this word is used when discussing issues of equality. (As an avid Tumblr user myself, it’s not always the best lens, because people can get pretty polarized on there.) Privilege doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It doesn’t mean you haven’t had personal tragedies or haven’t been abused in some way. It doesn’t mean that you haven’t worked hard or and it doesn’t undermine your achievements. All it means is that you have been afforded certain benefits by society that other people have not. Let me give you an example: Black drivers are up to 7 times more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers. This article outlines privileges men have in something as seemingly trivial as gaming, such as not having to endure constant harassment and requests for nude photos. We’ve not seen a confirmed case of a person being murdered simply for being heterosexual. Those are all examples of privilege. The institutions of power are overwhelmingly male and white. What this means is that a white, straight male, you have privilege in that you see people like you in positions of power, and do not have to fight a legacy of racism, sexism, and homophobia in order to succeed. This article outlays some examples of white privilege. It doesn’t mean that you don’t work hard, it just means there aren’t extra barriers place in front of you the way they are for women and people of color. There’s a privilege of class too–would you argue that Bill Gates doesn’t have privileges compared to yourself? Americans have privilege too, over people born in developing countries. There are all kinds of privilege. It’s not meant to demonize anyone, it’s just meant to acknowledge that we’re not actually on a level playing field as a society.

      And that’s the fallacy of meritocracies. They’re supposed to reward people for their work, but if one person has a whole bunch of extra obstacles piled on them, it’s not exactly equal work. Meritocracies are great if everyone’s starting from the same place, but that’s not really how the world works. If you’re starting at a disadvantage, it’s hard to compete with people who were already halfway to the finish line. Please don’t read that as you didn’t work hard to get where you are–I’m quite sure you did–but the point of privilege is to try to get you to see things from other people’s point of view. Jane Elliott, a teacher and activist, conceived of an experiment in 1968 called the brown eyes/blue eyes experiment that she still does today. This video shows her doing the experiment recently and it’s a good demonstration of how issues of race and gender still plague our society.

      RE: GitHub perceived as a sexist company–We never said that. We said that sexism and racism are issues that are an ugly side of STEM, and that this was one example of something we know to be a problem. GitHub is making efforts, and we commend that–but we also wanted to literally put our money where our mouth is and show that we’re not just paying lip-service to support for diversity. Hence, the donations.

      Lastly, to your point about objectivity–it only works if everyone has equal access and opportunity. I’ve given you some data above that show it’s not, but if you want more, all you have to do is Google it–or better yet, listen to the people who live this every day. In a perfect system, yes, pure objective measurement of ability and merit would be the way to go, but we don’t have a perfect system. We have to work with what we got, and that’s exactly what SparkFun is trying to do–make a bad situation better however we can. We can’t just do that within our walls though–we have to try to make change in the world outside too. It’s an obligation for those who have the ability to speak up, but it’s more than that to us–we care about this deeply, and want to make it better.

      To that end, I sincerely hope that I’ve been clear I want to have a conversation with you about these topics, not just yell at you and shut you down. I’m glad that you’re thinking about them and that you posted what you did, but I also think it’s important to hear what people who don’t share your experiences have to say. As a woman who’s worked in male-dominated industries my whole life (defense and tech), this is a subject near-and-dear to my heart, and the only way we can change anything is to openly discuss and confront it.

      • All privilege comes with responsibility. Refer to the Aesop’s fable “The Fir and the Bramble”. Which is interesting since the fables were written by a slave. Also despite being owned Aseop also understood having access to such information was also a privilege.

        Life itself is a meritocracy. It rewards those who defeat their Goliaths even if they are not fairly distributed.

        • I don’t disagree that life rewards those that overcome their obstacles, but I was pointing out that when an entire group of people is systematically discouraged from participation from something, it’s rather insulting to insist that they simply need to “work harder” instead of looking at the problems inherent in the system.

          ….Now I just really wanna post a Holy Grail gif.

        1. Does SF accept college work, such as senior projects, as “experience”? If not, are those jobs just not considered entry level?

