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gender bias in OSS projects (was: mails mails)

From: Greg Stein <gstein_at_gmail.com>
Date: Sat, 13 Mar 2010 18:23:03 -0500

On Sat, Mar 13, 2010 at 17:28, neels <neeels_at_gmail.com> wrote:
> On 13 March 2010 09:29, Stefan Sperling <stsp_at_elego.de> wrote:
>> When I sent the above I should have been more explicit
>> about my intent by linking to http://webchick.net/files/women-in-floss.pdf
>> I'd like to encourage everyone to please read these slides.
> +1 for this presentation (BTW, it is a talk opposing gender
> discrimination, for anyone who might be reluctant to click).
> The drastically uneven male:female ratio in the Subversion project has
> actually worried me recently. My understanding of the nature of FLOSS
> would suggest a more or less even distribution, so I ask myself, why
> the heck are *all* of us svn devs male? I hereby officially welcome
> any individual out there to join in and receive
> attitude/gender/situation-neutral support like anyone else.

Statistics are against us. Simple as that. A study a good number of
years ago showed that the rate of graduating women in Computer Science
was something like 7% of the graduates. So you're pretty well-screwed
before you even start to look at other factors.

And those other factors? One of the largest is the *tone* of
discussion. Open Source projects are typically a little more combative
in tone. Definitely lots of challenges and occasional flames and
whatever. It is an environment that is not very easy for most women to
work within, and even for some cultures (the Japanese also find it
hard to work in some projects).

Then you hit the death spiral. Because you start in a male-dominated
space (93%), then the women feel out-of-place to enter it. Then you
have the OSS culture pushing the rate lower. That makes women feel
even less-inclined, so the rate goes lower. Around and around.

You end up where we are today: 1% to 2% of OSS participants are
female. And that is simply because those women have lots of
self-confidence and gender comfort to work within OSS projects.

There is nothing *inherent* in capability, mind you: studies show that
female CS graduates are equally/more competent than their male
counterparts. It is just a social/culture issue.

Google works very hard at combating that 7% statistic, in order to
hire more female engineers. They've done a great job at increasing the
percentage, so that the existing female engineers do not feel so
out-of-place. But they spend a TON of time and resources doing that.
There are very few OSS projects that can/would work that hard to even
out the gender mix.

Personally, I believe it is a lost cause without some sea change in
cultural views of women in computer science. Sri Lanka is making great
headway here: the conferences I've attended have a *much* better
gender mix (10-20% women?). If more cultures could be like that, then
we could see an effect on the Open Source world.

Received on 2010-03-14 00:23:28 CET

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