Tag Archives: gender-politics

Women in Open Source and Florida's Bohemian Index

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.

Women in Open Source – the canary in the coal mine

The other month I had the pleasure watching Angie Byron give the keynote lecture at Open Web Vancouver on Women in Open Source. The synopsis from Open Web Vancouver:

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.

Democracy vs. Gender: The Liberal Solution

Dion’s most notable promise of the leadership race was guaranteeing that at least 33% of Liberal Party candidates will be women. This is a laudable goal. Moreover, I suspect the press will follow it closely. If the Liberals fail to reach it Dion’s credibility could be seriously undermined. It is would not be unreasonable to ask: if Dion can’t implement change within a party he controls, how does he intend to affect change if in government?

Some people are – justly – worried about how the goal will be met. Obviously there is a tension between allowing open and democratic nomination contests and ensuring that at least 33% of candidates are women. The easiest option would be to appoint female candidates. This however, carries with it some significant costs. In addition to being bad for morale, disenfranchised riding associations may not donate their time, energy and money to an appointed candidate (male or female) thereby diminishing their chances of winning the actual election.

However, what I have seen in British Columbia (so far) has been an interesting and compelling solution to this quandry. Rather than rig nomination processes (or eliminate them altogether) the party is making two smart plays. First, it is aggresively seeking out highly qualified women in an effort to create a rich pool of candidates. Second, (and this is most compelling part) it is making a direct appeal to members. It is, in effect, saying: when selecting who to support we understand that each of you has a criteria by which you evaluate candidates, we would greatly appreciate it if you made gender a stronger component in this criteria. Interestingly, this appeal could be doubly effective because membership lists may remain closed. Consequently, those campaigning for nomination will probably not be able to sign up new members and with thus have to appeal to the current pool of members (who are more likely to take this messaging to heart).

Best of all, I like what this messaging says about the party. Rather than adopt some centralized top-down way to shape and control the outcome this approach is compelling, appropriate and democratic because it does the exact opposite, it respects and appeals to the intelligence and integrity of party members. Very clever, and very liberal, indeed.

[tags]politics, canadian politics, liberal party of canada [/tags]

Norman Spector: legend and expert on gender and politics

At risk of giving this piece more life then it deserves, did anyone else find this Norman Spector column completely offensive? It appeared in the BC section of the Globe so hopefully most of the country was spared.

Believe it or not the same man who, on the air and then in his column, called Belinda Stronarch a bitch over and over and over again now feels qualified to comment on gender and politics. My stomach turns.

If you read further (don’t), you’ll learn how “nice guys” like Stephen Owen “know intuitively that politics is not the right career choice.” This perfect statement reveals little about the nature of politics, but a lot about about Spector. Could he have a more succinctly summed up his worldview and modus operendi?

Oh Norman, just because you are boorish, mean-spirited, and vindictive doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be…

[tags]Canadian politics, gender politics[/tags]