“Issues of Women in Open Source” for Ubuntu Open Week, and “Why?”

Elizabeth Krumbach is a long time linux user and contributer who was elected to the Ubuntu Community Council last month. (Congrats Lyz!) These are some of her thoughts on the question, “Why are you involved with promoting Women in F/OSS?” (cross-posted from her blog).

Last week I did a presentation for Ubuntu Open Week on the Ubuntu Women Project covering some of the “Issues” that are involved in why many women feel discouraged within the community. Full logs of the session can be found here. Mackenzie Morgan followed up my session with one describing what the Ubuntu Women project is actually doing to address these concerns, full logs of her session are here.

Truly Mackenzie’s session was much more valuable than mine, and I’d like to do away with mine entirely when more people understand that there are challenges facing women who join F/OSS communities. Unfortunately each time we have one of these sessions we spend a considerable amount of time justifying the project to folks – why we exist and why we are so targeted toward women (rather than other groups who are poorly represented).

The sessions went well, the questions were good and engaging, and once again it’s nice to have such a supportive community.

After the session I was asked a question privately which seemed simple but really got me thinking:

“Why are you involved with promoting Women in F/OSS, did these groups actually help you? How?”

So to simply answer the second question first – yes, they absolutely helped me, I would never have made it this far without groups like Ubuntu Women and LinuxChix.

How did they help? I’ve wanted to write a long “How Women in F/OSS groups helped me” essay for quite some time now, but I never quite get around to it, so here’s the rough version:

When I started using Linux back in 2002 it was with significant help of my boyfriend at the time. I had a number of local friends who were supportive of my involvement, but I always felt like I was at least 20 steps behind all my friends when learning things, was too timid to ask questions in any public forums, and even with supportive friends at the local LUG meeting, I always felt a bit uncomfortable as one of the only women.

My boyfriend discovered LinuxChix in late 2002 and pointed me in that direction – suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore! In 2003 I worked with Samantha Ollinger to launch the Philadelphia chapter of LinuxChix so I could meet up with more local women using Linux. The local chapter and international LinuxChix lists provided a comfortable environment where we should share stories of success and frustration, get advice from each other on many issues, and simply geek out with other women who shared our interests. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have loads of fun with my male geek friends, but there is something vital to me about being able to commune with other women. Feeling less alone as a women in F/OSS made a huge difference for me.

In 2006 I got involved with Ubuntu Women, which has been the only specifically geared group I’ve been a part of for encouraging women within a project. It’s been an important “safe place” for me to discuss things I encounter within the project, bounce ideas off of others, answer questions that folks ask about expanding involvement of women in their projects. What I’ve gained from this project through the support of peers is the confidence to be heavily involved in the Ubuntu community. I’ve made friends through the project who I know I can drop a note to when feeling frustrated and need a sanity check (am I overreacting to be offended by $this? how should I confront $situation without upsetting others?).

So now that I’m full of confidence and successful in F/OSS, why am I still so involved? Why do I choose to spend my time with this?

I’m involved because I feel that having as many people involved with Ubuntu as possible is important and I have the expertise to focus on women as a group to recruit from.

I’m involved because it still helps me, and encouraging and supporting others is very rewarding for me.

I’m involved because my success is not a solitary story, there are several women involved with the Ubuntu community who will state that they’ve been helped by the project or those involved in the project who have learned lessons through involvement and have striven to be more welcoming and encouraging to women in their projects and LoCo teams.

I’m involved because I’ve watched women who felt they couldn’t contribute, who people assumed were “just at an event because they’re someone’s mother/sister/girlfriend” blossom into active members of their LoCo teams because someone spoke to them to find out their interests and talents and get them involved.

I am hopeful that lessons learned within the Ubuntu Women Project regarding support and encouragement will continue become more and more a part of the Ubuntu community. Whether we’re focusing on recruiting more women, more people in our local communities, educators, our grandparents or anyone else, I feel support and encouragement for new contributors of all kinds to the project will remain important to the project and community.