As some of you may know, an applicant for a role at Puppet Labs reported via Twitter on the evening of Tuesday, April 29th that she had been sexually discriminated against in her application, and she thus concluded that Puppet Labs has a hostile work environment. She also reported that one of our employees disparaged her, her sexual orientation, and her wife in an IRC channel in regard to that application.
We learned about these statements the morning of the 30th. Upon learning of it, we immediately began investigating. Our first public comment was when I personally learned of it, after my team had been working on it for roughly an hour - I commented that we were investigating it seriously. Our investigation included direct discussions with the applicant, our employee, and advisors, including representatives of the Ada Initiative, also mentioned in the tweets.
Our investigation concluded that the employee had no impact on the applicant's candidacy. We have logs of his conversation with the hiring manager, where he expressed his inability to be a reference (the applicant had listed him as one), and otherwise made positive comments about her reputation, but he did not disparage her in that conversation, and he was clear that he did not know her directly.
Our investigation further concluded that the statements attributed to our employee were in fact made by him, in a public IRC channel, and indirectly associated with his role at Puppet Labs.
We do not condone or tolerate in any way the offensive comments that our employee made. Our investigation revealed inexcusable mistakes on the part of the employee in his commentary. We are sincerely sorry for the pain this experience caused the individual who spoke up about it.
My first concern upon learning of this incident was whether we had actually discriminated against the candidate, and we determined we had not. Having resolved that concern, my second was whether I was mistaken about the culture of Puppet Labs. I have worked hard to attempt to build a tolerant, functional, and inclusive culture, and our entire philanthropic budget goes towards increasing inclusivity, diversity, and access in technology.
I take seriously my obligation to provide a non-discriminatory work environment, and I care deeply about it personally. I realize that even though I have worked hard at this, I cannot actually control all 290 of my employees, and I cannot guarantee the effectiveness of these efforts. Our industry’s lack of diversity encourages all manner of unacceptable behavior. I know we will make painful mistakes and discover horrible missteps as we continue to grow, but we will continue to work hard with both broad-based and specific programs and actions to encourage appropriate behavior and a great work environment for everyone.
I find my employee’s comments intolerable, and I struggled greatly with an appropriate reaction to such an inappropriate situation. My decision was in large part based on whether this incident represents a pattern of behavior, and whether it could continue in the future. I cannot find evidence of this pattern, and there have been no workplace incidents, but that does not mean it is not there.
Through a combination of consultation with advisors, people (including women) who work closely with this employee, and my own management team, I have decided that the most appropriate action, based on what I know right now, is to take direct, specific action with the employee to educate him and improve his behavior. My decision will change if further information indicates a pattern. We can’t and do not attempt to change people’s beliefs, but our employees have a responsibility to exhibit acceptable behavior in the workplace and when representing the company, even indirectly.
Our employee has repudiated his own comments, and he has written an apology that accepts responsibility, understands what the problem is, and apologizes unreservedly for his behavior. I have forwarded this apology on to the person he made these comments about.
There is no good route from this incident; there is only the messy reality of someone who made a stupid mistake, and someone who was injured by that mistake. Puppet Labs has a tolerance for many things, including failure, and I hope that my tolerance in this case is the right decision.
I am deeply sad about this incident. I am sad to have been even indirectly involved in injuring someone, and I am sad that there isn’t a clear, clean answer from here. I am hopeful, however, that my willingness to be transparent about my perspective and the reasoning for my actions will in some way elevate the discussion in the tech industry as a whole.
In the end, discussions with many people convinced me that, once we were sure the candidate had not been discriminated against, my primary concern should be systemic issues within the culture of our company, and the industry at large. This is the most respectful, adult move I can see, and I hope it both pushes the company to care that much more about diversity and tolerance, and that it pushes the industry just a little bit to realize that it can step up more, work harder, and openly discuss its failures and struggles.
I also hope that my personal response on Twitter makes it clear how seriously I take this kind of accusation, and my openness and responsiveness on this topic. I urge my peers in the technology industry, especially those in leadership, to do similarly.