All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary

A bit of Rush lyrics:

“All I know is that sometimes you have to wary – ’cause sometimes the target is you”

My only editorial on the run of public scrutiny on the GNOME Foundation.

I’ve had the great opportunity to engage with the community these past couple of days.  Once we got past the concerns of the financial health of the GNOME Foundation, discussions focused to the GNOME’s support of the OPW program.  It’s easy to dismiss these interactions as misogyny and I tried not to fall into the trap because if you do you’re missing out on the opportunity to listen.  I was listening even while defending OPW.

There is a lot of resentment towards outreach programs like OPW that target a specific demographic and that it is a sexist program because it focuses on giving internships to one gender at the expense of the other.  I think it is a mistake to think this way. That’s not the point of OPW.   OPW is an incentive based program, and the idea is that we pay for a highly motivated and talented individuals who are capable of doing the work we want them to do while at the same time add their collective experience and perspective to the organization.  With a little luck, they might like the environment they work and will want to continue on.  What is the benefit of adding women to what has culturally been a male dominated environment?  An increase in openness.  Adding people who are different than you ultimately changes the culture of the organization you’re participating in.  It’s that cultural change that we want.  By accommodating woman we add the sum of their experiences to the collective whole.  The act of valuing and understanding that experience makes us more open.  Some may mourn the loss of male comraderie by adding women, but they would miss out on something wonderful and unique.  It isn’t a loss, it’s a transition.

When an organization participates in OPW, we hope that it is because they honestly believe that they want the change the culture of their organization and become more open and more welcoming.  OPW’s effect on the GNOME Project has been quite profound.  We’ve come a long way from when Telsa Gwynne left the project due to the attitudes of the GNOME developers.  It was one of the few times that really disapointed me about GNOME.  A Free Software conference like GUADEC with about 20% women participation is a great accomplishment.  We need to continue working on retention rates and improving them and continue to give challenging projects to not just our OPW students, past and present but to everyone who wants to volunteer and support GNOME with their time, experience, and expertise.  Those who were OPW students, we hope will come back and help mentor both men and women and create the model for other organizations to follow.

In my discussions, both recently and in the past several folks have remarked on some organizations and conferences that try to support women by holding women only events or workshops at conferences and other gatherings.  OPW’s strength is that the program brings in women to the organization.  It however does not encourage further subdivision by creating women only events within the GNOME project but encourages interaction as equals.  If you are an organization that organizes such events then I implore you to choose a different path.  It isn’t diversity if you create women only events and likely leads to resentment by men.  I remember in one discussion, a man was eager to attend a workshop on Android development that looked really interesting and was crushed to find that the event was women only.  If organizers feel that women are uncomfortable enough that they need women only events to interact within the organization, then something has gone wrong.  At GUADEC, there was a BOF I think on OPW, it was attended by all women, until they realized that there were no men attending.  They went out and found asked men to join the discussion.  I was one of those men, and it turned into a very active and spirited discussion because each gender brought their own experience to the discussion making the feedback that much more valuable.  It was a lot of fun.

My last comment is that programs like OPW should never be used in perpuity.  At some point, you need some clear indicators that you’ve changed the culture for the better and that it is sustaining.  High retention rates, collegial interactions, and the organization is attracting women without the need of the program are good indications that you participating in OPW has been a success and you should declare victory!

In closing, there have been many comments that can be construed as misogyny, but we should be patient and prove that programs like OPW are worth having and worth supporting even if we get into trouble from time to time doing it.

Thanks for reading.

* My comments are my own, and I take responsiblity for them and no one else.  Just taking in the spirit of the Rush lyrics mentioned above. :D

3 Responses to “All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary”

  1. Sarah Sharp says:

    Sri, I respectfully disagree with you on the importance of women-only events and women-only spaces. They are necessary for the retention of current contributors, and as a way to attract new contributors. Let me leave you with a link:

    https://blog.mozilla.org/it/2013/03/29/when-i-moved-abroad/

  2. liam says:

    Well considered article.
    I think you’ve turned me from ambivalent to supportive of opw. I still think the gf managed things poorly with regards to funds.
    In the future I’d like to see similar efforts directed to our lgbt community.

  3. sri says:

    Sure, you should beat us up if we are doing a poor job and clearly in this case we could have done better. The OPW supports every woman, either gendered women or people who see themselves as women. We don’t have one for gay unfortunately. Outreach programs require someone to step up and run the program.