Author Archives: Mary

About Mary

Mary co-founded the Ada Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to promoting women in open tech/culture. She contributes to Geek Feminism, Hoyden About Town and maintains her own blog even into the twenty-teens. She's @me_gardiner on Twitter.

OPW and Growstuff: Frances Hocutt on open and welcoming open source communities

Two weeks ago, I interviewed Geek Feminism founder Alex Skud Bayley about Geek Feminism, programming, and the Growstuff Indiegogo campaign. As a followup, I’m interviewing Frances Hocutt, who will work on Growstuff’s API if the fundraiser reaches its target.

Frances Hocutt looks at a flask in a laboratory

Frances Hocutt

Frances is the founding president of the Seattle Attic Community Workshop, Seattle’s first feminist hackerspace/makerspace. She prefers elegance in her science and effectiveness in her art and is happiest when drawing on as many disciplines as she can. Her current passion is creating tools that make it easy for people to do what they need to, and teaching people to use them. She is a fan of well-designed APIs, open data, and open and welcoming open source communities.

Frances is entering technology as a career changer, from a scientific career. She’s recently finished a Outreach Program for Women (OPW) internship, and she spoke to me about OPW, Growstuff, mentoring and friendly open source communities.

What did your OPW project go? What attracted you to Mediawiki as your OPW project?

This summer I wrote standards for, reviewed, evaluated, and improved client libraries for the MediaWiki web API. When I started, API:Client Code had a list of dozens of API client libraries and was only sorted by programming language. There was little information about whether these libraries worked, what their capabilities were, and whether they were maintained. I wrote evaluations for the Java, Perl, Python, and Ruby libraries, and now anyone who wants to write an API client can make an informed choice about which library will work best for their project.

I am generally interested in open knowledge, open data, and copyleft, and I admire the Wikimedia Foundation’s successes with the various Wikipedias. When Sumana Harihareswara asked me if I might be interested in interning on this project for the Wikimedia Foundation I jumped at the chance. I was pleasantly surprised by how welcoming and supportive I found the Mediawiki development community. I had a good experience technically, professionally, and personally, and I learned a lot.

What attracts you to Growstuff and its API as your next project, technically?

Growstuff open data campaign logo

I really like creating usable tools and interfaces, and when that comes with the chance to play around with APIs and structured data, that’s gravy.

My favorite tech projects value developer experience and generally usable interfaces (whether for UIs or APIs). Growstuff’s current API makes it hard to retrieve some fairly basic data (given a location, when was a crop planted?), so I’m really looking forward to the chance to have input into designing a better one.

I also enjoy writing particularly clear and careful code, which I’ll be doing with my API example scripts so that anyone can pick them up, include them in their website or app, and easily modify them for whatever their intended purpose is.

What attracts you to Growstuff as your next development community?

The development community is the main reason I’m so excited about working on Growstuff. Growstuff is one of a handful of majority-female open source projects, and I definitely feel more comfortable when I don’t have the pressure to represent all women that sometimes comes when women are a small minority. Growstuff has great documentation for new developers, a friendly IRC channel, and an agile development process where pair programming is the norm. It’s obvious that Skud has fostered a collaborative and friendly open source community, and I’m looking forward to working in it.

What can the technical community learn from OPW and Growstuff about mentoring and supporting people coming to tech from diverse backgrounds and oppressed groups?

As I’ve come into tech, I’ve gotten the most benefit from environments where interpersonal connections can flourish and where learning is easy and ignorance of a topic is seen as an opportunity for growth. I credit much of the smoothness of my internship to being able to work with my mentor towards the shared goal of helping me succeed.

Some particularly useful approaches and skills were:

  • explicit explanations of open source community norms (i.e. how IRC works, whom and how to ask for help, ways that various criticisms might be better received, where a little praise would smooth the way)
  • constant encouragement to put myself out there in the MediaWiki development community and ask for help when needed
  • willingness to share her experiences as a woman in technology and honesty about challenges she had and hadn’t faced
  • willingness to have hard conversations about complicity and what we’re supporting with our technical work
  • willingness to engage with a feminist criticism of the field and orginazation, without falling back on “that’s just how it is and you need to get over it”
  • introducing me to other people like me and encouraging me to make and nurture those connections
  • telling me about career paths that my specific skills might be useful in
  • making me aware of opportunities, over and over, and encouraging me to take them
  • inviting metacognition and feedback on what management approaches were working for me and which weren’t.

Gatherings like AdaCamp have also helped me find people at various stages in their careers who were willing to openly discuss challenges and strategies. I’ve been building a rich network of technical women of whom I can ask anything from “how does consulting work” to “how much were you paid in that position” to “how in the world do I set up this Java dev environment?!” It’s amazing.

I’m looking forward to more of the same at Growstuff. Growstuff’s pairing-heavy style encourages those connections, and Growstuff’s development resources focus on making knowledge accessible and not assuming previous experience. I’ve admired Skud’s work for years and I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with her myself.

How are you finding the fundraising process for Growstuff? How can people best support it?