        2. I understand what you mean by privilege now, but I think it needs a serious rebranding. It needs to focus more on providing everyone the same good opportunities that “privileged” people have and less on attempting to make “privilaged” people feel like they took unfair advantage of “unprivilaged” people. That’s not productive at all. For example, it infuriates me that some schools closer to the center of my city have drastically less funding because private donations by parents in those areas are lower. Education should never be given up to chance in ANY way. But when someone acts negatively towards me because I was able to attend one of the best high schools* in the country, I don’t believe that they care about making progress at all. In short, those who don’t have good opportunities need to be brought up, the people who have good opportunities don’t need to be brought down. Again, maybe Tumblr and the quote “check your privilege” have corrupted it’s meaning to me.

        3. What I said in part 2 covers what I want to say here too. I have seen that experiment before, and its one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen. It’s a crushing example of how some people loose their individuality so easily.

        4. I understand, but the way the post is worded just makes it seem like SF is trying to “counteract” something that it’s doing. Maybe I just interpreted it incorrectly.

        I really liked what you had to say. I think I have some different views on the finer details, but we both want the same thing.

        *Despite the fact that I go to one of the best schools in the country, I think that the whole school system needs to be raised and rebuilt. In it’s current state, it promotes being the “best student” in a way that crushes individuality. I only began to figure this out a few months ago. My passion is electrical engineering, and yet my school, which I spend most of my day at or doing homework for, provides me with no practical resources to learn it. So I’ve spent the past 12 years in a system that has never helped me develop my passion. Sure, it’s excellent at math and wrote memorization. But there’s no emotion. Knowing that there are much worse schools out there….. I wonder what our future is. Book knowledge doesn’t solve everything, and not everyone has to go to college (although I do). I’m saying this to let you know that once I’ve established myself as an electrical engineer, if I ever get the chance to do something to change the wretched system we have now, I will, and you’ve improved my perspective on the problem. This country doesn’t give education the attention it deserves. Everyone needs the same opportunity at a quality education, but that education should never be the same for everyone; it should be customized for individuals. If you want an example, read the first few chapters of Carl Segan’s Contact. The main character, Ellie (a female astrophysicist), refers to her education as a “hollow shell of an education at best,” and today’s system is worse than what she describes in the 70s. Actually, you’d probably like the whole book; Ellie faces a lot of sexism as a female in a STEM occupation, and she handles it incredibly well. I haven’t finished it, but I’ve seen the movie. The overall plot is also incredibly good.

        • I can’t answer for everyone at SparkFun, but in general I’d say that senior projects count as experience in a lot of places. My senior thesis did when I first graduated from college, as did my husband’s senior design project (he’s an EE.) Internships, volunteer experience, work for student orgs–those all helped me, and many people I know, get my first job after graduation. It depends on what kind of job you’re applying for–entry level, stuff like that should make you stand out. If you’re freshly out of college and applying for VP position (not in a start-up), they’ll make you stand out but it probably won’t be enough. :)

          You have a valid point about rebranding of the term privilege. I’ve heard people say that before–the problem is, I guess, is that the dictionary definition of privilege–i.e., benefits and rights conferred to one group but not another–is what’s being used here, and I just don’t know another term for it, lol. I think the real issue is conversation and actual dialogue, rather than just yelling at people (which is what happens on Tumblr a lot). Yelling never really convinced anyone.

          When you talk about people losing their individuality, that’s sort of the point of that experiment. When you’re told every day of your life for as long as you can remember that you are X not Y, that you can’t do ABC, that you’re not as good as this other person, that you’re lesser–it’s hard to shake that stuff. I think you might relate, given your story about how people respond to you when they find out where you went to high school. :)

          The GitHub incident really just was a catalyst for us. Things always hit harder when they’re close to home.

          I totally agree with your comments about education, and I’m glad that I’ve helped in some small way. We need smart people to speak up and work on these issues, and many others, and I hope you hold on to that passion and conviction. It’ll take you a long way. I’ve actually read Contact, too (although it was a million years ago)–everybody’s gotta love Carl Sagan. :) If you’re interested in astrophysics and diversity in STEM, I also suggest you listen/read things that Neil Degrasse Tyson has said. He’s recently been starring in the revamp of Cosmos, which was originally Carl Sagan’s show.

          • I have been watching the new Cosmos, and I really want to finish the original too. I’ve heard some snippets from Tyson’s interviews. I’ll watch some when I get the chance. This has been an excellent conversation; it’s certainly better than most I have on the internet.

    • Please don’t let your college experience sway you away from this. We need more engineers like you out here in the real world.

