Improving Diversity in Open Source

Where are the women in open source software development?

This is a question that’s been asked all too often, and it’s not hard to see why. Numerous statistics have shown women and minorities to be underrepresented in the open source community, a trend that can easily be observed in thousands of projects. Though there have been efforts to improve this situation in several groups, still the underrepresentation presents an obvious and gaping hole in the community.

Why Diversify?

Lack of diversity in open source is a problem because the core ideology behind open source communities is that it’s open to everyone. With the lack of diversity however it’s clear that not everyone can readily participate in open source, and it is therefore not living up to its promise. Diversity is essential to making open source truly effective. With more and diverse open source contributors comes a greater variety of perspectives, which will enable projects to grow and develop faster and encourage new projects to spring up. Welcoming more contributors no matter the gender or background is also key to making project development more sustainable.

Taking the Necessary Steps

To remedy this issue it is necessary for open source groups to first recognize that there is a problem, and that there are steps they can take to solve it. These steps include providing several resources and venues where people of all genders and backgrounds can get involved, establishing a positive and welcoming environment within projects, offering mentorship and maintaining a high level of interaction among contributors. They could also host events and purposefully seek out participants and speakers of diverse backgrounds; provide scholarships and conferences specifically for minority groups; and establish proper codes of conduct. All these contribute to the goal of diversifying the open source community.

So Where Are the Women?

Despite the apparent lack of diversity in open source, a number of movements have already started to pave the way for more women to enter into open source.

One great example of programs that have put in extra effort to improve diversity in open source is Google Summer of Code, which has seen an increase of female participants from 7.1% in 2011 to 12% in 2016. Organizations such as PyLadies and awards like the Women in Open Source Award sponsored by Red Hat also help to put a focus on the role of women in open source.

But there is still a long way to go.

Thousands of open source projects are still lagging in terms of diversity and inclusion, and women themselves have a lot to overcome before they can become leaders in open source. To those women seeking to take their place in open source Denise Dumas and Katrinka McCallum, senior women leaders at Red Hat have the following advice: focus on helping customers solve problems, take on opportunities as they come, and build strong relationships with mentors and colleagues. Red Hat senior outreach specialist Marina Zhurakhinskaya also advises women to grow their skills, step up to leadership positions and most importantly, connect with and follow in the footsteps of other great women in the field. By building a good support network of other women and mentors, women will be better able to take on the challenges of creating a better, more inclusive and diverse open source community.

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[Category: Open Source]