Frustrating, in a word. The crowdfunding campaign I ran last year only ran for ten days, so I’m adjusting to the longer and slower pace of this one. Like many women, I often feel awkward promoting myself and my projects — even when I would be happy to hear a friend tell me about a similar project she was working on! I try to reframe it as sharing interesting information. Sometimes that works for me, but sometimes I still feel weird.

That said: if you want to support Growstuff (and I hope you do), back our campaign! Tell any of your friends who are into sustainability, gardening, shared local knowledge, or open data why Growstuff is exciting and encourage them to donate! If you garden, sign up for an account and connect with other gardeners in your area! We’re trying to make it as an ethical and ad-free open source project and every bit helps. And if there’s anything you want to do with our data, let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

Growstuff: food gardening, open data and extreme programming the geek feminism way

In 2012, Geek Feminism founder Alex Skud Bayley founded Growstuff, a website and multi-purpose database for food-growers to track what they have planted and harvested and connect with other growers in their local area. Growstuff is now two years old and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund API development, which will help outside developers of tools like a harvesting calculator to show you how much money you save by growing food or emailed planting tips and reminders based on your location and climate.

Skud uses open source software and related technologies to effect social and environmental change. She lives in Ballarat, Victoria, where she works on a variety of open tech projects for social justice and sustainability. Skud and I have talked in the past about how Growstuff is among the projects that Geek Feminism contributors have built on principles we brought to and out of Geek Feminism, and I’m kicking off the second week of Growstuff’s fundraiser by asking her more about this.

Q. Which communities is Growstuff modelled on, and what principles has it inherited from them? In particular, how have Geek Feminism and other social justice communities and your work within them influenced Growstuff?

Growstuff open data campaign

Skud: When I started Growstuff, I’d been running Geek Feminism for about 3–4 years, and involved in a few other “women in open source” groups before that. This had led me to watch really closely as different open source communities worked on how to be welcoming and supportive, and to attract participants from different backgrounds and demographics. One thing I saw was that projects founded by women attracted women — no big surprise there I suppose! And, unsurprisingly, Growstuff has attracted a lot of women as developers: roughly half of the 40ish people who’ve made code contributions have been women, and we have lots who’ve volunteered for things like testing and data wrangling as well.

Initially we modeled Growstuff quite heavily on Dreamwidth, which has a majority of women. (Dreamwidth was one of the projects I focused on in my 2009 OSCON keynote, Standing Out in the Crowd.) I also took inspiration from the Agile software development movement.

Extreme Programming, which is the variant of Agile I grew up on, had a lot to say about having real conversations with people involved in the project, working at a sustainable pace, and using introspection to think about the process. I think some of the more recent versions of agile (like Scrum) have made it more business-friendly and, dare I say, macho. But to me, developing software the agile way is about working on the things that are most important, and about honouring each participant’s expertise and their time and energy they bring to the project. So Growstuff has a policy of working closely with our members, getting them involved in the project, and in some ways blurring the lines between tech/non-tech roles. Our choice not to use the term “users” is part of this; we use “members” instead because we feel like “users” distances the people who use Growstuff from the people building the code, and treats them more as consumers rather than collaborators.

Agile development methodologies are probably not what you were thinking about when you asked about social justice movements, but to me, my feminism and the way I work on projects are closely connected. I certainly find agile development (which I do with clients as well as on Growstuff) to be a more egalitarian way of working together than traditional/non-agile approaches.

Q. Your crowdfunding campaign will pay a developer, Frances Hocutt, to work on Growstuff’s API? Why is Growstuff moving towards a paid development model, at least in this case?

Growstuff's Lettuce crop page

Screenshot of Growstuff’s page for the Lettuce crop.

So far, Growstuff’s been built by volunteers. My work on other projects (mostly doing tech contracting for sustainability non-profits) has funded my work on Growstuff, and other volunteers have generally been funded by their own day jobs. Unfortunately, requiring people to volunteer their time not only means you’re relying on their rather variable availability, but those who are likely to have the most availability are generally relatively privileged. That means that the contributor pool will be demographically tilted towards those who happen to be the most affluent and time-rich. In the feminist tech community, we’ve been talking for a while now about labor issues in open source: Ashe Dryden’s The Ethics of Unpaid Labor and the OSS Community is important reading on the subject.

As a matter of principle, I want to be able to pay people to work on Growstuff. Maybe not all people all the time — it’s still an open source project, and our volunteer community is important to us — but I want our contributors to know that they’re not expected to go to extraordinary lengths without remuneration. That includes myself! I guess like many women I find it hard to ask for money for my own work, especially work for a “social good” that is so often undervalued and unpaid. It’s easier for me to ask for money on other people’s behalf.

Frances is exactly the sort of developer I want to work with on Growstuff. She’s come from a career in organic chemistry and switched to open tech. I got to know her through her co-founding Seattle Attic (a feminist hackerspace in Seattle, Washington), and through her Outreach Program for Women internship at the Wikimedia Foundation. By the time I met her I already knew she was a developer with a strong interest in community and collaborative projects, with the right combination of high level thinking, code, documentation and outreach. Her work developing “gold standards” for Wikimedia’s APIs (including the Wikidata API) seemed like a perfect lead-in to working on improving Growstuff’s APIs and helping people build things with them. When I heard she was looking for a short-term contract, I jumped at the chance to see if we could raise the money to pay her to work on Growstuff for a bit.

