Stack Overflow’s inclusion problem

Thanks April Wensel for your blog post. It speaks painful truths to us working on Stack Overflow. I encourage anyone who cares about the current conversation to read April’s post with an open mind.

I joined Stack as product manager for our public communities a year ago. During my interviews I raised concerns about friendliness/inclusiveness of the site and was excited to hear everyone I talked with confirm that the company wanted to address the issue. I was ready to be a part of the solution. However, other business challenges including our first ever layoffs delayed that work.

There are a lot of reasons why this problem hasn’t been addressed sooner, but none of them matter. Now is not a time for excuses or defenses of our good intentions. Now is a time for action.

I’ve personally experienced the kind of treatment April points to in our meta communities. My time at Stack has been one of my best work experiences ever, but the couple bad weeks I’ve had were as a result of poor treatment from some meta community users. I get paid to take it, but no one should have to.

I came to @StackOverflow from Microsoft where I worked on the inclusive design team. Our focus was on inclusion related to cognitive and physical abilities. The inclusive design principles we used are perfectly applicable here:

  1. Recognize exclusion
  2. Learn from diversity
  3. Solve for one, extend to many

We have a lot of ideas we’re investigating, but right now I and others are intentionally taking time to listen to your and others’ stories.

We want to learn from these stories so we can better recognize exclusion.

This is particularly important for me to do. While I’ve experienced the hostility of our community, I have not experienced it in the way that you, other women or members of underrepresented groups have experienced it. We also need to learn from other online communities and how they have addressed inclusion and diversity successfully. And finally, we need to focus very directly on specific examples of exclusion and solve for them. Ultimately, this focus can directly benefit everyone who participates at Stack Overflow.

It’s hard to change the culture of a community. Luckily, a large portion of our community are very aware of the problem and want to address it. This comes across clearly in our analysis from the verbatims from our recent developer survey (more on that data coming soon). However, it will take time. I’m not asking for patience from April or anyone else. Just stating a reality. My team will be directly working on this effort from the software side, but this is a multi-sided problem that will involve a broad group of people at Stack Overflow. I look forward to you and others like KimCrayton1 🎙 holding our feet to the fire. Thanks for your hard work.