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Tech Culture

GitLab and Red Hat on How Communication Drives Diversity and Inclusion

In this episode of The New Stack Makers, TNS founder and Publisher Alex Williams talks to two women who've taken non-traditional paths to the tech industry.
Aug 31st, 2020 5:00pm by
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GitLab sponsored this podcast.

Tech is building the future, so it should set the example, right? While it could always do better, the tech industry does do better than some more traditional sectors at attempting diversity and inclusion. And diversity and inclusion all comes down to the words we choose and the people we call out to make it happen.

In this episode of The New Stack Makers, TNS founder and publisher Alex Williams talks to two women who’ve taken non-traditional paths to the tech industry. This episode features Kate Milligan, who went from selling mobile phones to global ISV alliance manager for DevOps at Red Hat, and Sara E. Davila, who journeyed from the oil and gas industry to senior manager of partner marketing at GitLab.

2020 GitLab Commit – Communication Drives Diversity and Inclusion

They dive into how they’ve witnessed an embracing — and lack — of inclusive language and actions and how GitLab and Red Hat are proactively contributing to a more inclusive future. After all, the core values of open source collaboration should be core to any future.

“In a COVID world, the key to success or, you know, what’s really driving digital transformation, is communication,” Davila said, “just really open, transparent and honest communication.”

While we are all in kind of a holding pattern of tentative re-emergence, we are also all sharing in virtual fatigue. What started out as a novelty of online sharing and learning back in March and April has become, as summer closes, what Davila calls “an over-saturation of webinars.”

She warns against information dumping and shouting, saying “It’s about being strategic with what you’re saying, and the method that you’re using to do that.”

For example, at remote-first GitLab, they maintain different channels for different forms of communication. This includes Slack for fun communication — never for delivering tasks. Instead they actually dog-food Gitlab to coordinate tasks and assignments.

Furthermore, they make sure colleagues intentionally turn communication off, like during vacations — don’t check email or Slack, answer your work phone or join meetings. This is essential right now when we are oversaturated with screen time and so many of us lack boundaries around work time. It also should be part of any inclusion strategy.

Part of communication is remembering that words matter. It can be just as simple as avoiding the pervasive and not-gender-neutral “you guys.” Davila says the GitLab team goes about phasing out this phrase a bit differently.

At Gitlab, we really do try to point those things out and not in a way that’s like,Hey, you know, shame, shame, you’re doing something wrong.’ It’s more like,Hey, why don’t we include everybody in this conversation?'” she said.

She continued that there are even slackbots that spot non-inclusive language and make suggestions.

Slackbot suggested text: Hi! Perhaps you'd consider a term like "All" or "Folks". Thanks! Hi! "Guys" is easily replaced with a more gender-neutral "All". We'd appreciate if you tried to use that. Thanks! Hi! Just a friendly nudge that "guys" is a bit gender-specific, and we'd prefer something more neutral, such as "Folks" or "Everyone" or "All." Thanks!

This extends to workplace communication, too. The trio talks about how simple it is for an ally to acknowledge the voices of those less represented or less vocal during meetings, intentionally asking those individuals for their opinions.

Milligan adds that people have to be able to speak up for themselves too. And to be inclusive, it isn’t about proving how much you know. It can also be just admitting when you don’t know something.

“By having that confidence and asking really simple questions, I think you can kind of break down the barriers, and get more comfortable in the situation and maybe it will inspire other people to speak up or explain things that they didn’t know the answers to,” she said.

Both Red Hat and Gitlab also have formal and informal internal communities that help support teammates. And, they have external initiatives that help get external communities prepared to work in open source — from the Red Hat Co.Lab which teaches middle school girls about tech and collaboration to the GitLab University which offers uni students practical DevOps experience.

In the end, inclusion is about communicating clearly that everyone deserves a seat at the table, no matter what their background, knowledge or experience.

GitLab and Red Hat are sponsors of The New Stack.

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