What principles and techniques could other software projects adopt from Growstuff? And how does Growstuff fit in — or rather, not fit in — to the current venture funded hypergrowth model of software companies?

We’re still trying to figure that out. Growstuff is structured as a sort of hybrid business/social enterprise: the website’s direct expenses are funded by memberships, while my work as Growstuff’s lead developer and organiser is funded indirectly by consulting on other projects. We don’t have any outside investment though we have received a couple of small grants and some support from a government startup program. We’re not seeking traditional VC investment, which makes us rather at odds with most of the “startup scene”, but I would much rather that Growstuff as a whole were funded by the community it serves, than by an external party or parties (investors, advertisers, etc) whose goals and values might be at odds with ours.

The bigger-picture answer, I guess, is that 21st century western-style capitalism increases inequality. The rich get phenomenally richer, and the rest of us get screwed over. If someone offered me the chance to get super rich off Growstuff at the expense of our members and community, I sincerely hope that I’d be able to resist that temptation. Though to be honest, I think Growstuff’s insistence on copyleft licensing and other choices we made early on (such as not to serve ads) mean that nobody’s likely to make that offer anyway. I’ve intentionally set Growstuff up to be more cooperative than capitalist. The trick is to figure out how to fairly support our workers under that model.

I think it depends a lot on our members: people are used to getting online services “for free” in return for their personal information and marketing data, which is used to make a handful of people very rich indeed. Are they going to be willing to resist that easy, attractive evil and become more equal partners in supporting and developing an online service for their/our mutual good? That’s what we still have to find out.

How is food gardening a part of your feminism? (Or feminism part of your food gardening?)

Photograph of Skud wearing a sunhat

Growstuff and Geek Feminism founder Alex Skud Bayley in her garden

I think the connection, for me, is through the idea of DIY — doing it yourself. My feminism is closely tied to my dubiousness about our current capitalist system. As I said, a system that concentrates wealth in a small segment of the population increases inequality. As businesses get bigger, our choices are fewer. I think growing your own food, even in a small way, is an important area of resistance: every pot of herbs on your windowsill means one less thing you buy from a giant supermarket chain. Incidentally, I feel the same way about building our own software and online communities! And I think that those who are least well served by the mainstream capitalist system — women, for instance, who are constantly bombarded by really screwed up messages about what we eat and how we feed our families, trying to sell us highly processed foods that ultimately benefit the companies that design and package them far more than they benefit us — have the most to gain from this.

How can Geek Feminism readers contribute to or support Growstuff?

Well, of course we have the crowdfunding campaign going on at present, to support Frances and myself as we work on Growstuff’s open API.

We’re always looking for people to join our community as contributors: testers, data mavens, coders, designers, writers, and more. Even just diving in to our discussions and weighing in on some of the ideas there helps us a lot — we’re always keen to hear from food-growers (including aspiring/potential ones) about what they’re looking for in Growstuff and how we can improve, or from people who’d like to use our data, to discuss what they have in mind and how we can support them.

Apart from that, just help us spread the word :)

More about Growstuff

You can learn more about Growstuff and its philosophy in the pitch video for the crowdfunding campaign (audio transcript follows):

Hi, I’m Alex Bayley. I write software and I grow vegetables in my backyard. I founded Growstuff in 2012.

More and more people are taking up veggie gardening all over the developed world, especially in cities. That means millions of new gardeners trying to eat and live more sustainably. People are growing food in their backyards, on balconies and in community gardens.

I started to grow my own food because I want to know where it comes from and that it hasn’t been grown with environmentally damaging fertilisers and pesticides. Like a lot of people these days, I worry about food that’s not local. The costs of transportation and the waste from overpackaged food are huge. I think it’s important that we have alternatives to the big supermarkets. And of course homegrown food just tastes so much better and it’s so much better for you.

Like most gardeners, I’m always searching online for information. Most of the growing advice I find isn’t suitable for my climate. I need local information, not something from halfway around the world.

Growstuff started when I met a guy called Federico from Mexico. He’s also a software developer and a permaculturist and he has trouble finding growing information for his local area. So he asked me if I knew of any open databases that had planting information about where to plant any kind of crop anywhere in the world.

We looked around and we couldn’t find anything. Some governments release open data, but it’s usually aimed at big farms. The stuff aimed at home gardeners was usually either just for one region or else the websites had really restrictive rules about what you could use the data for.

I’m a software developer so when I look at data I want to build things. If that data’s locked up where no one can use it that stifles innovation. Growstuff crowdsources information from veggie gardeners around the world. We gather data on what they plant, when and where they plant it, and how to grow it. We use this information to provide local planting advice back to our members and anyone who visits our site.

Growstuff is 100% open source and our data is also open. You can download it straight from our website and use it for any purpose, even commercially. But we want more people to use our data. We’re raising funds to improve our API which lets third party developers use Growstuff to build apps, mashups, tools, or to do research.

With your help, we’ll be creating a new version of our API with more features, building demos, and running workshops for developers. I’ve been working with open data since about 2007 and I think making food growing information freely available is one of the most important things we can do.

Whether you’re a gardener or a software developer or you just care about sustainable food please support Growstuff’s crowdfunding campaign.

