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The GitHub-Horvath Mess: Another Reminder of the Value of Diverse Founding Teams

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A prominent female developer resigns from GitHub claiming harassment and underlining the case for getting culture right from the start.

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Why did prominent GitHub developer Julie Ann Horvath leave the company last week? TechCrunch has the play-by-play of her allegations of harassment at the hands of a co-founder (rumored to be Tom Preston-Werner) and his wife, while CEO and co-founder Chris Wanstrath has offered a response to the matter, announcing the alleged harasser has been put on leave and a full investigation is being undertaken.

While the tales of male co-workers ogling hula hooping female colleagues, a bonkers-sounding spouse and inappropriate romantic advances may be discouraging if not entirely unfamiliar, perhaps there is more to be gained from this story than another example of tech’s continuing issues with gender and diversity.

GitHub was founded by three white guys. While they’ve built a valuable product that helps millions of users — an accomplishment to be celebrated — the latest developments raise the question of whether more diversity on the founding team would have helped to build a stronger, more inclusive culture from the start. The company has clearly paid plenty of attention to designing an innovative, bureaucracy-free approach to management (encapsulated in a Wired headline from earlier this year: “GitHub Swaps CEOs, Proves It Doesn’t Need No Stinking Bosses”). Would it have paid more attention to creating a culture that’s friendlier to all had the founding team had different demographics?

There can be no definitive answer to counterfactuals of this type, but it’s not too much of a stretch to use the situation as a reminder that having women on founding teams sets the tone, sets the culture and sets the standards — to everyone’s benefit. Horvath, for her part, appears to agree.

To companies looking to not make the same mistakes, make both hiring an HR lead and diversifying your team early-on high priorities.

— Julie Ann Horvath (@nrrrdcore) March 15, 2014

What’s your take on these allegations?

Jessica Stillman (@entrylevelrebel) is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com, contributes regularly to Forbes and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others.

Image credit: Julie Ann Horvath’s Twitter.