Diversity in Open Source

http://awesomeness.openphoto.me/custom/201211/rio-6-1_tonemapped-757f00_870x550.jpg

The picture is unrelated to this blog post - but hey, this is me in Rio with my "Doing good is part of our code" Mozilla shirt. I am making a weird face because I am fighting the sun while Amina takes the picture.

More pics at:

Now on to the topic...

On diversity

We had some heated discussions about the gender gap at Afpy -- the French Python User group and the output was quite positive:

  • we're adding a Code of Conduct - translated and adapted from the one created by the Ada initiative.
  • This CoC will be effective in our feed of blogs (planet), all our events and any Afpy activity

So that's really a good news, and I think that's something happening in many other user groups, conferences etc, following the lead of Pycon US.

For instance the next Django Conference in Europe has one. I have not checked the previous Django Con ones, maybe they did have some before as well -- but my point is: while this was very controversial a few years ago, it's now accepted in many countries to have such code of conducts, and the benefits are obvious to more and more people.

For a women -- or any other sub-represented group of people, it's a welcoming signal. And in an open source world where, according to a --now a bit old-- survey, women are less than 5% (see http://womeninfoss.blogspot.com) it's a really good thing.

Note

I am focusing on gender issues here because that's what I am interested in. But most of this apply to any other group that is sub-represented in OSS

Will COCs reduce the gender gap in the long term ?

There's one question I am asking myself about the current focus on CoCs and any action that roughly says "We are against discriminations".

Will it solve the gender gap ? Will it change the habits ? How many years will it take for our communities to have a ratio of women that's representative from the reality ?

Sorry if I sound pessimistic but I don't think it will really change things. It will certainly help on not having anymore talks with half-naked ladies on slides. It will also probably cut down sexism.

But I really doubt the ratio of women in FOSS is going to magicaly raise in the coming years just because we have CoCs in our conferences.

I have no scientific proof or statistics to back up what I am saying, but I feel we need to be more active if we want more women in FOSS.

I think we need to do a bit of affirmative actions

This is a very controversial concept - and whenever you talk about this, some people are usually reacting violently because they consider it as yet another form of discrimination. It is. But I think it's the mandatory spark to break the current 95%+ men ratio.

To quote the French Wikipedia page about this -- roughly translated:

Daniel Sabbagh, affirmative action specialist and CERI director
of research, considers that affirmative action programs are
efficient in the short term and allowed students from ethnical
minorities to be more present in American universities, and that
their growth have slowly reduced differences.

Many experts believe that discriminations are therefore reduced
and that affirmative action programs become superfluous when things
get better.

I share this opinion and I think we should do a bit of affirmative actions until the gender gap reduces. We can't reach 50% but a good goal in my opinion would be 25%.

Ratio on speakers

One action that's easy to do is to try to have 50% of women as keynote speakers in a conference. Even if the speakers you select are not directly related to your conference topic -- say Python, they will always bring something's valuable to your conference.

The usual critique against this is the typical: "She was selected because she is a woman."

Yes, but she was mainly selected because she is a valuable professional, and has great things to say. We can find valuable professionals in all genders !

And if the organizers decide to focus on promoting more women in their conference, the attacks consisting on saying it's not fair for men do not really stand: the selected speakers are not random people. They were picked also because they are amazing. Of course this 50% ratio not a hard quota thing - it's just a goal that may or may not be reached.

Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that these kind of actions are sometimes done, but in secrecy to avoid any community flame. I have witnessed it, and for some conferences I am pretty sure it's happening.

I think it would be better to have this kind of action an official action to promote diversity.

In any case, I have two long term goals I want to achieve related to this:

  • build a diversity toolkit for groups
  • build a new community

Building a toolkit

A very easy thing that can be done is to create a website in French with a toolkit for any French speaking groups out there.

The toolkit will contain:

  • a code of conduct adapted from Ada's, people can recycle
  • a FAQ on diversity, with questions we usually ask ourselves when faced to this issue
  • a manifesto, that groups will be able to sign when they support the cause
  • resources, link on the topic

If you are interested in building this with me let me know.

Building a new community

The other important decision I made was to resign from the chair of Afpy -- where I have been in the past 7 years, and work on creating a new community.

What's happening at Afpy is great, and I think the group is on the right path, but I want to experiment something new.

I am not going to do yet another Python group or anything that would compete with an existing FOSS group, that's not the goal.

Since solving the gender gap issue is being done because we want to have a richer community - I want to take the problem the other way around and create a community where diversity is a core value from its inception.

What I want to create is a multi-disciplinary group covering art, electronics, software, food & ecology. The group will have a blog and if it works out, some events in real life (all in French).

The base rule will be that everything we will do -- from blog posts to events, will have to touch at least two topics in the list I have provided.

Examples:

  • A software in Python to build stop-motion movies
  • An Arduino-based device to help you in the beer brewing process
  • A Django-based project to publish pictures on the internet
  • A tutorial on growing vegetables

My bet is that by doing this, some people from broad domains might start to do some Python programming because they've discovered it through one of our presentations or blog posts. Or a programmer from Afpy might start to hack on food, etc.

To start the blog, I am going to look for people out there that have done things with at least two of those topics and invite them to blog.

If you are interested (as a blogger or editor) let me know.

Comments !