Why We Need the Outreach Program for Women and More Outreach

Thank you to everyone who spoke up in the last few days in support of the Outreach Program for Women. The reason we need to have this program is that there are many challenges women encounter on their path to technology, and by working to address this disadvantage, we not only do the right thing and help women access the rewards of participating in free software, we also get awesome contributors whom we would otherwise have missed. Girls and women are systematically discouraged from exploring technology and from participating in the more hobbyist areas of technology, which are especially male dominated. They don’t typically have the kind of social support or encouragement men do to contribute to free software. By the time they work on their computer science degrees, they often feel behind their male peers in their experience, underestimate their abilities, and are less likely to apply for prestigious programs like Google Summer of Code.

Women often encounter sexist behavior when participating in the free software community. Recent examples from OPW interns include men being surprised about one of them attending a conference and commenting about the appearance of another in a professional context. Here is a quote from the first intern at a recent IRC meeting for interns: “I attended FOSDEM and a couple of guys came to tell me they were surprised to see a girl there… You feel like you’re not supposed to be there, like you’re doing something wrong… So it was nice to have this space here, and feel like I was in the right place.” When an organization posted an article on Facebook about another intern’s impressive work, among many congratulatory messages there were comments about the developer’s appearance. In addition to people speaking up about the inappropriateness of such behavior, support groups for women joining our community can help address the immediate negative feelings after such incidents.

The brilliance and drive of the women we accept for OPW have always left me in awe. To think that, judging by the historical data, they would not have been likely to get involved otherwise and we would not have had their contributions is sad. The program has had 170 interns so far, with 40 of them participating in the current round with 16 free software organizations. We had 122 applicants for this round who worked with a mentor and completed the required contribution. Because of the many outreach efforts, including OPW, the percent of women among GSoC participants increased from 7.1% in 2011 to 9.8% in 2014. OPW encourages women who are students and coders to apply for GSoC as well, and of the ones who applied for both programs at the same time, 26 were accepted to participate in GSoC. An additional 11 OPW participants went on to participate in GSoC in a later round. 13 found employment with sponsoring organizations. 15 gave full session talks at conferences. This is a sizable change, but we are in the beginning of a long road.

The group, including 3 OPW alums and 4 mentors, at the Feminist Hacker Lounge at PyCon 2014.
The group, including 3 OPW alums and 4 mentors, at the Feminist Hacker Lounge at PyCon 2014.

There was only one girl among 40 teenage Google Code-in grand prize winners in the last two years. About 10% of the participants were girls. While OPW is effective in involving college and post-college women in free software, we are set to run the program forever, unless we also start involving high school girls in free software. For the next Google Code-in, I’d like to engage our network of OPW alums, mentors, and supporters in mentoring high school girls in Google Code-in participation. I’d like to invite people to step up to start and lead this effort. The first step would be to form a local group of people to teach workshops similar to OpenHatch’s “Open Source Comes to Campus” at local programming for girls groups, programming camps, or high school CS classes. You would then need to report on your experience and set up the resources for people to replicate it in their locations. The next step after the workshops would be to organize meetups at local libraries for mentoring in ongoing free software contributions and Google Code-in participation. This will be the Outreach Program for Girls.

There are many other groups of people underrepresented in free software – people from the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia; people of color in North America and Europe; people from disadvantaged social-economic backgrounds, people with disabilities. Empowerment and access are the main tenets of free software, and we need to do so much more to involve all these people. As Karen Sandler recently said to me, the current program is incomplete. Once we have a solid financial situation for OPW, we’d like to evolve it into OP-UP – the Outreach Program for Underrepresented People. Lukas Blakk is starting the Ascend Project for Mozilla, which will offer a 6 week course in contributing to free software, complete with financial support, to people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The first course will end in October, and I hope we can open the next round of OPW to graduates of this course as a pilot for OP-UP.