      • I won’t. At this point, I feel like I could burn down a forest to stop anything from changing me. In this age, people seem to give up their individuality so easily, mostly through the abuse of new technology. It’s kind of ironic; I want to work with technology and yet I have a healthier relationship with it than people who barely understand it.

  • This blog post feels like it wasn’t even written by sparkfun. where did this even come from? This entire topic is a huge publicity stunt. Could you guys just release the friday new product post already?

    • It came from the fact that we, as a company, find issues of equality–particularly in STEM, because that’s our world–to be a hugely important issue. In this instance, it was a situation that also involves GitHub, which we use heavily, and we wanted to speak up about something that’s pervasive in our field. SparkFun makes products, but we also really care about the community surrounding making, innovating, and technology. Culture is every bit as important as products here.

    • The Friday NPP is live here. This post is several days old.

  • Don’t forget that IEEE supports women in engineering. IEEE Women In Engineering

    Half of my team are women, very brilliant and talented ones. It is always interesting to hear what they have to say on topics related to our work. And they are all WIE members.

    This is why I have such respect for IEEE promoting the love of science in a professional manner. I recommend any woman who is wanting to be an engineer or scientist to at least look into IEEE WIE and see if they have to offer.

    We must be the change in this world, and not wait for policies or workplace rules to come out to force the issue.

  • Wow! Thanks for sharing!

    This is one blog post I’m going to re-read and think about more when I get home from my current trip.

  • It’s easy for something that seems like a good idea to backfire. For instance, I know of a company where the whole programming team gets a say in hiring decisions. While that probably helps team morale, it means that anyone on the team might be able to veto women or minorities. I worked at another company where the whole management team smoked and made all their big decisions as they stood around outside on their smoke breaks, inadvertently shutting out the ideas of anyone who didn’t smoke. Sparkfun’s own policy of allowing dogs at work, while great for dog lovers, probably discourages people who aren’t particularly fond of canines.

    We need to occasionally challenge our assumptions and try to see things from the viewpoint of others. That’s pretty important if we really want a society that is fair and equitable in it’s treatment of everyone. Fortunately, it’s something everyone can help make happen. All we have to do is pay attention and speak up.

  • At the risk of being publicly lynched, I have to ask. Github’s investigation found that sexist retaliation and hostile work environment claims were unfounded. In other words, these were untrue claims made in an attempt to harm github’s CEO and perhaps github itself. Why should Sparkfun have concerns about working with a company whose former leadership was falsely accused of sexism?

    Or is Sparkfun and Ada initiative and so on taking the view that Github is wrong or lying about the findings?

    • Check the quote at the top of the post again… yes, the investigation found no evidence of support Hovarth’s claims against the Preston-Werners, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Ultimately we’ll never know the whole truth of what happened, but the following sentence referring to finding mistakes and errors of judgment is the real problem. It’s those little things that on their own just look like innocent mistakes or missteps but can aggregate to a much bigger problem that’s practically invisible to everyone but those directly affected by it.

      That’s what needs to change more than anything else. Overt sexual harassment is the low hanging fruit in the fight for gender equality. It’s obvious when it happens and is comparatively easy to counter with legal action. Thousands of small mistakes and “errors of judgment” arise from an entrenched culture of sexism that needs to change from within.

      • You’re still citing the the wrong investigation report. The most recent, highly transparent report is here: https://github.com/blog/1826-follow-up-to-the-investigation-results

        • Thanks rwaldron, I hadn’t seen the latest update. I’ve since added an update to this post.

          It’s really good to see GitHub’s general culture be exonerated like that, and that the “mistakes” and “errors of judgment” really were one person. Turns out in GitHub’s case it was the easier fix, and I hope they can emerge from this stronger. We’re certainly not about to stop using and promoting GitHub as an excellent platform for open source. At least in the little SparkFun universe this had the positive affect of getting some fresh recurring donations going to genuinely good organizations. Hopefully down the road that will be faintly remembered as just another step of many that this company, and so many others, have taken in supporting equality in the tech industry.

      • Is your response a joke? You’re saying that you don’t know what happened, an invesitgation said there was no evidence of harrasment, but you know in your heart something happened in place you know nothing about? And because of that, you think that Adafruit is doing something other than trying to gain attention with publicity stunt?

        • This is the most recent (more transparent) blog post from GitHub that does highlight the issues leading to the CEO stepping down. Not all of Julie Horvath’s claims were substantiated with the investigation but there is no doubt that there were issues large enough for the CEO to resign.

