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Breaking down barriers for women in open source



David Worthington
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August 9, 2010 —  (Page 1 of 2)
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is acting to implement strategies to broaden the participation of women in the free and open-source software community (FOSS).

Recommendations for removing barriers and broadening membership among women in open-source projects were published July 16 by the FSF's Women's Caucus, which was formed nearly a year ago and was tasked to devise solutions to address the problem.

Barriers include the perception that the FOSS movement is a "boys’ club," a shortage of female role models in the community, the feeling that women are being judged at a higher standard than men, feelings of isolation, sexist behavior, and non-coding roles that are often occupied by women being undervalued.

The Women's Caucus also found that finances were more likely to be an obstacle for women than men (in terms of being able to donate to open-source projects), and that young girls were not being exposed to FOSS software in K-12 education.

Several of those findings mirror research compiled by Teresa Dahlberg, director of the Diversity in Information Technology Institute at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She found that isolation is a key factor for a higher attrition rate in programming jobs among women and minorities.

People tend to associate with "like communities," where people have similar backgrounds and interests, Dahlberg explained in a previous interview. She also cited personal interviews conducted by Carnegie Mellon University where women felt that they had less room for error than men.

The FSF views itself as being in a conundrum, because it has observed that even when young girls have access to technology in the classroom, that "public computers means running proprietary software," according to the report. It suggests inserting open-source software into computer science classes.

The National Science Foundation has found that many women are turned off of computer science in grade school before they understand computing due to the perception that it is an isolating profession.

The Women's Caucus has recommended that steps be taken to highlight women who are already participating by using them to recruit other women within projects and as mentors to other women. Project leaders emphasize participating over competition, using diversity statements to communicate what kinds of behavior are acceptable, and establish paid internships for women, the report says.



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Comments


08/10/2010 04:03:20 AM EST

Has it occurred to anyone that women are simply less interested in this? I mean GOD, why are we not doing this for coal miners? I'm sure there are not enough women in coal mines. We should sponsor them to start working there too. Because right now, it seems like coal mining is "boys' club" By treating women differently, you're also sexist. Reverse discrimination anyone? Women should be treated equally, and prove themselves the same way as their male colleagues. Yes, there will be sexist behaviour by the few sexist bastards, but they are sexist bastards in real life too, there's nothing you can do about it. You can't change their way of thinking anyway, so why bother with them?

Croatiadr. Hannibal Lecter


08/17/2010 01:12:00 PM EST

Thank you for this article. Isolation is indeed a key deterent in women being discouraged from a career in programming. And the other things listed -especially higher standards expected from women. I feel like as a female software engineer people expect me to look something like the Girl with the Dragon tattoo - and be all tough and never make mistakes - if I do it's a testimant to why I shouldn't be there. I've always been skilled and interested in science and engineering from a young age and have a BS degree in Computer Engineering from a nationally ranked university. But not only have I never been encouraged to pursue engineering by family, teachers - I would say I've been downright discouraged "don't you know programmers have to be smart" etc. etc. I figured out these comments stem from people who have issues of their own, but the general attitude gets old. Even in a lot of workplaces, not being invited to lunch when all my (male) coworkers go together or excluded what's going on with projects, company business, just being unfriendly in general.. And comments like the above I'd like to think are just from some random ass, but it defintely represents feedback I've heard again and again... it really gets old. Why do these articles bother people so much? A lot of people are under the impression that women and minorities receive special treatment in underrrepresented fields. It's absolutely NOT true - in fact very much the opposite, there is so much skepticism of my skills and qualifications for no reason. I'm a software engineer because I'm good at what I do and enjoy it - so stop trying to convince me I don't belong here.

United StatesChrissy


08/18/2010 03:47:33 PM EST

"Has it occurred to anyone that women are simply less interested in this?" Yes, and been refuted. Thanks for being the 5,189,342nd person to ask though!

United StatesMackenzie


11/07/2010 06:05:36 AM EST

I haven't met too many female programmers, maybe they are less interested. After all programming is a very laborious job like machining in a metal workshop. Just because there are women programmer in the industry doesn't mean generally they are interested it. Despite lack of female programmers, I'm sure those who are interested are just as good as their male counterpart.

AustraliaGerson


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