Breaking down the gender divide in open source and open culture

How the Ada Initiative aims to increase women's participation and challenge sexism in open source, open technology and open culture

"In the new tech boom a great number of start-up founders are coming out the open source culture," Gardiner says. "That's one of the main pipelines for start-ups at the moment so if at the start of the pipe line you're only starting with a group that's 98 per cent men, it funnels through to having this hugely male dominated founder culture and not even just male dominated, but white male dominated."

"There's a wide range of opinion among women and open source and women in open stuff in general about what we should do and what approach we should take," Aurora says. "Whether we should just hide ourselves and pretend nothing's wrong, or never, never talk about the gender gap problem."

The aim of the organisation, which was formed in early 2011, isn't intended to replace some of the existing open source women's networks, Gardiner says: "We are definitely not aiming to replace LinuxChix or replace the Haecksen mini conf with an Ada Initiative mini conf or anything like that." Instead, the Ada Initiative intends to "do some of the harder stuff that costs money and time, that people haven't had money and time for."

"There's not the one mind that's 'women and open stuff'', which people often think there is," Aurora adds. "Our guideline is that you believe women should have equal rights and that participating in technology is important other than that we have a lot of different people with different opinions."

The Ada Initiative has five projects it will be focussing on initially: First Patch Week, Ada's Advice, Ada's Careers, research, and organising AdaCamp conferences.

First Patch Week

First Patch Week is inspired by Canonical's PatchPilot scheme and recognises that writing a patch is not the end of the story when contributing to an open source project, and that the process of actually getting it applied can be fraught for first timers: "The whole process is that you download the code, learn the build system, learn the testing system, fix the bug, find someone on the mailing list or the IRC channel who can review your patch, maybe find someone else who can actually apply it," Gardiner says.

"We thought of doing something similar [to the PatchPilot scheme] with women as an audience — so okay you want to write a patch for an open source project, and we'll likely work with a corporate partner for a specific project, well this is the full set of things that you'll need to go through and so it ends up being both technical and social training… There are a lot of social norms associated with getting anything done [in different open source projects] that aren't documented."

The organisation needs a partner for First Patch Week. "We need someone to bring us a project… we're hoping people will donate their employees' time [to First Patch Week]."

"That's what makes it different than saying, 'Hey everybody lets be nice to each other and why don't you mentor someone in your spare time'," Aurora says. "A lot of companies say that you should be helping people get their patches through but when it comes to review time it's not on the list. So the idea is to say, 'This is what the companies are donating — engineering time — and that's incredible valuable.'"

Ada's Advice

Ada's Advice is intended to be a compendium that draws together different resources about the issues women face when working in open technology. "There's a lot of documentation of problems and we want to gather solutions suggested by people into one resource. Then you have a single one stop shop; so okay I'm an employer looking to hire more women, what do I need to do; or I'm a boss and my team now has a woman on it what do I do," Gardiner says.

Ada's Careers

Ada's Careers will be a resource to help women get into open source/technology/culture jobs. "One of our basic philosophies is that a great way to get more women into 'open stuff' is to get women jobs in open stuff, and wherever possible switch women from jobs that aren't a good fit for them," Aurora says.

"We see a lot of women who are in jobs that are way too easy for them, who could be doing something much more difficult, but they don't think it exists for whatever reasons or the job description puts them off — that's a real common mistake employers make. They're looking for a rock star; they write in the job description that they're looking for a rock star, but women are socialised to be much more modest so no women apply."

Ada's Careers "is a career development website for women at all stages of their careers, not just when they're looking for a new job. Employers are allowed to post job advertisements, but they basically pay for it by also posting advice on things like 'here's how you get a raise'."

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so what do programming women think when they mix with programming men on a Linux conference? Computer-addict men are also known by a lack of knowledge for making proper compliments to women..... like me, a German living in Mongolia I feel like a unicorn in a horses heard.



if women with families have any free time from working in the craziness of the tech industry, bet it wont be doing some more code in the evening - however interesting that may be.. 20yrs + as a female engineer and I still see no advertising for permanent part-time/job share software engineers/programmers (UK). Till that changes, talk about gender diversity in this industry is just that blah.blah blah..



" not even just male dominated, but white male dominated"

Gardiner is a vile bigot. She should be sent to sensitivity training for her sexism and racism.



WTF? EVERYONE can contribute to Open Source. And if women want to invent something spectacular, that changes the world... Please. Feel free to do so. I'm waiting for Mamapedia, Femux or grrloogle...

Jacobus Erasmus


I think most of the comments miss the point.

The problem is that the environment in the open source community is such the Woman feel uncomfortable. I am very ashamed of the situation and so should the whole community.

This is one situation we cannot pull out the Rightous card we are simply wrong.



The fallacy of the reasoning that the cause of the lack of participation of women is that they are "uncomfortable". If you don't want to participate because you got other things on your mind, but there is no reason why you shouldn't you do the human thing, that is: find excuses. For some reason there is a lack of female subscribers to "Dr. Dobbs" - probably because the editors make women uncomfortable. Maybe because they are laughed at at the newsstands. Most programming forums are filled up to capacity with sexist jokes. And consequently, women who have bad experiences and have a passion for programming advertise themselves over and over again as a single women, simply because they want dinner dates with nerds with broken-and-taped glasses. C'mon. There is nothing to prevent women to start their own projects - you don't have to join an existing one. Still, although every single sect has its own distribution, there is not a single one targeted to women, made by women. In fact, the only ones that can change the current situation are women themselves. Go ahead, what's keeping you? Or too busy whining like a spoiled kid?

the goat


When communicating via e-mail, IRC, webforums, etc. how would anybody know the gender of the other participants? There is no barrier preventing women from participating in opensource projects. In fact opensource has absolutely nothing to do with gender.



Gender, gender, gender is all I hear these white women talking about, but I never see them talking about *RACE*. There are far fewer blacks, including black men, in Free Software than there are women of any race. And non-white women don't seem to get hardly any attention from these feminists. What's up, white women? Don't care about anybody not just like you?

Yes, I am a BLACK WOMAN. Start focusing on the lack of racial minorities as much as you do the folks who look like you, and then I might consider supporting you. To date, you have not done this.



Love the project, the more that the open source community can reach out to underrepresented groups, the better. With that in mind, I also agree with Yolanda, that any attempt to do this would be better served by including race in addition to gender in your outreach. But this is a step :)



Open source is about the software. Not the gender...Damn feminism sticks its nose into everything! And its always WHITE women with nothing better to do. They won't be happy until society itself is in chaos from political correctness...Then, they'll come up with another excuse blaming males for something they did.

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