Disclosures: in addition to working with Skud on the Geek Feminism project, I’ve worked with her when she was an advisor to the Ada Initiative, an AdaCamp staffer, and in several other capacities over many years.

Are your lulz low quality? Valerie Aurora is here to help

Warning for mention of sexual assault, and extensive discussion of harassment.

In May, my GF co-blogger and Ada Initiative co-founder Valerie Aurora posted Handy tips for my Internet harassers on her blog. They included:

Threatening my job: Unfortunately, I am my own boss. Try emailing one of the Ada Initiative sponsors? Although they might take that as a sign that the Ada Initiative is doing important work and make another donation. Hmmmm. Maybe create a Yelp page for my file systems consulting business and leave bad reviews? Endorse me for CSS on LinkedIn?

Rape and death threats: Run spell check! There’s nothing more jarring than reading an otherwise creative and well-written death threat and then seeing “decapetate.” Also, chain-saws are so last year. Remember, Gmail won’t display images by default. P.S. I happen to know one of the members of Nirvana and your bright idea has already been done.

Why did she do such a thing, and what resulted? Geek Feminism obtained an exclusive tell-all interview.

Q. Have you received any harassment as a result of this post? Was its quality indeed improved?

Sadly, no. Part of the problem is that my friends loved it — I’ve never had so much positive feedback on a post — but they didn’t want to share it with other people online. I like to joke that it’s the ultimate in dark social since people only talk about it offline using vibrations in the air called “sound.” I think that my friends are more afraid of me being harassed than I am.

Q. The post is pretty out there! Why did you put this post up? What point are you trying to make?

“Self-doxxing” myself (thanks, Kate Losse for the term) was inspired in part by how incompetent and bad the online harassment that I’ve received has been. Most people doing online harassment are just trying to impress other online harassers, at the same time that what they are doing is, frankly, totally unimpressive. The reality is, anyone can spend $25 and get another person’s home address and a bunch of other personal information, but we act like it is some kind of amazing act of computer hacking. By showing how bad people are at online harassing, I’m hoping to remove some of the motivation for people to do the harassment, or at least make them spend more time on it before they get the reward of “so cool, bro!”

I was also inspired by Krystal Ball , who ran for U.S. congress in 2010. When her political opponents tried to slut-shame her into quitting her political campaign over “sexy photos” of herself that they published, she turned around and shamed THEM — both her opponent and the media outlets that published the photos. It was glorious, and it hit home for me: if we let the existence of sexy photo of a woman prevent her from serving in political office, then I and every woman born after 1990 were out of luck. Women’s representation in political office would go down.

Q. Should other people do this?

For most people, no, I wouldn’t recommend it. It was okay for me for a lot of reasons: I already went public about sexual abuse in my family, I’m white, I’m my own boss, I don’t have children or a partner, I have skills that are in high demand, I have lots of friends and a huge support network — my emotional, physical, and economic safety is pretty good. Most women have a lot more to lose.

However, I think it is a very good exercise to think about worst cases like this: what if the thing I am most afraid of other people finding out got published all over the Internet? Because a lot of times, that thing actually doesn’t reflect on you – the shame is on the person who did the original act or publicized a private matter. It can be healing to plan what you might do, even if you don’t actually go public with it yourself.

Q. Why won’t you accept my endorsement for CSS on LinkedIn? I taught you everything you know, dammit.

I’d hate to embarrass you by letting anyone else know that you are the source of my mangled <div>’s! [Ed: good point, well made.]

Q. When are you monetising this? How can investors contact you? How big is your Series A and at what valuation?

Actually, that is a great idea. Instead of vetting a political candidate and saying yes or no, you investigate them and then publish everything that might be a problem in a funny blog post.

Or better yet, here is my favorite idea: If I ever run for political office, I’m going to scan in all my embarrassing naked photos, then watermark them with the email addresses of various journalists. Then email them anonymously to said journalists. Then when the photos get published (it’s “news,” someone else would have, etc.), I can expose the specific person who decided that slut-shaming a candidate was “news” and put the shame where it belongs. Sexism-shaming as a service, SSaaS. I’m accepting funding now.

Code of Conduct timeline and postmortem

Last week, Geek Feminism announced we’ve adopted a Code of Conduct.

As Annalee said in that announcement, this comes long after adoption of codes in other communities, especially events:

You’ve been promoting Codes of Conduct for years. Why didn’t you adopt one of your own sooner?

We dropped the ball in a big way here. We’ve known for at least two years that we needed a Code of Conduct internally. We’re sorry for the inexcusable delay.

We thought it would be useful to other communities to discuss how this happened.

Timeline

May 2008: Skud founded the Geek Feminism wiki, two and a half years before anti-harassment policies and codes of conduct began to be promoted by geek feminists.

August 2009: Skud founded the Geek Feminism blog, more than one year before anti-harassment policies and codes of conduct began to be promoted by geek feminists. At the time of launch. the blog had a strong comment policy which remains in essentially the same form (albeit expanded since). We weren’t the first by a long way to have such a policy (in fact it was based fairly closely on that of Hoyden About Town) but this was at the time unusual among the technical blogs and forums that many of the original bloggers frequented.

