Lucy Connor’s “Diversity at what cost?” and Benjamin Otte’s blog post on equality got me thinking about the backlash against diversity and outreach initiatives in open source. Specifically, I sometimes see arguments that inclusivity
- is a slippery slope into coercion and quotas
- should not be a FLOSS value, or
- competes with the core mission of his/her software project.
In response to Otte’s thoughts on whether the principle “all men are created equal” stands in opposition to core GNOME and Fedora goals, I said in part:
The words â€œequalityâ€ and â€œinclusiveâ€ can be easy to misinterpret. Advocates often use them as a softer way of saying â€œdonâ€™t be sexist/racist/etc.â€ and â€œletâ€™s give due consideration to people weâ€™re inadvertently leaving out.â€ Perhaps [critics] are misreading this suggestion as greed for market share, or conflating cowardice with the intention and practice of thoughtful inclusivity.
Yes, it is an important principle that all people deserve to be treated equally *by the law*, and as an ideal to reach toward, itâ€™s laudable. However, itâ€™s a straw-man argument to suggest that advocates for equality and inclusion propose that all seven billion peopleâ€™s opinions should have equal relevance in every endeavor and choice.
Every organization has a specific mission, such as â€œchange the governmentâ€™s policies to improve the environmentâ€ or â€œmaintain an excellent Linux distribution with cutting-edge innovations.â€ This is its â€œvalue proposition,â€ in US English. It embodies some of its core values. The Fedora project is indeed facing a tension between its value proposition and one facet of inclusivity â€” suitability for novice users. But there are many other aspects to inclusivity and an interest in equality, such as accessibility, nonsexist language, university outreach, and documentation. Donâ€™t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
You may also be interested in http://geekfeminism.org/2009/11/29/questioning-the-merit-of-meritocracy/ for thoughts on meritocracy in FLOSS.
… If you simply find any good product unstylish as soon as a certain proportion of the population starts to benefit from it, that strikes me as needlessly snobbish, and implies a misanthropy that will permanently be opposed to even the least controversial inclusivity initiatives.
We linkspammed Connor’s piece a few days ago, and commenter koipond noted:
I hear the sentiment, but itâ€™s kind of missing the point. No one is saying â€œDiversity at all costsâ€ where they want to force people in who donâ€™t want to be there. Itâ€™s more a case of trying to break down the barriers that prevent people who might be interested but see a toxic morass and refuse to swim in the pool.
My comment was along similar lines:
When I read http://geekfeminism.org/ or the http://geekfeminism.wikia.com wiki, or listen to the women on the Systers mailing list, I donâ€™t hear a general and undifferentiated â€œWE MUST GET MORE WOMEN INTO FLOSSâ€ or tech agitprop agenda. I see lots of initiatives to help underrepresented groups â€” African-Americans, women, people from developing countries â€” get in on the joy and empowerment of hacking.
I think there is a separate argument to be made that everyone, of every gender and from every socioeconomic, ability and ethnic background, should be generally technically literate, which means being able to code a â€œhello worldâ€ in some decent language and feeling empowered to modify their computing environment a little. To extend the analogy, I know it ruined your [Connor's] enjoyment of Model UN when the teachers forced everyone to participate, but youâ€™re not against the goal of everyone learning a little about how international politics works.
And because these sexist behaviors and attitudes keeping women out of high-status and high-paying professions are just now starting to fade, itâ€™s important to take an extra look at seemingly innocuous traditional attitudes to make sure they donâ€™t conceal yet more barriers and discouragement. As Kirrily Robert pointed out in her OSCON keynote, the community as a whole grows organically and benefits greatly from (voluntary, of course) womenâ€™s participation:
Like you, these advocates like helping people. Check out http://gnomejournal.org/article/88/the-un-scary-screwdriver for an example of the kind of noncoercive, entirely opt-in outreach that most advocates, well, advocate.
As I noted to Connor: Sure, coding, and open source work, are not really intrinsically appealing to lots of people. But because there are so very many external factors keeping interested girls and women away from tech careers and open source, Iâ€™m comfortable prioritizing breaking those down, so that maybe in fifty years peopleâ€™s intrinsic interests will shine naturally through. And then weâ€™ll talk and see what interesting patterns show up.