Gender equality and diversity do matter in FLOSS


On September 30, 2010, the Gender Equality and Diversity sessions took place as a satellite event of the Open World Forum 2010. Please find below a short summary of the workshop held in the afternoon dedicated to a Diversity Statement to be realized in the near future. Here are the slides introducing this workshop (pdf). The program mentions two different workshops (one dedicated to communities and the other to companies), but indeed we merged them.

DISCLAIMER: Given that I was also participating, it is very possible that I forgot to mention details here.


The first question to be asked was: why do we need a charter?

This kind of frame is to be used as an ensemble of guidelines for communities and companies to help promoting diversity. Furthermore, it can be a good way of making people aware of the diversity issue.

Why do we need more women?

This year’s Diversity* session being focused on women participation in FLOSS, this question was the logical one. Indeed, it is quite difficult to give a clearcut answer without defining women as a particular group (which may directly lead to positive discrimination, and other undesired side effects). Therefore, it is important to have a precise and unambiguous answer to this question.

One direction suggested by participants was: women are a part of the user base. Thus, if one wants to create better and richer software, including in the production chain people from this user base is the best way of obtaining better products.

Another (non exclusive and complementary) direction was also highlighted: bringing more women will increase the number of contributors. Software being a complex thing, having more contributors with various backgrounds and competences is better for the conception process to be successful. Having more contributors is helpful to get things done, if I summarize it in a very straightforward and pragmatic way.

An additional comment was done here mentioning the productivity. The latter is a quite delicate word because people have diverse definitions of it and it is safer to avoid it if no common definition is set up prior to utilization. What was meant with this increase in productivity is a globality: more people working on a project make it go faster, various backgrounds make various ideas come and more people giving feedback and reporting bugs allow for improvement.

An interesting question arose: How to measure diversity? We all agreed that having quotas is not the good way. Further discussions will be needed to define metrics for diversity.

How to make the FLOSS world more attractive to anyone?

In other words, what is the main difficulty for diversity to increase?

Several fundamental points were addressed:

  • FLOSS is correlated with IT (information science/computer science in its most general definition);
  • Being able to produce code is important;
  • FLOSS is innovation;
  • The ethical/political values of Free Software are the baseline for all the above. Interactions with other movements are needed.

The following issues are highlighted as women-specific and wide-spread in companies (large palette):

  • Becoming mother creates a big gap: lower salaries, diminished possibilities for career evolution, etc.;
  • Maternity: fathers are not given the same permissions to pause compared to those given to women;

We discussed the necessity removing these obstacles and thus, enhance interactions within FLOSS networks and improve knowledge sharing among community members and FLOSS company employees.

Rewarding metrics

Or how to attribute the real value to stuff that matters.

The issue which was first discussed was the “documentation trap”: the fact that documentation is considered as a second-order contribution and is under-valuated. People from FLOSS companies also said that contract workers hired to write documentation have lower salaries compared to people producing code. Which is somehow paradoxical: many people like saying ‘RTFM!’ but writing the manual is not that valuable…

The regular problems such as underappreciation of work related to translation, design and communication were discussed as well. At on point, someone mentioned the issue consisting of newly hired employees who do not know how to use IRC. It is quite weird to request for someone who candidates for a position to know how to use the company tools. We discussed of providing basics for those people: not knowing how to use does not mean someone is dumb or totally incompetent, it just means that the person does not know how to use IRC.
The mandatory “geekness” was also addressed, but we did not reach a consensus: there is not one and unique definition of “geek”.

In conclusion, the rewarding metrics (giving a value to what matters) are to be discussed further and especially, to be addressed for each context. It is apparently impossible to set up general rewarding metrics: it will be worse because of missing all the specificities of a community/company which precisely make things and efforts valuable.

Making communities more welcoming

In the last minutes, someone mentioned that the question was not unidirectional. In other words, it is up to communities to welcome newcomers and behave in more opened fashion. This question also needs more detailed exchanges. The collaboration was pointed out as the way of working to prefer to individualistic effort.


  • Diversity encompasses youngsters, seniors, etc.

8 thoughts on “Gender equality and diversity do matter in FLOSS

  1. Are you familiar with Dr. Colette Lewiner? She is the former president of the European Nuclear Society, current Executive Vice President and Global Leader of the Sector Energy, Utilities and Chemicals (Oil, Gas, Utilities and Chemicals) for Capgemini, and is a member of France’s Strategic Advisory Board on Information Technologies (CSTI) . It is in her capacity on the CSTI board that is most significant for the discussion of women in IT.
    This presentation is a good place to begin a discussion about why women in IT matters:
    (There is still a tiny note of chauvinism in her discussions on why women aren’t in technology fields, but this is to be expected of someone from her generation. )

    I believe that we need to rely on quantitative research data to build a better foundation for this discussion, and rely less on personal observations and experiences. There’s nothing wrong with personal observations, but hard proof is always required for business decisions. And that’s what we’re asking, for businesses to make changes to their hiring, task assignment and promotion decisions. They need hard data to justify the change.

    – Susan Spencer

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