November 2010: Warning for assault Nóirín Plunkett was assaulted at ApacheCon. Within the month, Valerie Aurora had released a draft anti-harassment policy for events and finalised it for events to adopt. This is the policy that is now maintained on the wiki.

I have not found any discussion of Geek Feminism adopting such a policy internally at this time, which isn’t surprising considering it was envisaged as being for in-person events.

Early 2011: there were person-to-person complaints within the Geek Feminism community that an individual within it is harassing people when Geek Feminism contributors meet up in person (as sometimes happens at conferences we attend and similar).

January 2012: AdaCamp Melbourne (the first event I know of run by Geek Feminism community members that occurred after the development of the event anti-harassment policy) has an anti-harassment policy.

July 2012: Blogger Nice Girl reported harassment at OSCON by attendees identifying as geek feminists and using terminology from our wiki. (We do not know the identities of these people.) In August, Skud wrote on the blog:

We are taking a few different steps to address the specific concerns raised. One is that we are reviewing our wiki pages to make sure that we have information on slut-shaming and that it is appropriately cross-linked with articles about sexualised environments at geek events to help reinforce/educate people that criticising an individual woman’s choice of clothing is very different from criticising (for instance) a business that uses booth babes as a marketing device.

The second thing is that we are setting up a process so that people can contact us if they experience harassment by someone associated with GF. This is a work in progress, especially since GF is (as mentioned) a loose affiliation with no official membership, and because we may be asked to deal with harassment that occurs outside our own spaces. However, if someone is harassing another person under GF’s name or in a way associated with GF, then we want to provide a private way for people to contact us, and respond appropriately.

On the same day, Skud wrote the first version of the wiki’s Slut shaming page.

At around this time, Skud founded Growstuff, reducing her available volunteer time; her participation in the blog and other Geek Feminism activities dropped drastically over the next few months.

July/August 2012: Emails about the harassment by a Geek Feminism member discussed earlier began to circulate among Geek Feminism bloggers, presumably with our awareness of internal harassment risks heightened by the public and private discussions of Nice Girl’s reports. More than one person reported feeling unsafe and no longer recommending our backchannels as safe spaces. Skud first became aware of these reports at this time.

Given the seriousness of a known harasser operating in a community central to anti-harassment policy promotion, it didn’t seem appropriate to wait for a policy and response group as mooted by Skud to be in place and instead Valerie Aurora spearheaded a letter asking this person to leave the community, which was signed by several others including myself. The person left our community.

After this, I cannot find any further internal discussion of an anti-harassment policy for approximately another year.

April 2013: Recognising her lack of availability for volunteering due to work commitments, Skud formally announced she was stepping down as a Geek Feminism administrator. There was a discussion about handing over various technical responsibilities but not (that I can find) about the anti-harassment status.

July 2013: I sent an email to the blogger backchannel reminding them that an anti-harassment policy is still to be developed. There was a short and inconclusive discussion.

October 2013: Annalee produced an early draft policy document with many unresolved questions, particularly who the policy was intended to apply to, and how reports would be resolved. Comments on the document were made by several community members.

November 2013: Rick Scott began to formalise existing editorial practice on the wiki in the Editorial guidelines page, which was revised over a few months by a small group of wiki editors. It is intended more to communicate norms to newcomers and onlookers than to protect wiki editors from each other.

January 2014: Discussion had died down on Annalee’s draft. I sent an email with some open questions but no one including myself follows up before May.

May 2014: Annalee produced a new draft anti-harassment policy and circulated it for discussion. Skud, Tim, Valerie and myself all commented and edited substantially. Annalee asked for consensus on adopting it, Valerie suggests she JFDI, and I ended up proposing a timeline through to late June for circulating it more widely, giving people time to familiarise themselves, appointing the Anti-Abuse team, and then making the document public.

June 2014: The Anti-Abuse Team was appointed after an internal feedback process. Annalee announced our Code of Conduct publicly. I made our policy made available for reuse and promoted adoption by other communities.

Post mortem

Things we did right

Skud established best practices (particularly the comment policy) at the time our community was founded.

When it became clear that harassment in our community was a periodic problem, we acknowledged publicly that we had not put best practices into place (a anti-harassment policy) and began discussing one suitable to our community.

We returned to the issue periodically without further external prompting or known (to me) incidents of harassment and eventually got a policy in place. In the process, we hope we have developed a new best-practice policy for communities to use so that others do not have to go through this process.

Our new policy has a pretty sophisticated description of various types of harassment, based on a wide variety of personal experiences and reports of harassment received by those of us who do anti-harassment action or advising in other communities. It is better adapted for a long-lived community than the event policy is, by, eg, considering incidents of harassment in the past and in other communities. It has a more explicitly feminist stance in, eg, stating that it centres the concerns of marginalised people, and that tone-policing will not be regarded as harassment.

Things we did wrong

Various individual members of the community were slow to recognise harassment in our community based on first-hand reports from victims.