        • Again, the investigation did vaguely confirm that there were mistakes made and errors in judgment. It didn’t even say by whom. That’s the important part. It’s the little things that create hostility towards women, often in ways that non-women are blind to.

          It’s not that I know in my heart something happened. It’s that I can see with my senses that this is a problem endemic to the entire tech industry and it’s prevalent throughout this entire story. This article isn’t about how I discredit the investigation’s findings, it’s more about how the real problem is so fine-grained and embedded in the industry that no investigation is really capable of seeing it. Investigations and legal action aren’t the solution; cultural change is.

          Also worth noting: it’s the Ada Initiative that broke off their partnership with GitHub, not Adafruit.

          • Apologies for that mix up.

          • “It didn’t even say by whom”

            The most recent update most certainly does name those who acted inappropriately. I would recommend actually reading it: https://github.com/blog/1826-follow-up-to-the-investigation-results

        • As a chromosonally diverse member of society who was descriminated and harrassed by a female boss who had decided to get rid of men in any positions of power, and especially older men or men with chronic illinesses, I can tell you it can be nearly impossible to prove . Even when a dozen people know whats going on, and you have multiple witnesses the attacker can always come up with reasons to deflect punishment in all but the most agreggious cases if they are smart and even a little careful. Its even more difficult in a situation where the very senior people in my organization owed their jobs to the bosses spouse. More often than not where there is smoke, there is fire.

    • Let’s maybe try and keep the comparisons to lynching out of this thread. Being disagreed with on the internet isn’t tantamount to extrajudicial execution, even if people really disagree with you a lot.

      • Good point. I should have left off that first sentence. Lynching is over the top in retrospect but the risk of being aggressively flamed is definitely there :)

        By the way, I support Sparkfun making this choice for itself and really wanted to understand what was going into it. I strongly condemn any kind of discrimination and harassment as well. My concern was really that it’s a little chilling that any company accused even falsely of any kind of discrimination will be harmed by it, and if that’s true, then to harm a company, all one needs do is accuse.

        (edit: neurdy points out above that there’s a newer blog post that goes into some of the errors in judgement so there were good reasons for Horvath to resign that have nothing to do with sexism)

        • I think all of us agree that there’s no place for discrimination or harassment in any business, but as the former partner in a small tech company which started as 5 founders, and expanded to 30+ employee only to be destroyed by a lawsuit caused by a consensual relationship gone bad, I am a little jaded and dont like to overreact to things like this.

          In our case, nobody but the two involved with the relationship knew it was going on (and neither was a founder) but when things went badly in their personal relationship, accusations of harassment were made, and here come the lawyers. Fast forward 3 years and $500k in legal expenses, all 30+ people are looking for jobs, and the only people who didn’t lose money were our defense lawyers. The founders were all lucky to get out of it without losing their homes, and all the customers wonder what happened to the company because legally we could not discuss the situation with anyone. Innocent reputations ruined..

          I hate to see a business destroyed by something like this, and I can see how someone high in the company could feel the need (or be forced) to resign just out of appearances, when there’s really nothing going on.

          Working in a group environment of any kind is going to cause a mix of personalities that can be challenging at times, but although everyone has the right not to be “harassed”, I think these days people can sometimes be a little “thin-skinned” intentionally to take advantage of the reaction of our politically correct society. That being said, I can understand why a company like Sparkfun needs to NOT have all it’s eggs in one basket, when the management of that basket is distracted and focused on something other than their core business.

          • Well said. And I will agree 100%, the ‘brogrammer’ culture needs to fall off a cliff and die. Diversity is good in all sorts of ways, hardly anyone would disagree with that. The problem with these affirmative-action type programs is they distort the picture the other way and only exacerbate the underlying problem (which as mentioned is subtle behaviors which turn women off, and I guarantee that a playing field tipped towards an individual just for being female will only encourage these subtle behaviors). The reality is, women have different interests and all biases and prejudice aside, there will NEVER be an equal number of women in tech for the same reason there will never be an equal number of men in the child care or health care industry. Our culture seems to be of the mindset that everyone is equal, therefore they are the same; equal yes, but the same? Not really.

            I applaud efforts to make a workplace that is friendly towards women. I do not applaud the efforts to go out of ones way to give women more opportunities just for the sake of being women.

