Blog Company Our journey to a more diverse and inclusive workplace
Published on June 16, 2020
11 min read

Our journey to a more diverse and inclusive workplace

GitLab is taking action to create a more equitable and representative workplace for underrepresented groups.


Despite the talent of Black leaders, there are glaring disparities in representation of Black professionals in positions of power in a number of industries, including in tech. About 5% of tech professionals are African American, and less than 2% of tech executives are African American, according to data from the Harvard Business Review.

GitLab is not immune to diversity disparities in leadership. At GitLab, we have zero Black or Latinx director-and-above leaders. Our CEO, Sid Sijbrandij, is committed to fixing this by hiring or promoting internally by 2021, along with a host of other diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIB) actions that were already in development to make GitLab a more diverse and inclusive company, where everyone feels a sense of belonging.

"The past few weeks have reinforced for me the importance of being an ally and taking action to create more diversity within our company," says Sid. "Our executive team believes we can do more to ensure that the diversity of our workforce better reflects the diversity we see in the world."

"A key metric we are focused on is the number of Black senior leaders at GitLab," he adds. "Currently, we have zero Black team members at GitLab in the role of director and above. This is not a number we are proud of, so we are taking action to correct this by 2021 through hiring or promotion. We will continue to iterate on diversity goals in order to have and maintain a diverse and inclusive leadership team."

This blog post is the first in a multi-part look at DIB, a series that was started well before the spring 2020 deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others, sparked a global movement. Racism is a global issue, and the protests over these killings in the United States has been a catalyst for action globally, in and out of the workplace. We’ll make the business case for DIB another day; instead we’re going to jump right into what we’ve done and what we still need to do at GitLab. We hope that our transparency about our journey might make it easier for other companies on the same path. It will also hold us accountable.

In recognition of the abundance of talent in the Black community, and the lack of Black director-and-above leaders at GitLab, we have committed to fixing this diversity deficit by 2021 through hiring or promotion. Based on our self-reported employee identity data, we are also going to look at other groups that have low or no representation on our team, such as our Latinx and Native/Pacific Islander colleagues. Our plan is to be even more intentional and rigorous about recruiting and promoting to create a more diverse and inclusive leadership team, including Black, Latinx, and other underrepresented groups.

Start with values

GitLab has been a company since 2014, and diversity, inclusion, and belonging have always been part of our core values. But it wasn’t a formal part of our business strategy until five years in, after we hired Candace Byrdsong Williams as the diversity and inclusion partner in spring 2019. By hiring Candace, we felt we were making DIB a formal part of the company’s business strategy.

Research shows building a more inclusive workplace where everyone feels a sense of belonging is not just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business. The best way to reduce attrition of underrepresented groups and cultivate a truly inclusive workplace is to create opportunities for advancement.

Candace’s role as the DIB partner is to help introduce diversity initiatives and help us create a more inclusive workplace, and there is no question that she’s made strides.

"We are now taking a deeper dive of iteration into key metrics with a closer focus on women in GitLab as a whole, women in management, and women in senior leadership," says Candace. "We are paying close attention to the current trends, as well as attrition and trying to set realistic goals based on these metrics. Also as next steps, we are establishing our key metrics for race starting with Black team members using the same application with metrics."

Candace is a team of one at GitLab, but she is making big changes to grow our DIB program. Here are just a few examples of past and upcoming projects Candace, and other internal partners, are working on:

  • Established TMRGs (employee resource groups) with guidelines and continuing to stand up additional TMRGs
  • Established the DIB Advisory Group at GitLab
  • Established DIB Trainings/Resources
  • Conducted a DIB survey to get a pulse on how DIB is seen and felt at GitLab today
  • Published the Building an inclusive all-remote culture handbook page, which speaks to GitLab’s unique ability to create a more inclusive environment through all-remote work.
  • Established DIB timelines summary of events
  • Iterating on our mission statement: Established the mission statement with further iteration to now include "Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging." Belonging is acknowledgement of your voice being heard along with creating an environment where team members feel secure to be themselves.
  • Established key metrics for underrepresented groups and continuing to iterate
  • Conducts our monthly DIB company call for all to see what is going on in the DIB space at a high level
  • Plans for a 2019 DIB report to capture our learnings from last year and continue to produce reports moving forward
  • DIB Speaker Series: External speakers are invited to join GitLab team members in a discussion about DIB topics in Q2-Q3 2020
  • A new issue board for TMRGs (e.g., the Minorities in Tech Employee (MIT) TMRG issue board) to help track all the activities our TMRGs are doing
  • Increase participation for existing and new TMRGs

It’s hard work

The fact is, building a more diverse and inclusive workplace takes time, effort, intentionality, and persistence. At GitLab, we’ve made DIB one of our core values, but that doesn’t mean our company is immune to the challenges.

Through research and conversation with leaders in the diversity, inclusion, and belonging space, we’ve summarized some common diversity and inclusion challenges and identified opportunities for growth in GitLab’s DIB strategy, but many of these decisions require resourcing and buy-in from leadership. Our team is reviewing these recommendations and will be considering these updates to our DIB strategy.