Being the community which fostered OPW and brought many free software organizations together to involve more of humanity in developing free software is earning the GNOME Foundation a lot of credit. It helps more people find out about GNOME and learn about the amazing product and community we have to offer. People notice how polished GNOME is. We went from 985 people contributing for the 3.10 release to 1,140 people contributing for 3.12! We shouldn’t forget how much we have achieved, when we consider what our software is missing or who our community is missing, and continue on to make things better.

21 thoughts on “Why We Need the Outreach Program for Women and More Outreach”

  1. Thanks, Marina.

    I would probably not have ventured outside my work on the Dreamwidth journaling platform into the wider world of F/OSS without the support that the OPW provides. As it is, I don’t just have technical resources and mentorship, although I do have great resources there–I’ve also started to ask my mentor how she’s dealt with the gendered hostility that she’s observed and faced in the field. I have never been able to ask those questions in a professional setting and I am so grateful that I’m in a position to learn and contribute so much this summer. If it weren’t for her, I would not be contributing to this project. Additionally, I would not be able to commit nearly so much time and energy to my development work if I weren’t being paid for the internship.

    The OPW is directly enabling my development work on a F/OSS project that would not have happened otherwise.

  2. So is genuinely being surprised “sexist” now? What are we supposed to do — hypothetically ask the nearest woman/feminist if our reaction/emotion is appropriate, before making it public?

    I’ve got news for you. Being uncomfortable happens. Men are made uncomfortable all the time and mostly take it in their stride. Everyone has to endure outright offence/hostility sometimes. Stop whining every time something makes you slightly uneasy. It’s absolutely pathetic. Society cannot and will not protect your fragile emotions and inability to cope with reality.

    All this outreach program has done so far is fund lonely, single women to sit at home making minor tweaks to some documentation on someone else’s dime.

  3. Thanks for writing such a thorough post about this topic, Marina. It’s important for people to hear the truth about this, and I appreciate your candor. Hopefully in the long run people will begin to understand the situation and think about how their biases have skewed their view of programs like OPW.

  4. Jeff, your comment is as an example of the sexist, ignorant, and offensive responses women often get online.

    Women should not be a cause for surprise at technical conferences. We should and we are making our communities and conferences a friendly environment for everyone with anti-harassment policies and codes of conduct. It’s a double standard that women are seen as “whining”, while men are seen as “speaking up”. There is ample information about the extensive work the program’s participants have done in their blogs.

  5. Marina, thank you for this post. It even goes well with #YesAllWomen and many people reckon (me of course included) what an amazing work you have been done leading OPW and SoC initiatives! recently I was surprised so see some comments of why people do get money for working on documentation (I say people, not women because I like to think ther problem is about people working on documentation and getting money out of it)… It’s like some tasks were superior because they are more difficult or whatever……So i just wanted to point out that we need to outreach also on the importance of these “non-coding” tasks, regardless of whether they are done by a girl of a guy… in addition to fostering women’s participation on free software (of course the two go together)

  6. I’m not a native English speaker, so I hope that I don’t miss any subtleties and I have to excuse for not being able to express myself very subtle – I hope clearness will suffice.

    My experience with women in IT in Germany is, that they’re generally rare. So it is a very normal and reasonable reaction to express surprise, if you meet women on IT conferences. I can speak for coder meetings, for Linux conferences, for women in coder jobs and for a big Ubuntu forum.

    The forum has about 300.000 registered users, most of them male (while the sex isn’t registered, I estimate it from the chosen names and avatars, which might of course be misleading, but I don’t think to a high degree).

    The forum always tried, from the beginning, to be a friendly place and imho it reached this goal – it is a friendly place with respectful behaviour, but it didn’t attract many women. Why is this? How can it be changed? Why should it be changed? Because programmers jobs are well paid jobs, and women are still underpaid, compared to men, but not in the same jobs, but by choosing the lower paid jobs?