            • “The reality is, women have different interests and all biases and prejudice aside, there will NEVER be an equal number of women in tech for the same reason there will never be an equal number of men in the child care or health care industry.”

              This is a truism that has zero foundation in reality. You’re looking at the outcomes of an unjust system and then claiming that that’s evidence of something intrinsic in men and women. Women and minorities are told at ages as early as nine that STEM isn’t for them, and encounter obstacles at every turn that simply aren’t there for white men, because they are daring to pursue something outside the paradigm built by the people in power. Girls are taught to believe that they are not as capable in STEM at young ages when that’s simply not true. Please listen to the experiences of people who live this every day, especially their early experiences, instead of brushing it away with unfounded statements–the very same statements that help build those obstacles I mentioned earlier. I’ll refer you to the words of Neil Degrasse Tyson–build a system that affords equal access and opportunity, THEN we can start talking about intrinsic differences that affect career choice.

        • but the risk of being aggressively flamed is definitely there :)

          Don’t I know it. Thanks for keeping it civil so far.

          I’ll leave it to Frencil to elaborate on his thinking here. I’ve personally been staying about as far from comment on this one as I can manage. That said, I doubt that matching what we pay GitHub (a company with a valuation somewhere around ¾ of a billion dollars, last I checked) in charitable donations is going to do the company much serious harm, and it may well do some good elsewhere.

          • Agreed, supporting charities that work to create the inclusive environment we want seems like a great way to go and makes sense regardless of whether there was discrimination in this individual case.

  • When I first saw the article “On Women In Tech”, I thought it was going to be a showcase of designs by women. I was a bit disappointed to find that it was a socio-political article. Actually I enjoy socio-political discussions but they’re a tough mix with technology. Tech is governed by scientific facts and rules and politics is governed by … well nothing. I’ll start off by saying I’m a big fan of Sparkfun. I’ve been a customer since Nathan was a pup. I’ve been to a class at Sparkfun and had a tour and I really enjoyed the experience. I’ve also recommended Sparkfun products to dozens of colleagues. I’m a customer for very simple reasons. You have useful products, a thorough website, competitive prices and I usually get delivery in well under a fortnight. I go to the website, place an order and wait in anticipation for the red box or envelope to show up. I have no idea if the accountant has dreads, the height of the shipping clerk, how much the PCB designer weighs or the chromosome makeup of the marketing guru. This discussion does something that we in the tech fields are prohibited from doing; making conclusions without evidence. You’ve decided at the beginning that there should be more women in tech and then go on to find “facts” that prove your conclusion. Since there are a finite number of people in all fields of endeavor, where should women stop seeking a career and where should men start seeking a career so that your conclusion of a gender balance may have any chance of becoming a reality? I personally think it would be great if there were more women in the tech fields but it’s their choice and not mine and for a myriad of reasons. If there are women or men for that matter who make their career choice based on some of the miniscule things mentioned here, I would suspect their ability to make some tougher engineering decisions. Sparkfun has taken a stance to improve the numbers of women in tech positions but have found a fairly limited field. This challenge has been faced by many institutions but I contend they never really mean to solve it. If in fact Sparkfun really, really wants to create a gender balance, the solution is clear. Only hire women until the balance is reached. If the goal is real, it shouldn’t matter if you pass up some well qualified XYers. It may make hiring difficult and it may impact business but if the goal is really to improve humanity, how much is it worth? If what Jess said “Culture is every bit as important as products here” is true, Sparkfun should be willing to gamble all that was gained while only the privileged benefited to correct the mistake.

    • It’s not as simple as “more women in tech.” What this post was really about was the discrimination and hostility women and people of color face in STEM fields. My previous comments gave lots of scientific evidence about the system in which girls and people of color grow up, and how that translates into fewer of them going into these fields. You said we’re making conclusions without evidence–are not these studies evidence? Are not the experiences of thousands of women and people of color evidence? What we “decided” is that women and people of color should be able to go into these fields without being told at every turn they don’t belong there. I’m not talking about “being oversensitive”–I’m talking about death threats, rape threats, having your work ignored or stolen by colleagues and having no recourse because you’re “just a woman”. Your suggestion–that SparkFun only hire women–misses the point. We’re not talking about just our company. We’re talking about an entire system, and we are doing what we can–such as supporting efforts to encourage and mentor girls and kids of all backgrounds in STEM, our educational outreach to children of all ages, celebrating the scientific achievements of women and people of color that are largely ignored by textbooks, etc–to change that system. It’s not about a perfect 50-50 balance. It’s about removing undue obstacles and affording equal access and opportunity.