One of the most common challenges with diversity and inclusion is that the responsibilities are frequently allocated to a person of color who is responsible for diversity and inclusion along with their day job, according to reporting in the HBR.

The upside: We’ve hired Candace, who is responsible for DIB at GitLab full-time.

The downside: She is a team of one, meaning she has to rely on collaborative efforts with other teams and the volunteer efforts of TMRG leads.

For example, Candace planned the strategy, rollout, and process for standing up new TMRGs, then team members signed up and the TMRG leads were designated. Candace continues to work closely with TMRG leads for planning, oversight, and alignment with DIB and company goals. Another recent collaborative effort with other team members was adding executive sponsors from our E-group to TMRGs to assist in amplifying the voice and buy-in from leadership from the top down. Support from executives and visibility of leadership in DIB is imperative to its success.

We rely upon volunteers, often people from underrepresented groups, to work on diversity and inclusion initiatives along with their day jobs. This can lead to "diversity fatigue," as they are the ones pushing the conversation forward or are seen as "cultural ambassadors" and are constantly fielding questions.

The upside: Our TMRG leaders are highly engaged, talented people.

The downside: They are not paid to lead DIB efforts, but rather have a day job at GitLab that is unrelated to their work with the TMRGs.

The solution: It is the responsibility of all team members at GitLab to drive a culture of belonging, which feeds into our recommendation to grow our ally base at GitLab. If we could grow our ally base to include more people that are not from underrepresented groups, we can help shift some of the burden from volunteers from underrepresented groups to include everyone at GitLab.

In lieu of more hires, more volunteers can increase our capacity to build more robust programs and will alleviate some of the program management burdens Candace and TMRG leaders are carrying in addition to their other jobs at GitLab.

Oftentimes, the diversity and inclusion team will be nestled within human resources, and not at the executive level, which can make it more challenging to advance diversity initiatives outside of HR activities.

The upside: Candace is the DIB lead and she reports to Carol Teskey, senior director of People Success, who is highly engaged in DIB initiatives. Our executive team recognizes both the business and intrinsic value of building robust DIB initiatives, and as a result we have not had the experience of DIB being sidelined; in fact DIB remains a top priority.

The downside: We do not have anyone at the executive level that is solely responsible for DIB.

The solution: GitLab is a growing company, and DIB is one of our core values. We are currently in the process of recruiting for a Chief People Officer, who will be responsible in part for DIB initiatives in partnership with Candace and Carol. By placing someone in a senior leadership or executive-level role that is committed to championing DIB initiatives we give DIB a seat at the executive table.

Companies don’t often launch with a diversity and inclusion program already in place, which means the diversity and inclusion lead has to work backwards on many initiatives. This phenomenon is often demonstrated by a homogeneous group of people (often, white men) in leadership roles.

The upside: We have the commitment from our CEO to work on recruiting and promoting more underrepresented groups to leadership roles. We also have buy-in from senior leadership to build a mentorship program that will help people of color already working for GitLab to advance within the company. We’re also constantly iterating on our hiring process to ensure we are drawing from diverse talent pools (see below!).

The downside: GitLab started in 2014, and our first hire devoted solely to DIB was in 2019, so we’re building and integrating programming within an existing infrastructure. There is a lack of diversity among people at the director level or higher, which we are working hard to remedy with new hires or promotions by 2021.

The solution: The Minorities in Tech (MIT) TMRG is working with GitLab DIB to draw upon existing repositories for diverse talent by working with partners at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and organizations such as AfroTech, etc. Candace has worked closely with our leadership and data team to review trends in hiring for our metrics and working on setting ambitious metrics around hiring underrepresented minorities for leadership roles.

GitLab has also moved to a unique, outbound hiring model that allows us to source a diverse pipeline of candidates for our current and future roles. We’ve launched a number of hiring initiatives to support this model and achieve our objectives and key results, including a training on diversity sourcing for our hiring teams and managers, as well as sourcing sessions that are dedicated to identifying candidates from underrepresented groups for some of our high-priority roles. Our approach also extends through the interview process. We’ve created training on how to interview inclusively, we use inclusive language in our recruiting outreach, and we offer candidates the opportunity to connect with our employee resource group (TMRG) members during the hiring process.

The time is now

The journey to a more diverse and equitable workplace takes time, and for us the time is now. Senior leaders at GitLab are strongly engaged in DIB initiatives and have committed to allyship, but we recognize that change is happening too slowly.

We recognize that the Black community in particular is hurting right now. We see that the tech industry leaves too many talented people behind, or pushes them out due to unfair and noninclusive workplace practices. At GitLab everyone can contribute, and we want those contributions to be seen, heard, and felt at all levels of the company, by everyone in the company.

In our next blog post, we’ll dive into some of the challenges with diversity, inclusion, and belonging in the tech industry as a whole, and share some recommendations on how to overcome them.

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