Quick hit: FSF Women’s Caucus recommendations

The Free Software Foundations Women’s Caucus grew out of the September 2009 FSF mini-summit on women in Free Software. The Caucus has now released their initial findings and recommendations, here’s an excerpt:

We identified a number of barriers to women’s participation in free software and strategies for overcoming these obstacles… Women who are not already involved in free software often don’t feel invited to join free software groups or projects. We have identified strategies for groups who are looking to grow and diversify their membership… We noted the relative invisibility of women who are already making significant contributions to free software…

What do you think? (Remember that I’ve only posted an excerpt, do read the whole thing.) Has the Women’s Caucus identified new ideas and strategies that would be widely useful in women-in-computing or women-in-STEM advocacy? Have they missed significant first steps?

5 thoughts on “Quick hit: FSF Women’s Caucus recommendations

  1. Ciera

    I think mentoring is probably the most important, and I wish they had provided more resources on it. Women’s only mailing lists are nice, encouraging non-code contributions is nice. However, having someone, regardless of gender, who is responsible for assigning newbies something to do and either mentoring them or giving them a mentor, is *really* important. In one of our courses here, we have students work on an open source project of their choosing. I know one student (a man, in this case) who dropped out of the course because getting started in the OSS community intimidated him so much. (No data on who else dropped out for this reason.) The students who were the most successful were on projects where there was an assigned contact person for students. Mozilla was particularly good about this, and even had a set of exercises to get newbies used to the codebase. The contact person helped them get going, had them complete the exercises, and then helped them pick a task to work on and told them where to get more information.

    I agree that the non-code contributions should be encouraged, but not necessarily for the reason stated. Non-code contributions are a fantastic way to simply get involved and get familiar with the project. At my first job, my first task was to work on the help docs. This gave me a couple weeks to get used to the codebase, features, vocabulary, and team before I was thrown into a coding task. Non-code aspects are frequently a convenient entry-point and a good way to build familiarity with the project. (And if all people put in some early time on those aspects of a project, it might prevent them from being seen as “lesser” work.)

    Regarding invisibility…perhaps this is a silly idea, and it certainly brings up questions of privacy…but why not have photos of developers? If there is a significant invisible community of women, it would make it more visible. Perhaps it is just me, but I never use women’s only mailing lists. What would I ask there that I wouldn’t ask somewhere else? I’d somehow feel that it wasn’t for technical questions anyway. And it doesn’t really make the women “visible”, it just puts them all in one location, still behind an invisible email address. It also doesn’t make them visible to the wider community. But again, maybe I’m unusual in this regard. Have such mailing lists been successful elsewhere?

    1. Skud

      Privacy is definitely a concern with photos, and I know there are a number of women who could tell stories of being harassed based on photos of them in tech contexts :-/ Also, there have been cases where people have demanded that women “prove” that a photo is really of them, because it’s soooooo hard to believe that a “girl” really likes whatever-it-is.

      Even in my own case, I changed my twitter user pic from a photo of me to something else, because I had so many people make comments about my personal appearance both on twitter and in RL after having seen my twitter icon. It was pretty irritating to be at a professional event and meet people and have them constantly comment on my hairstyle. My twitter icon used to show me with very bright red hair. My hair is no longer bright red. I kept having conversations like this:

      Me: “Hi, I’m Skud, I work on $project.”
      Them: “Oh, I know you from Twitter… wow, I thought you had red hair! Why don’t you have red hair any more? It was cute/awesome/whatever! You should have kept it!”

      Because how I look is more important than what I do, and I should listen to their opinion and take their advice about my personal appearance. *grumblemutter*

      Do guys get this when they meet people at tech events? “Oh wow, did you shave off your beard? Why? It was great… you shouldn’t have shaved it off. And how come you’re not wearing that same hat as in your pic? I liked that hat. You should wear it all the time.”

      Yeah, kinda off topic, sorry… but, that’s one of the reasons I’m reducing the number of photos I use online. And if anyone now thinks it’s amusing to comment on my userpic here, I will *not* be happy. Seriously. Don’t.

  2. FreeDeb

    Ciera, we’d love to a few articles on the resources page about mentoring. Would you be interested in writing something?

    Also, this has now been translated into French, http://ur1.ca/0pu8b feel free to pass this along to anyone who might prefer to read it in French.

  3. Ingrid Jakobsen

    Instead of women-only mailing lists, wouldn’t it be more useful to have more women-dominated OS projects like Dreamwidth and Archive of Our Own? (They also seem to be good at mentoring, non-competitiveness, and valuing non-coding contributions). The recommendations seem a bit wishy-washy to me, next to the reality of DW and AO3, full of enthusiastic women coders.

    1. jon

      Ingrid, I very much agree about the value of woman-dominated OS projects (along with browsers, email clients, word processors, and other key building blocks).

      In terms of Mary’s original question, I do think there’s a potential strategy here that can be broadly useful related to the recommendation that “the major GNU/Linux vendors develop programs and materials to attract girls”. If GNU/Linux vendors decide to seriously attack this problem — including evolving the software so that it is just as attractive to girls as it is to Slashdot-reading IT geeky adult guys — it would drive a lot more diversity in both the community and the user base. However I’m not holding my breath.

      And even though most of the recommendations aren’t new, they’re still good ones. The report lays out some clear best practices to keep successful women in the free software community and be more welcoming to women [and to newcomers in general]. What’s the next step towards getting them to happen?


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