We were very slow at responding to the known need for a policy, especially for a group which was among the leaders in advocating that in-person events adopt policies. Even on the most generous reading of this timeline, there was explicit discussion of an internal anti-harassment policy in August 2012, at the time Skud discussed Nice Girl’s harassment, meaning that nearly two years passed between us explicitly committing to it existing and it being put in place. We seem to have been caught in a common problem here: we had no active need for the policy (that I know of personally), and so we did not push ahead with it.

Less central members of our community report that they wondered why we didn’t have a code of conduct, but did not feel empowered to ask about it.

Where to from here?

It is far better to have clear documentation concerning safety in particular, and common problems in general, before they are needed. We hope our reusable policy gets adopted by other communities or assists them in drafting their own, to avoid some of the slowness involved in starting from scratch.

Skud reviewed our community structure and documentation in the lead-up to her Open Source Bridge talk and found various inadequacies. She and Annalee have each raised the issue of reviewing our community’s processes,. We would need to look at questions such as:

  • are we following best practices in anti-harassment, anti-abuse and establishing safer spaces?
  • is our group unusually reliant on certain individuals and if so (it usually is so in any community), how can we share knowledge and resources so that there are less single points of failure?
  • is our documentation sufficient for a newcomer to the community?

Does anyone have pointers to similar review processes in other groups? That would be really handy.

Skud suggests that in addition, with important projects like a code of conduct, a relatively structureless group like ours explicitly appoint people to the project, so that they feel empowered to act on it. We particularly need to be alert to Warnock’s dilemma (does silence signify consent, ignorance, lack of understanding, lack of interest or contempt?) in discussing changes to our community. We also need to be alert to hidden hierarchies, to, eg, the sense that nothing can go ahead without approval from, say, Skud as founder or myself as the most frequent poster.

Annalee suggests that we need to improve our institutional memory with documentation like that above, together with internal private documentation where it is impossible to make things public. This helps identify when things were done for a very good reason, versus having emerged essentially by accident, versus never having been done at all by anyone. We also need to clarify (probably continuously) about whether we are a JFDI community, or whether projects must have people appointed to them, or other.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Annalee, Maco, Skud, Valerie and one of the linkspammers for their review of this post. Except where explicitly attributed, all opinions herein should be taken to be mine, informed by discussion with others in Geek Feminism but not necessarily co-signed by them.

Is harassment in your community unwelcome? Adopt a Community Anti-Harassment Policy!

Last week, the Geek Feminism community announced that we’ve adopted a code of conduct in our community. Our code begins:

The Geek Feminism (GF) community is dedicated to providing a harassment-free experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of participants in any form.

This code of conduct applies to all Geek Feminism sponsored spaces, including our blog, mailing lists, and wiki, as well as any other spaces that Geek Feminism hosts, both online and off. Anyone who violates this code of conduct may be sanctioned or expelled from these spaces at the discretion of the Geek Feminism Anti-Abuse Team.

We took quite a long time to do this, after two harassment incidents associated with the Geek Feminism community (albeit, one probably not by people who are actually active in our spaces and who therefore can’t be excluded from them). We’d love it if others learned from our example and adopted a policy within their own communities. To that end, as of today, our Community Anti-Harassment Policy is available for re-use under Creative Commons Zero/public domain and we are beginning to develop associated resources, just as we have done over the past few years for the Conference anti-harassment policy

Here’s what you need:

  1. a policy (remember, ours is available for re-use, either as is, or in a modified form)
  2. a contact point where harassment reports can be received
  3. a group of responders who receive reports and have the power to act on them up to and including excluding harassers from your community

If your community does not have an obvious way to create a group of responders, start discussing how you can create one. In many communities, there is likely to be an existing volunteerocracy at the very least. Can these people reach consensus that your community should be safer from harassment, and that they are unwilling to work with harassers? Simply announcing to people that they must cease a behaviour, or they must leave the community, is in fact very effective as long as there is basic consensus around community norms. For online groups technical structures can help, but social structures are in fact the root of anti-harassment. You don’t need ops or admin power or the crown of the ancient rulers to enforce anti-harassment policies in your community, you need consistent anti-harassment responses by people with social power.

If you don’t know that your community has concensus on being anti-harassment. as a start you can declare your own personal anti-harassment stance, and publicly call for your community to adopt a anti-harassment policy, and a structure that enables the response team to exclude people from the community.

As Geek Feminism shows, activist groups or groups that have advocated for anti-harassment are not safe from internal harassment and still need a policy. And groups with no known harassment incidents are also not safe; it’s quite likely that people in your community have experienced harassment they felt unable to identify or report. Take steps to ensure harassing behaviour becomes known, and that it is known to be unacceptable.

One specific model we encourage you to avoid is the Our community is amazing! So wonderful! We rock! PS no harassment model in which you spend a lot of time affirming your community’s goodness and make a general statement about anti-harassment in passing. We discourage putting this in your anti-harassment policy for these reasons:

  1. you probably do not know the extent of harassment in your community without a policy and a reporting mechanism, and may not rock as much as you think
  2. stating that you are “anti-harassment” without saying what harassment means to you doesn’t give your existing community and potential new members the information they need to find out if their safety needs are a close enough match for your community’s norms

Stating your community’s great work or exemplary behaviour can be really useful for establishing social norms and letting people understand what joining your community means. They form a good basis for specific policies. But don’t make such statements in your anti-harassment policy, make them in a separate document listing your community’s values and goals. And it may be best to say that you aspire or intend to create an amazing space, rather than that you have definitely attained that goal. Statements that you are definitely no questions amazing may be used to silence people with critical feedback and in the end reduce your amazingness.

