Commitment to Moving Forward

To the Girl Develop It Community:

Thank you for continuing to raise your voices about your experiences with Girl Develop It. We are reading, internalizing, and reflecting on every tweet, message, email, and any other form of communication you have sent us. Looking ahead, we are currently making major policy changes to the way the organization is run. Your perspectives will be at the heart of these changes, so thank you again for sharing them.

But before we look ahead, we want to acknowledge that a lot has transpired over the past few months. We are deeply sorry for our missteps as an organization when it’s come to issues of race, racism, and the way both have been handled. Our goal now is to begin the healing process by publicly acknowledging what has happened and instituting critical policy and cultural changes, so that we can move forward productively as a community. This blog post comes on the heels of our staff and board members working around the clock to respond directly to grievances and requests that chapter leaders have posed to leadership. Now, we would like to take a moment to respond to the broader public community.

Our mission is to create welcoming, supportive opportunities for women and non-binary adults to learn software development skills. Our vision is a world where people of all genders and backgrounds are included in building a better future through technology. In the past eight years, our organization has grown from one web development class in 2010 that sold out in 24 hours to today’s member network of over 110,000 people, as well as a chapter leader network of over 100 independent contractors that have helped us to teach over 1,100 in-person classes. We continue to find inspiration in our members and leaders who have gained the confidence to begin new careers, start new businesses, and learn new skills.

Our program model has allowed us to invest in and pay our chapter leaders and instructors, who serve our mission with passion and dedication in their communities. But, there have also been limitations in that model and our organizational structure as we rapidly scaled into a nationwide movement. We have been working to address those limitations and growing pains, and will continue to do so. Our work is nowhere near complete, but we are stronger with all of you giving us feedback on how we can improve, so that we can all carry forward our mission together. Keep reading to learn how you can continue to contribute your voices and input as we continue to carry out changes in the coming months.

Acknowledging what has happened

We’d like to begin the healing process by acknowledging what happened. GDI owes you an explanation as to what has transpired in the last few months, and clarify some of the facts so that you have them all.

Microaggressions in Minneapolis

Earlier this year, a black chapter leader was routinely excluded by two white chapter leaders in Minneapolis. On August 18, 2018, two of the involved chapter leaders reached out to HQ. One reached out for advice on miscommunication, and another to send us her resignation. On August 19, 2018, we learned more about the depth of the issue on Twitter. During the course of our investigation, the whole chapter leadership team resigned.

We didn’t have a formal incident reporting process at the time. We learned about this incident after it had escalated further than it should have. Additionally, during the course of the investigation, one of our newer chapter leaders in Wilmington, Delaware stepped down, citing what she believed was a lack of swift and adequate response from HQ. Unfortunately, before we were able to conclude the investigation and share more with chapter leader community, this was picked up by a local tech blog, and the headline led to further confusion and mistrust within our chapter leader community, leaving chapter leaders to feel left out of the loop.

Microaggressions at HQ

Last week, a former GDI employee gave a podcast interview in which she shared her negative experiences while working as a program coordinator at Girl Develop It. We are grateful to her for her contributions to GDI, and regret that she personally experienced dismissive attitudes and microaggressions while at work. Let us be clear: We do not accept any behavior that violates our Code of Conduct. As a result of feedback from the chapter leadership community following this interview, we have improved our incident escalation policy so that all incidents involving staff are escalated immediately to the Board of Directors. We thank the community for your commitment to equity, racial justice, and calling out the ways in which our response has been inadequate. We agree that we can do more.

Keep reading to learn more about the policies that we have changed.

Instituting critical policy changes

The next step in moving forward is fixing policies and changing the organization for the better.

Now, there are two separate issues that we need to address as an organization. First, we need to immediately stem microaggressions, racism, and exclusion in our organization. We have a new incident response policy to swiftly and thoroughly investigate any Code of Conduct violations within our community. We are here to teach software skills to those that have been previously left out, and building a welcoming and inclusive environment is essential to achieving that. Second, we are renewing our focus on implementing long-term policies to ensure that they support marginalized and underrepresented communities.

We’ve included highlights from our ongoing and forthcoming policy changes below. Chapter leaders received a lengthier and more detailed list on December 10, 2018 from the Board.

