Just a quick somewhat brief follow up to yesterday’s post on women in open source.
I got lots of great feedback and comments for which I’m grateful and wanted to say one or two things.
First, I recognize the title to the post, particularly the “Canary in a Coal Mine” was far from perfect. The exclusion of women from Open Source is not – as some might read the title – an existential threat to open source. OS communities will not collapse or fail if more women are not included (the broader IT industry seems to continue, for better for worse despite a poor male to female ratio). The point is that growth will, however, be limited. Moreover the success of OS communities – defined in terms of an active and engaged community, one whose members treat each other well and where differences and disagreements are resolved respectfully and effectively – might also be limited.
Actually I’d go further – Richard Florida found a positive correlation between gay household and regional (especially tech) economic development among cities. This quote is from one of his academic papers on the subject:
Florida and Gates (2001) found a positive association between concentrations of gay households and regional development. This tolerance or open culture premium acts on the demand side by reducing barriers to entry for human capital; increasing the efficiencies of human capital externalities and knowledge spillovers; promoting self-expression and new idea generation; and facilitating entrepreneurial mobilization of resources, thus acting on regional income and real estate prices.
The same hypothesis could could hold true for open source communities with regard to women. Gay men in America and women in tech are both (sadly still) marginalized groups. As such, women are the canary in the coal mine in that the more women you find in an open source community – the more likely that community is tolerant and open to new ideas and self-expression. In short, the number of women participants is probably a pretty one good metric of the community’s health.
Second, I think the stats around the post are quite interesting. So far:
Page hits: 600+
Feedburner “reach:” 2379
Tweets: 7 from women, 1 from an aggregator
Comments: 10 comments from 7 people (not including mine). All from women
2 emails: both from men
In short, no men participated publicly the the post. My inclination is not to believe that men in open source don’t see this as an issue (I’m sure some don’t, but I know many do), but I do suspect that many don’t feel like it is safe to talk about. That’s a problem in of itself. (Alternatively, and I accept this as a very real possibility, but my blog may not be popular enough to gain attention – or that people haven’t had a ton of time to respond).
As the author it is important to me that nothing in yesterday’s post lead open source participants to believe (or feel accused of) deliberately excluding women. However, I know that reading it, that accusation can feel like it is (implicitly) there anyway. A key to success in communicating around difficult subjects is to separate impact from intent. Open source communities, and the men who participate within them may not be trying to exclude women or other groups (intent). But that doesn’t mean women aren’t being or shouldn’t feel, excluded (impact). The key is for a community to acknowledge and accept that it can be having an impact without that intent – and the solution is to get really intentional about the skills, tools and culture of the community to change the impact.
It was important to me that yesterday’s post resonate with the women who read it AND that men involved in open source read the post without feeling accused of being sexist or part of a sexist community. The goal is to generate discussion on how we can change the impact since, given most of the people I know in OS, the intent is already there.