    Aren’t programmers jobs often jobs with much extra working hours and with a lot of traveling through the countries? I guess that’s the main reason for women choosing another field of interest, which is better combinable with family life and children. And it can’t be changed by a fixed quota to reach, where women represent 50% of the jobs, like in the whole population. I don’t believe that such programs might help to lift the numbers of women in a reasonable number.

    And I say this while I always enjoy to work with women and would like to see more of them in IT, in programming, in Linux-related stuff.

  7. I had been a “Friend of GNOME” for quite some time. But – honestly – this kind of feminist and LGTBQ lobby work forced me to stop my support. Of course I think women should be treated respectfully and be welcomed in any developer community And yes, if there are cases of sexual harassment at conferences or elsewhere these should be condemned and have consequences for the people involved. Needless to say however that many of the cases had been fabricated by feminist activists (Adriana Richards comes to my mind) to push their agenda by showing women as eternal victims of evil men that need protection and privileges to boost their career.
    So I think it is time to stop this kind of geek feminism lobby work – and not not extend it even further to others. By the way – there is some irony in it that Mozilla now creates a special program for the LGBTQ community shortly after a LGBTQ mob has bullied Brendan Eich and forced him to resign as CEO. If there is a minority at Mozilla that needs encouragement it is the one of white straight males with traditional believes on marriage.

  8. “Outreach Program for Women” is the worst thing for woman. If you think that you are not good enough to do this and you have bad feelings that you are woman. It is your problem not the guys who told you that they are suprised. You should know where you belong not others.

    I am really disgusted that you need some weird outreach program to do what you want.

    WAKE UP GIRLS 😉 We are all only humans. :))

    I wish you luck

  9. Hi Stefan,

    If a woman is attending a conference, it means she is interested in the subject matter, and basing a reaction to her presence on stereotypes about gender is sexist. Also, it reminds the woman about how much she stands out and might make her feel like she doesn’t belong. Here is a great article that goes further in explaining that it’s best not to ask new women in your community how it feels to be one of the few women or whether she can help involve more women, and instead provides the existing resources for learning more and ideas for supporting women. http://adainitiative.org/2014/03/breaking-the-unicorn-law-stop-asking-women-in-open-techculture-about-women-in-open-techculture/

    Programs like this do help raise the number of women participating in free software communities significantly. For example, the Python community is known for strong support of women with PyLadies groups in many cities, special effort being made to invite women speakers to the conferences, financial aid to attend the conferences, codes of conduct for the community and conferences. As a result, the recent PyCon in Montreal had 33% women attendees and speakers, which is a dramatic increase from previous years. You can see more data about the increase in the participation of women in the communities that make outreach efforts at http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/FLOSS#Overview

    There are about 20% women among students receiving computer science degrees in the US and Germany, while there are about 10% women in Google Summer of Code. First, we can involve more women already getting computer science degrees in free software. Second, there are women who were discouraged from participating in technology earlier in their life, but we can interest them in participating now. Contributing to free software is a great way to gain experience in technology. The reason to encourage women to participate in free software is that, first, it’s the right thing to do to make sure our community is expressly welcoming of everyone, and second to grow our community.

    You can work with the Ubuntu Women community to invite more women to partipate in your forum and create content for it. You should make sure to adopt a code of conduct for the forum or explicitly state that Ubuntu’s code of conduct applies to it.

    When both men and women start their careers, there is a long period of time when they don’t have family obligations and can put in extra hours and travel. Having family obligations affects both men and women, and jobs in free software offer a lot of flexibility in terms of being able to work remotely and choose your own hours. While women are also often discouraged from demanding careers, I think the fact that girls and women are discouraged from participating in technology and are further discouraged by the prospect of participating in male-dominated environments are reasons there are few women in technology, not that the careers in technology are more demanding than other careers where women have a greater presence like medicine or law.

  10. Here is a quote from the first intern at a recent IRC meeting for interns: “I attended FOSDEM and a couple of guys came to tell me they were surprised to see a girl there… You feel like you’re not supposed to be there, like you’re doing something wrong… So it was nice to have this space here, and feel like I was in the right place.”