New Incident Response Policy

We have created a formal reporting and investigation mechanism to report inappropriate behavior and address it immediately. While the incident response form was created in September following the Minneapolis incident, we’ve added two new critical pieces. First, reports involving executive leadership will be escalated directly to the Board of Directors. Second, all incidents that include personnel will be escalated immediately to the Board of Directors. Here’s an overview of our updated reporting and investigation methods:

  • Immediate suspension of the alleged involved parties from all official GDI activities during the investigation period.
  • The investigation period will commence within two business days of receipt of the GDI Incident Report Form.
  • For both HQ and at the chapter level, we are targeting an investigation turnaround time of no longer than two weeks.
  • In the case of allegations involving chapter leaders and members of the community, the Director of Operations and the Director of Programs will investigate the claims of the involved party/parties.
  • In the case of an allegation involving executive leadership or any staff at HQ, the Board will investigate the claims.
  • At the conclusion of the investigation, should allegations of discrimination be substantiated, the individual(s) against which the investigation has been launched will be removed from their respective role within GDI.
  • Members of the GDI community (both at the chapter level as well as HQ staff) can report misconduct and/or discrimination (towards themselves or others) using the following link: GDI Incident Report Form.

Long-term focus on marginalized and underrepresented communities

Supporting marginalized women and non-binary people in developing technology skills with confidence will be the focus of our strategic planning in 2019. The organization will implement training for staff and chapter leaders, as well as toolkits for creating inclusive workshops and events.

Not only will we provide resources for creating inclusivity throughout all GDI interactions — we are also supporting this effort with specific policy changes to empower people of diverse backgrounds in learning to code. More details have been shared with chapter leaders in a letter from the board, and important topics that have been raised include childcare and scholarships. Here are some highlights:

  • Childcare. Girl Develop It does not currently have a policy regarding childcare but understand that a lack of childcare is a barrier for many people who want to further their technology education. We are actively exploring childcare options, whether those be onsite or backup care via partner providers.
  • Scholarships. In the past two years alone, GDI has taught over 600 technology classes and provided over 650 scholarships to its technology workshops in that time. GDI plans to restructure the scholarships program in order to grant more scholarships in 2019. For example, we’d like to see more partnerships like our prison program, which taught HTML, CSS, and Wordpress to 21 students in Delaware this year.

These, among other policy changes, will make classes more accessible in every chapter where we operate.

Looking Forward

A team of four full-time staff is not enough to manage a growing community of over 110,000 members and give adequate attention to these urgent issues and needs. GDI is increasing its capacity to address all of these issues by adding additional members to the Board of Directors and hiring new staff in 2019. Additionally, GDI HQ has revamped its hiring policy in collaboration with outside consultants in restorative justice and HR. GDI HQ is adhering to this strict hiring policy regarding diversity and inclusion, and we will be applying this policy applies to the search and selection of candidates.

If you have recommendations or feedback on any of these policies or changes, we’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts at info@girldevelopit.com.

Improving Communication

We also need to get better at communication. In the past, when we have responded to incidents or learned how to do things better, we haven’t always proactively shared that. We commit to putting systems in place that allow regular communication of changes such as our DEI changelog and chapter operations manual changelog.

We also commit to sharing more about how we’ve taken actions on the changes we’ve mentioned above in the coming weeks and months.

Girl Develop It accepts this moment as an opportunity to propel ourselves forward, to serve our communities even better, and to reach more people than ever before. We are an organization that empowers all people, not just some people. We have certainly made missteps, but we are intensely dedicated to rectifying our actions and making progress towards a world in which all people have access to technology skills.

The work will be difficult — the world we envision is not one that any of us were born into. We will make mistakes — and we hope we continue to hear from you when we do. In spite of all that, the path we are on is worthwhile. The place we are going is worth every ounce of effort and change that we are working on. We hope you’ll continue to join us on that path.

We welcome and encourage your feedback via info@girldevelopit.com. If you have an incident to report regarding behavior that violates our Code of Conduct, please use this anonymous online form or send details via email at incidents@girldevelopit.com. Both the anonymous form results and the email go to our Director of Operations and our Director of Programs.