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Duchesses, FOSDEM, International Womens Day, and diversity

Posted by robogeek on March 7, 2008 at 11:41 AM PST

Has it already been two weeks since FOSDEM? Gosh. Anyway, I had a great time there and I will probably post another blog entry based on my recollections. I want to mention specifically one of the sessions, the presentation by the Duchesses. They made a very interesting presentation about under-representation and diversity.

Clearly women are under-represented in software development jobs. What I did not know is that women are even more under-represented in open source software development. This is a little surprising given that Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) stems from a yearning for freedom, but at the same time the FOSS community seems overly stereotyped to a male-dominated environment. They claimed that only 3% of open source developers are female. A bit of yahoogling turns up We assume FOSS benefits all equally. But does it really? and Ontario Linux Fest 2007 - Women In Open Source, Angela Byron (2007) and Opening doors to open source for women and linuxchix.org/ and Debian Women and Bridging the gender digital divide in FOSS and LXer Feature: Survival Tactics For Women In FOSS, part 1 ...etc...

Why is this important? I think the clearest answer is one they gave -- diversity. Diversity of experience should probably lead to better solutions than if the people involved have a narrow range of experience. Diversity means having people of all kinds within an organization, of all races, genders, intelligence levels, interests, sexual orientations, etc.

It's also kind of a strange situation -- there's nothing I can think of which makes men more suitable for software development than women. It's not a matter of upper body strength nor who can pee standing up. It's a matter of people possessing intelligence, the ability to conceptualize abstract thingymajobs, and describe those abstractions in software. Of course women are capable of these things.

This reminds me of a blog posting by Lillian Angel last fall ... how are women supposed to feel comfortable entering this male dominated field knowing they'll just be hit on because they're the only woman in the room? Lillian was sitting in the room and it was funny when Mark, the Classpath project leader, recounted how some Classpath project members just assumed Lillian was a guy. Ah, shades of Neo meeting Trinity... ("You're Trinity..the Trinity? I always thought you were a guy... Most guys do")

However there was an interesting angle to their presentation. The statistics presented were about percentages of software developers in software projects. However as in any endeavor there is more involved with creating a software project, whether it's FOSS or not, than just writing the software. Some critical pieces to a successful software project is documentation, testing, quality, marketing, graphics, logos, etc. Their claim is that while Women are under-represented in software development, they do tend to hold other jobs inside software org's like QA and documentation. I am struggling over whether this is good or bad or just is what it is. Yeah, that women tend to be under-represented in coding jobs is a concern and it would be great to even this out a bit, however in the bigger picture women are present in software development organizations. I wondered listening to their talk if they carried an idea that coding jobs have higher prestige or importance to the resulting software than the other jobs.

In any case as tomorrow is International Womens Day I thought to assist making this issue more widely known.

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Comments

Hello David... Very Interesting post!... We support this user group! I got to talk to one of the "Duchesses" at the JUG Leaders BOF at JavaPolis this last Dec.

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Aaron Houston -- Program Coordinator -- Java User Groups -- Sun Microsystems, Inc.