State of Sexism in FOSS: Page 3: Page 3

Women's issues have become accepted concerns in open source. What is there to show for all the effort?
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Increasing the Number of Women Speakers At Conferences

Around the time that the Geek Feminism Wiki began, speakers like Skud and Angela Bryon managed to keynote conferences talking about women in FOSS. More recently, topics such as diversity have become common at conferences.

However, the efforts to encourage more female speakers on other subjects have met with only limited success. According to the Geek Feminism Wiki, women speakers at conferences have averaged between 8-15 percent in the last five years, although Ohio LinuxFest reached a high of 35 percent in 2010. In the last three years, the percentages at several events have been noticeably higher than previously, although still far below the fifty percent that random distribution would predict.

One tactic groups have used to help increase the number of female speakers is maintaining lists of women available to speak, such as LinuxChix's somewhat outdated Chix Who Speak page or DevChix's list of upcoming speakers.

Several women, including Skud and, more recently, Courtney Stanton, have also used suggested concrete methods of seeking out and encouraging female speakers

However, following such tips requires considerable effort and can create a backlash. Talking about her experience with trying to increase the number of female speakers at the 2012 Ohio Linux Fest, Moose notes numerous complaints, largely by men who assumed favoritism without knowing anything about the selection process.

Often, these critics believe -- on no evidence -- that a quota system is in place, and papers by women are judged with lower standards than those written by men. Frequently, they assume that the event has accepted all papers submitted by women. The idea that there could women in FOSS with interesting expertise who only need encouragement to submit a paper never seems to have occurred to such critics.

Implementing Anti-Harassment Policies or Codes of Conduct

(Disclaimer: I served briefly on the advisory board of The Ada Initiative. I resigned in November 2011.)

Feminists were not the first to try to establish community standards of behavior norms in the free software. Carla Schroder credits Ubuntu for its all-purpose code of conduct, which she calls "a radical departure from the dominant 'freedom to be a jerk' ethos that prevailed before." As a result, Schroder adds, "Ubuntu has also attracted large numbers of contributors and users from more diverse walks of life than other distros."

However, in the last two years, FOSS feminism has paid special attention to anti-harassment policies for conferences. Most of this work has been developed by The Ada Initiative, an offshoot of the Geek Feminism wiki, which has developed templates for policies that can be used either unmodified or as starting points for discussion.

The rationale offered for this emphasis is that anti-harassment policies can be a starting point for changing other aspects of the community.

Cynics, though, might argue that anti-harassment policies are implemented in the same spirit that mission statements once were -- as a move that looks progressive yet requires minimal effort.

This possibility was shown by the recent debate at Readercon, a science-fiction convention, when the organizing committee at first ignored its anti-harassment policy, then only enforced it after considerable public outcry. The fact that dozens of conferences, not only in FOSS but also in the skeptic community and science fiction fandom, have such policies is promising, but the policies are too new to obtain any sense of how well they are enforced.

All the same, anti-harassment policies have proved popular, especially after a number of incidents over the last few years in which speakers gave pornograpic presentations. Deb Nicholson notes that such policies announce that a conference might be relatively safe and might have, if not a greater percentage of women than most, perhaps unhostile men.

"Obviously, it's not a guarantee," Nicholson says. "People are still going to do stuff and say stuff. But I think it does put at least the speakers on notice."

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Tags: open source, FOSS, Women in Technology

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