We also discourage private anti-harassment policies (shared only within a community or within its leadership), for reasons outlined by the Ada Initiative [disclaimer: I co-founded the Ada Initiative].

Do you already have a community anti-harassment policy, or have we convinced you to adopt one? List your community on the Community anti-harassment adoption page! And thank you.

GF classifieds: become a linkspammer to the stars!

Hi everyone,

For two years linkspam have been emerging from our anonymous Linkspamming team like clockwork. But a few are on hiatus right now and it’s again time to refresh the roster. We’d love to bring a few more linkspammers on board.

If you’re interested, read on.

What a Linkspammer does

A Linkspammer gathers together links submitted by readers (and optionally links they found themselves) and puts them on our blog in a linkspam post.

How the process works:

  1. when you join the linkspamming team, you are subscribed to an email list where suggestions are sent and where you and other linkspammers can discuss things when needed
  2. you sign up in advance to do linkspams in a schedule we maintain in Google Docs. Right now, you sign up to do either two Tuesdays or two Fridays in a row (eg, you might sign up to do Tues June 3 and Tue June 10), but this varies depending on how many spammers we have
  3. in the 24 hours before your scheduled post, an email arrives which has gathered together link suggestions from comments here, from the bookmarking sites, and from Twitter
  4. you paste that email into a WordPress post and start editing it, eliminating less good links entirely, and improving summaries, adding trigger warnings and such for the remaining links. You might optionally add links you’ve found yourself or sourced from somewhere else, but this isn’t needed.
  5. you make the post live.

Most of the work of the linkspammer is now at step 4, where you exercise editorial judgement in including and order links and making sure all links have a representative quote or summary.

A Linkspammer needs:

  • to identify as a geek feminist or a geek feminist ally, and to generally like this blog
  • to be able to read and compose English similar to that in existing linkspams
  • ability to at least skim through links and summarise their content in a sentence or two, and warn for common triggers
  • familiarity with the WordPress posting interface (you don’t need to have adminned a WordPress blog, but you should have posted to one before, or otherwise have reasonable previous exposure to blog posting)
  • familiarity with simple HTML: lists, links and emphasis markup (the strong and em tags)
  • some editorial judgement: being able to decide if a link is worth sharing or not, and to select 6-12 links for the spam
  • able to plan a few weeks in advance and commit to producing linkspams when you said you would (with reasonable allowances for unplanned things, of course, we all have other things going on!)
  • ability to keep an eye on all the linkspams, just so that yours has new links in it
  • ability to put up with occasional public criticism, and apologise if you agree you made a mistake: sometimes our readers criticise linkspams, although not very often, and unless they violate the comments policy we will generally let the criticisms remain publicly visible.
  • willingness to read a moderate amount of email, as you’ll be part of discussions between Geek Feminism bloggers, and while our normal volume is 0–10 emails a week, in busy weeks it could rise to up to 40.
  • willingness to use Google Docs for scheduling and documentation

We’d like it if the Linkspammer(s) could commit to at least six months as a spammer, and can give at least a couple of weeks notice if they need to move on, so that their replacement can be found and work handed over.

The time commitment is around about one to two hours every time you sign up to do a linkspam post, perhaps a bit longer your first couple of times. You’ll do around two posts in every four to six weeks.

Please note: we cannot pay Linkspammers (or any other contributor), you will be working as an unpaid volunteer.

How to join us

Let us know in comments if you’re interested in helping out as a Linkspammer: make sure to leave an email address in the email address field.

Privacy note: because WordPress.com doesn’t allow a single post to have moderated comments, comments may be briefly made public if you’ve commented here before. We will make your volunteering offer private as soon as we can. Emails left in the email address box will not be publicly visible at any time.

We don’t need a whole resume, but a sentence about your previous involvement in geek feminism would be good, eg “I’ve been commenting here for months” or “I write about geek feminism stuff sometimes on my blog” or etc.

I just want to contribute links, not do entire linkspam posts!

We welcome your help! You can contribute links without having access to the blog or needing to tell us you’re interested. The best way to do this is to sign up for a Pinboard account and begin saving links there tagged “geekfeminism“.

If that doesn’t work for you, our automated link-gathering system now also checks the “geekfeminism” tag on the competing bookmarking sites Delicious and Diigo; the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter; and comments on existing linkspam posts. If it works better for you, make suggestions through any of those, they’re just slightly less well-tested than our Pinboard support.

Quick hit: Google publishes their EEO-1 diversity data

As promised earlier this month, Google’s diversity data is now up on their blog.

They write:

We’ve always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues. Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity, and it’s hard to address these kinds of challenges if you’re not prepared to discuss them openly, and with the facts.

Their numbers — globally — are 70% male, 30% female (this seems to add up to 100%, which suggests that either Google or the EEO-1 process need to review their gender categories), dropping to 17% female among their technical employees. We’ve tabulated some data at the Geek Feminism wiki. You can compare with female-male breakdowns from some other companies (many quite small) at We Can Do Better.