    This is simply ridiculous. There is not enough information about the situation. How do we know these guys weren’t nicely surprised? How do we know the woman did not overreact over nothing? That’s right: we don’t. This is what lawyers call hearsay.

    Giving women equal rights and opportunities _is_ important. But as long as you stick to this sort of questionable political practices, you are going to have a hard time selling this idea to people.

  11. Alex, this quote tells you how the comment made this woman feel, and there is no need to question the validity of that reaction. Supposing that the woman overreacted is one of the many silencing techniques. Please read up on them, and if you want to support women in technology, don’t use them :).


    The comment might have been one of a nice surprise, but this story is meant to illustrate that it’s not a nice thing to do to express nice surprise about a woman being at a conference.

  12. Alex, this quote tells you how the comment made this woman feel, and there is no need to question the validity of that reaction.

    There is every reason to question it. You did not witness the situation, you did not provide the context, you merely extracted some text out of something else and used it to manipulate your readers.

    I’ve read pretty much everything there is to read on geek feminism wiki, so thanks, but no, thanks.

    And no, people overreact to situations on daily basis. It’s part of the thing we call life. Suggesting that I’m doing any sort of silencing is another way to shut up people who support fair balance between genders, but question your methods.

    Do not expect people to follow you blindly. Some _will_ question the way you do things, even if you do them for the right cause.

  13. Also, speaking of your methods, go to http://gnome.org/opw/ and https://wiki.gnome.org/OutreachProgramForWomen (yes, actually do that, please) and try to find any actual information about what’s been done as part of the OPW program.

    In all this excitement about OPW you _appear to_ have either forgotten or ignored the idea that what people expect is _results_.

    Have OPW interns contributed actual code that’s been used? Link to it.

    Have OPW interns contributed designs? Show them.

    Have OPW interns contributed marketing materials? List them.

    In my line of work (marketing, journalism) I don’t trust people who claim to have done something without actually showing it, and I don’t expect any person with half the brain to do otherwise.

    Right now the impression you are making is that you talk a lot, but if I needed to see the actual results of the OPW program all neatly collected and presented (few examples I know of don’t amount to that), I’d have to do collection and presentation myself, harvesting blogs, Git repos and so on. That is, to do someone else’s work.


  14. Alex, I provided a quote from someone about their experience. This is a common experience too, and I used the quote to relate to my readers that it is a reaction women encounter, that this reaction is sexist, and it makes women uncomfortable.

    The interns are required to blog every two weeks about their work. The blogs of the interns of the current round are linked to at http://gnome.org/opw/ . Section “Previous Participants” on https://wiki.gnome.org/OutreachProgramForWomen/ says that people can find our about the interns’ accomplishments by following the links. Rounds 1-5 have summaries of the accomplishments written up, and I plan to compile the summaries for rounds 6 and 7 this summer. I always retweet the posts about the accomplishments of the interns that individual organizations publish as @fossopw . I will look into more ways to draw attention to the accomplishments of the interns.

  15. Hi Marina,

    Possibly the gnome.org/opw site could include a ‘Blog’ link in the top navbar. The blog could simply include links to all the intern OPW-related blog posts, tagged by participating organization and individual project. If the blog also included posts by non-interns, then these posts should be tagged with something like ‘intern.’

    I don’t raise this point to suggest that you need to ‘prove’ something to any of the commentors, but rather because quickly you will have an excellent resource that students and other beginners can look to for advice and inspiration.

    OPW is a great opportunity. I really appreciate GNOME’s efforts to do something to make the developer community more representative of the human community.

  16. Thanks for the idea, Katherine! We already include links to the interns’ blogs in the Participants section. I’ll think about how we can add a link to the Women in Free Software planet, where the interns’ posts are aggregated with an OPW logo. http://planeteria.org/wfs/

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