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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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