Google’s US workforce is also 2% Black, way below US national figures of 13% nationwide and 3% Hispanic against 17% nationwide. (Nationwide figures from US Census numbers dated from 2012 and rounded to the nearest whole number to have the same precision as the Google figures.)

What do you think? Is disclosure a meaningful action here? Are you surprised by Google’s figures? Do you think the rest of the tech industry will or should follow?

Dodgy Mother’s Day ads open thread

Tansy Rayner Roberts writes:

Ah, Mother’s Day, that time when our media and shopping spaces fill up with the assumption that “What Mum Wants” is a universal concept. Just once I’d love to see a ‘last minute gifts for Mum’ suggestion list that includes a kabuki sword, a new modem, and a chemistry set. Or maybe noise-cancelling earphones, and a new podcasting microphone. And a butler.

This week, I’d just signed up for Lenovo’s mailing list in the hope of spotting a special, which it turned out was just in time! Just in time to be asked whether I was Fashionista Mum, Super Mum, Foodie Mum, Breakfast in Bed Mum or Bargainista Mum. A fellow geek feminist pointed out the inexplicable absence of Installing Linux the Moment It Arrives Mum. Funny that.

Mother Boards! @ Free Geek Chicago

Got any bouquets or brickbats for geeky Mother’s Day ads? Or anything else you want to talk about in an open thread?

About open threads: open threads are for comments on any subject at all, including past posts, things we haven’t posted on, what you’ve been thinking or doing, etc as long as it follows our comment policy. We’re always looking for fluffy, fun, silly, cute or beautiful open thread starters, please post links to Pinboard with the “gffun” tag.

GF classifieds (May and June 2014)

This is another round of Geek feminism classifieds. If you’re looking to hire women, find some people to participate in your study, find female speakers, or just want some like-minded folk to join your open source project, this is the thread for you!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Geeky subjects only. We take a wide view of geekdom, but if your thing isn’t related to an obviously geeky topic, you’ll probably want to give a bit of background on why the readers of Geek Feminism would be interested.
  2. Explain what your project/event/thing is, or link to a webpage that provides clear, informative information about it. Ideally you’ll also explain why geek women might find it particularly awesome.
  3. Explain what you’re looking for. Even if it’s not a job ad, think of it like one: what is the activity/role in question, and what would it involve? What is the profile of people you’re looking for?
  4. GF has international readership, so please be sure to indicate the location if you’re advertising a job position, conference, or other thing where the location matters. Remember that city acronyms aren’t always known world-wide and lots of cities share names, so be as clear as possible! (That is, don’t say “SF[O]” or “NYC” or “Melb”, say “San Francisco, USA”, “New York City, USA” or “Melbourne, Australia”.) And if you can provide travel/relocation assistance, we’d love to know about it.
  5. Keep it legal. Most jurisdictions do not allow you to (eg.) advertise jobs for only people of a given gender. So don’t do that. If you are advertising for something that falls into this category, think of this as an opportunity to boost the signal to women who might be interested.
  6. If you’re asking for participants in a study, please note Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net, especially the “bare minimum” section.
  7. Provide a way for people to contact you, such as your email address or a link to apply in the case of job advertisements. (The email addresses entered in the comment form here are not public, so readers won’t see them.)
  8. Keep an eye on comments here, in case people ask for clarification or more details. (You can subscribe to comments via email or RSS.)

If you’d like some more background/tips on how to reach out to women for your project/event/whatever, take a look at Recruiting women on the Geek Feminism Wiki.)

Good luck!

Geek Feminism: a family cloud

Skud and I were both separately musing recently on the complex ancestry of some of the Geek Feminism, geek feminist, geek social justice and similar initiatives. Things like this: Double Union arose partly from discussions among AdaCamp San Francisco alumni, AdaCamp is a project of the Ada Initiative and draws on my experiences with my earlier LinuxChix miniconf (later Haecksen) event, the Ada Initiative exists in turn partly because Valerie Aurora and I met through LinuxChix, and so on.

Skud then founded the Geek Feminism family tree project which maps influences from one project to another in geek feminism and geek social justice projects. It’s enormous!

As an example, here’s the portion of the graph that relates most closely to the origins of the Geek Feminism blog and wiki, and the projects that have arisen from them:

Flowchart of relationships between geek feminist and social justice projects

Part of the Geek Feminism family tree

Important note: this is an edited version of the graph that excludes many projects not so directly related to the Geek Feminism blog and wiki. You can see the most recent version of the full image for a better idea of how complex this is. Please check it before reporting that your project hasn’t been added yet!

Contribution guidelines:

  • This project is ongoing and does not claim to be complete. We’d love your help. Corrections and additions welcome! If you’re a github user you could submit a pull request directly to Skud. Otherwise feel free to leave comments here with suggestions of what nodes and lines to add, change, delete or annotate!
  • A line is intended to denote some form of influence or inspiration, not ownership or perfect agreement. So, for example, a project might have been inspired by another, or filling gaps in another, or founded by members who met through another, and so on. The two projects may or may not be aligned with each other.
  • You can view a fuller description of some of the relationships between projects in the source file for the graph.