The open source world is rich with opportunities: Working with people of all cultures from all over the world; Collaborating with some of the biggest and brightest minds on the ultimate solutions to complicated problems; Changing the world by providing free tools for organizations such as non-profits, educational institutions, and governments; Building up marketable skills and practical knowledge.
But yet, so many women are missing out. Why is that? And what can we do to change it? This talk will endeavour to answer these questions, as well as provide tips and strategies for women who want to dip their toe into the waters.
I wish I could embed the video on my blog but alas, it is not possible, so I encourage you to wander over to Angie’s blog and watch the video there.
The important lesson about Angie’s talk is that it isn’t just about women. The power and capacity of an open source community is determined by the quantity and quality of its social capital. If a community fails to invest in either – if it turns off or away qualified people because its culture (however unintentionally) discriminates against a gender, race or group – then it limits its growth and potential. The same is true of a community culture that doesn’t allow certain groups to improve their social capital. These may seem like large, intangible questions, but they are not. I’m sure every open source community turns some people off. Sometimes the reasons are good – the fit might not be right. But sometimes, I’m certain the reasons are not good. And the community may never get the feedback it needs because the moderate, productive person who walks away doesn’t create a scene, they may just quietly disappear (or worse they never showed up to begin with).
So Angie matters not just because women are missing out (although this is true, important and urgent). Angie’s talk matters because women are just the canary in the coal mine. Millions of people are missing out – people with ideas and the ability to make contributions get turned away because of a bad experience, because a community’s culture is off putting, too aggressive, not welcoming or not supportive.
For me its opened up a whole new way of thinking about my writing on open source communities. After Angie’s talk I sought her out as I felt we’d been talking about the same things. I’m interested in developing norms, skills and tools within an open source community that allows more people to participate and collaborate more effective, in short how do we think about community management. Angie is talking about developing open source communities that support and engage women. Working towards solving one helps us solve the other. So if you wake up today and notice there are no (other) women on the IRC channel with you… maybe we should both individually and collectively as a community engage in a little introspection and think about what we could change. Doing so won’t only make the community more inclusive, it will make it more productive and effective as well.