  • I understand you reasoning for moderating to keep this civil, but in a discussion like this, it feels like some viewpoints are not acceptable. In a free-thinking, no-discrimination forum, the outliers are worth the degraded S/N ratio. IMHO

    • In a free-thinking, no-discrimination forum, the outliers are worth the degraded S/N ratio.

      I could write volumes in response to this, but we essentially disagree as a matter of policy. I don’t mean that to sound flippant: We’ve decided that some viewpoints - and much more often some modes of expressing a viewpoint - really aren’t acceptable here, for reasons ranging from the ethical to the purely pragmatic. This is tricky, and it gets way trickier around the kind of topical controversy that comes with a lot of Highly Ramified Internet Anger, but I have come to think that it’s worth the effort.

      Freedom of the press belongs to them as own one. This is our press. If you want to express something we aren’t willing to harbor, we strongly encourage you to get a press of your own, and generally support your right to make your own determinations about what’s acceptable in the spaces you create.

  • Haven’t noticed gender since age 30 & don’t think anyone else does after a certain age, either. Finally noticed our company officially didn’t have women travel, but no-one complained about it. It made women who were road warriors at more egalitarian companies look a lot more heroic. What’s more annoying is how most businesses have people in charge of hiring who have no knowledge of engineering.

    • What’s more annoying is how most businesses have people in charge of hiring who have no knowledge of engineering.

      Agreed. It’s frustrating from the side of the coworkers who potentially end up stuck with someone who is a completely wrong fit for the team, and frustrating as a potential employee trying to gather the most accurate information about a position they are applying for. But that’s a whole other point of discussion :)

  • What is the gender breakdown of the Ada Initiative staff?

    • There’s really no way this is intended as a good-faith question with any bearing on the actual topic of this post.

      Your friendly local moderation staff are feeling pretty trigger-happy at the moment. Knock it off or take it elsewhere.

  • What are the chances that Barack Obama would have been elected if he were a foot shorter, or that Hillary Clinton would be so popular if she were forty pounds heavier? Height and weight are not “protected” categories, but the discrimination is just as real. As a 50+ year old software developer, I have recently begun to notice that a lot of software job listings explicitly ask for a “young” person or a “recent college graduate”. What is the average age of the staff at Sparkfun? Is your workplace inviting to someone who is 50+? It’s noble that you are paying attention to the gender issue, but you really need to broaden the scope. The real issue is fairness and inclusiveness for ALL qualified people.

    • “The real issue is fairness and inclusiveness for ALL qualified people”

      You set too lofty a goal and the truth is this post isn’t about gender equality. It’s more about how can we feel better about ourselves and declare some sort of moral victory. If Sparkfun tried to write an article on all the inequality issues that exists it would be too much.

      I am not saying there is no gender inequality because I’ve seen it first hand. But as you point out there are problems that goes deeper (deeper than even you state). I’ve seen hostile environments towards all sorts of people,.. gays, women, older people and even towards people who were from the South.

      For example we had a network guy from Tennessee who knew his stuff but because of his Southern “accent” no one could take anything he said seriously. I was pretty appalled as a Northerner to see other Northerners dismiss his suggestions (which were right) because they thought he was some sort of redneck.

      Meh… truth is people are prejudice no matter what they say. They can be like Sparkfun here and pontificate over how women are treated (and I don’t begrudge them for doing so) but go look at their company pics and all you see are young people.

      That’s because they are more “dynamic” ;-)

      • We do in general have a very young company, but that is simply because when the company first started, most of our employees found out about the company through friends already working here.One of our older employees Jeff runs circles around the rest of us by traveling nonstop to teach all over the country. He certainly puts the rest of us to shame for our lack of dynamic action.

      • Try being young in the electronics industry and being an outspoken conservative.

  • I used to run an engineering group, max about 10 people, about 6 men to 4 women. I hired 3 of the women at that point, and hired another later. At company close, it was 2 guys including myself and 4 women. Most of the women I hired were not successful in making it into engineering from college, and I was the one who gave them their first chance. They all gave 110% all the time, and were grateful for the opportunity. That alone meant that they would go after projects that other, more senior men, didn’t want to do or drag on. Also women tend to be better at completing projects. Men, me included, tend to be easily distracted by the latest and greatest, or lose interest after the initial phase is done.

