I’ve seen a bunch of the same questions coming up again and again in comments on my OSCON keynote, both on my own blog and on other sites, so I thought I’d take the time to answer some of them in a central place.
1.5%? 20%? Really? Where did you get those numbers from?
1.5% women in open source: FLOSSPOLS survey, 2006, funded by the EU. 1541 open source developers were surveyed, from a range of projects both large and small. The surveyed developers were taken from those who had answered the earlier FLOSS survey and had provided their email addresses for subsequent contact; the 2002 FLOSS survey was a widespread survey of open source developers, who were recruited by asking people to pass information about the survey out to open source development mailing lists and the like. The FLOSS survey published a report on their methodology and validation of results which describes possible selection biases, etc.
5% women in the Perl community (users and developers): my own survey of approx 5000 Perl users in 2007. The specific figures were 95% male, 4% female, 1% other. In putting together my slides, I was working from memory and conflated the 4% and 1% into 5% total, who I represented as female. This was incorrect, and I will fix it if/when I give my presentation again. The results of the Perl Survey are available as a summary PDF (Letter, A4) or as a raw data dump.
10% women in Drupal community: DrupalChix website. Addison Berry, a Drupal contributor, told me at OSCON that the number is based on attendance at Drupal events. I have not had this confirmed as yet.
20% women in technology industry: figures vary between about 15% and 30% when looking at overall proprotions of women in IT roles from country to country. For example, some of the reports I’ve read say things like 24.5% of non-administrative ICT roles in the US (source – PDF), 19% of ICT roles in Australia (source), and 20% of the IT workforce in France (source – PDF). These surveys are usually done by either industry bodies such as the Information Technology Association of America or government bodies like the Australian Department of Workplace Relations. Usually they include all IT roles, including corporate IT and the like. When surveying for eg. women in technical management, the numbers are generally lower. I’ve been collecting links to such reports here.
Dreamwidth and OTW are about journalling and fanfic. Of course they have lots of women! But women don’t join other open source projects because they don’t use/care about that kind of software.
Here are some examples of widely-used open source software:
- Ubuntu – desktop linux distribution
- GIMP – graphic design application
- WordPress – blogging platform
- Adium – IM client
- Firefox – web browser
- Joomla – content management system
- Moodle – online education platform
Each of these projects is in an area that either has a majority of women participating (blogging, IM, graphic design), or an equal or nearly equal number as men (desktop computing, education, web browsing), at least in western countries. And yet they do not have proportional representation of women in their development teams.
It is not (solely) the female-friendliness of the underlying application that leads to women joining an open source project. If it were, the above projects would have a high level of female participation.
Nor are there many applications so inherently female-unfriendly as to automatically explain a 98.5% male development team; the Linux kernel, which I’ve heard cited as an example, is no such thing, since the proportion of Linux users — including desktop and handheld devices such as the Kindle, Android phone, etc — is no doubt higher than 1.5%.
Isn’t 75% or 100% women on a project just reverse sexism? How come that’s OK when 100% men isn’t?
100% of men in a single project would be just fine if it were an outlier, and if that were an accurate representation of the user base for that software and the necessary developer skillset. But that’s not what’s going on. The problem we’re facing here is one of widespread inequality: a pervasive situation affecting thousands of projects, regardless of the skills and interests of the wider community.
A healthy open source community would show a bell curve of female participation rates, with the hump somewhere around the percentage of women who use that kind of software and/or the percentage of women who have (or can acquire) the appropriate skills — let’s say anywhere between 20% and 50% for most software projects. (That 20% is based on the number of women in the tech industry with the right kind of skills, and the 50% represents the number of female users for applications like blogging, web browsing, graphic design, or teaching.)
As with any bell curve, there will be outliers. Fan fiction, admittedly, is a heavily female activity so a higher proportion of female participants is not surprising. On the other hand, a man asked me at OSCON what to do about his all-male model railway automation project, and that’s one I think is just fine with 100% male developers given the pool of model rail enthusiasts he’s drawing from.
(Of course, we can also work in parallel to address imbalances in user communities or in the pool of people who have appropriate skills, but that’s not where I’m focussing right now. If you’re interested in that, you might like to look into organisations working on encouraging girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) education or teaching computer skills to adult women. For all I know there are also groups working to encourage women in the model railway community.)