    This gave a reality, where a junior female software engineer earning 60K was outperforming senior male SWE earning 90K+. The wage differential was more about the level at which the person was hired, not male/female, 100/70 differential, and the politics of promotions etc.

    Based on my experience, you always need a mixture of personalities, I would never want to work in an all male group though, but if I was interviewing, and had two identical candidates, one male and one female both of whom would be great, and didn’t have any obvious personality traits that came out at the interview, I would probably go with female.

  • So, wait, women don’t like beer? Did I miss something?

    • So here’s the thing with that. I always thought that having beer on tap was a perk that was attractive to everyone but that’s not the case. There are plenty of people, women and men alike, who don’t drink. Advertising beer on site can add to the image of a frat house when applicants are forming a mental image of working at your company, and that’s not a good thing.

      Consider it like this: a perk like a monthly stipend for physical well-being ($25/month for a gym membership, massages, etc - which we have) is something that hardly anybody would be put off by. It’s universally positive, so it belongs in there. Free beer is not universally positive. How much does it help to include it in the post? Are there candidates that are on the fence but swayed to apply because there’s free beer? Unlikely. Are there candidates on the fence that could be swayed not to apply because we’re advertising how great it is we have beer? Actually, yes. I’m not one such candidate but I listened when several representatives of women’s groups (NCWIT in this case) and our HR professionals assured me that happens. There’s a bigger risk of alienating people to include it in the post vs. the potential benefit of enticing people, so it got axed.

      And of course, we still have beer on tap here. It’s there for the people who want it and, for them, it improves the working environment here. It can just do more harm than good when advertised on a job post.

      • As someone who works at a small Colorado tech company with both a healthy gender mix and listed perks of “free snacks and beer”, I disagree about this being something to keep quiet.

        Our work culture is unquestionably dedicated to mutual professional respect and work/life balance. This is the happiest and most civilized environment I have ever seen in my career. Within the engineering dept in specific, our culture is also a bold celebration of geekness and we wear it proudly. Beer (or wine) at the office consumed in a safe, responsible, moderate way can be a positive contribution. If we were not properly demonstrating and communicating the balance and depth of our culture to new candidates such that the mere appearance of the word “beer” on a benefit/perk brochure from HR caused them to doubt our sincerity and look elsewhere then that would indicate a different sort of problem.

        The notion of unfairness in a work environment based on any factor (gender, race, lifestyle preference, religion, etc) motivates me to immediately stand up and say “no!” without hesitation or concern for risk. However, the thought of a company so overly afraid of accidentally offending someone that it reduces its culture to a gray-walled cube farm void of personality equally motivates me to stand up and say “no thanks.” There is a very real risk in promoting a vibrant, energetic culture that a fine line might get crossed at some point. Age offers no immunity to mistakes but when you seek out enthusiastic young talent, you must accept that learning and maturing will occur at the office. The lesson should not be to suppress the liveliness out of the employees but to be vigilant and know when something went wrong. If that happens, someone needs to immediately apologize, accept full personal responsibility for mistakes, and learn such that they are not repeated. This type of learning is a sign of growth rather than failure.

      • That makes sense. Honestly I thought it might be something like that but it wasn’t real clear from the post. Thanks for the clarification.

  • You talked about people in STEM being hostile towards minorities but its looks like you’re not going to donate anything to male minorities in STEM.

    • It was inevitable that someone was going to post this comment or its equivalent. This never feels real helpful on blog posts with titles like “On Women in Tech”. You can take it as read that we’re concerned with, and devote considerable resources to, access to tech & tech education generally, but that’s not really the topic at hand, is it? Charitable efforts to address a specific inequity don’t preclude other charitable efforts for differently framed inequities. We are not playing a zero-sum game about boys and girls in STEM, or the future workplace, or what-have-you.

    • As the lone white male in my work group, I don’t see the problem. Everybody I report to on a daily basis is black or female. Our group is also diverse in other ways. At one point last year, everyone except the group leader spoke English as their second (or 3rd) language. For you guys out there in wonderbread land, try a diversified work group, It’s a blast.

      • I agree, the best places I’ve worked were ones where there was lots of diversity. It’s just more interesting.