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.

Let’s Make Big Strides

I recently became an advisor for the Ada Initiative and I have been a proud donor since it was founded by Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner two and a half years ago to enable full-time work to promote participation of women in open technology and culture. As someone who is also working on increasing participation of women in Free Software, I know it’s an area we can make dramatic progress in in a few years, but it takes a focused and full-time effort to make this change.

Supporting and reaching out to women and other underrepresented groups is essential for extending the opportunities Free Software provides to more people and making our software better. This year, there were 41 women among 230 GUADEC attendees, which is 18% women attendees. Four years ago, there were 8 women among 160 attendees, or 5%. People often comment that it feels more natural that there are more women participating in the conference. I think it feels that way not only because the tone of the conference changes when more women are present, but also because it feels good to know that a whole segment of population is no longer staying out.

Women's dinner at GUADEC

This pent up demand is being echoed in other communities participating in the Outreach Program for Women. The Wikimedia Foundation has 7 women participating in its Google Summer of Code, while they have only ever had one woman participate before. The Linux Kernel had 39 Outreach Program for Women applicants, 11 of whom landed 148 patches during the application process, and 7 of whom were accepted for the program.

The Ada Initiative helps make conferences a friendlier environment for everyone, connects women and allies with its blog and AdaCamps, and helps fight the impostor syndrome which affects many women in technology. I have learned a lot from the Ada Initiative blog, used it as a platform to reach Outreach Program for Women applicants, and met new Outreach Program for Women mentors and coordinators at AdaCamps.

Camille Acey and myself at AdaCamp DC
Camille Acey and myself at AdaCamp DC

A post on the Ada Initiative blog about Courtney Stanton’s effort to attract women speakers to a game conference she organized taught me that even once women are participating in the community, they are hesitant to present at conferences and some encouragement can go a long way. With a supportive e-mail and some brainstorming, we brought the number of women who presented at GUADEC this year to 10, or 21% of speakers, compared to only 4, or 7%, last year.

The size of the strides we can make in increasing the inclusiveness of Free Software depends directly on the financial support the Ada Initiative receives during its current fundraising campaign, which will enable it to plan the breadth of its activities for the next year. Please join me in ensuring we keep making big strides.

Reaching out Together

Applications for the new round of the Outreach Program for Women internships are open, and now the program includes not one, not two, but ten participating organizations! The participating organizations are: Deltacloud, Fedora, GNOME, JBoss, Mozilla, Open Technology Institute, OpenITP, OpenStack, Tor, and Wikimedia. The application deadline is December 3, and the internships will take place from January 2 to April 2.

Outreach Program for Women Flyer

Needless to say I’m very excited about this expanded effort and keen to see how it works out. Big thank you to Karen Sandler for the original idea to include multiple organizations in this effort, which she shared with me first time we ever talked on the phone, and for all the work she has done to make it possible! Thank you to Bradley Kuhn from the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) and to Jessica McKellar from the SFC’s Twisted project for being our first partnering organization last round and helping us figure out how to scale up from one to two. Thank you to Sumana Harihareswara for committing to have Wikimedia participate in the internships and with that putting the wheels in motion for planning this round. She inexplicably thinks it was she who buttonholed me about this at the Google Summer of Code mentors summit, but I came looking to talk to her. Thank you to coordinators and mentors from all the other organizations who joined and are making this happen! Thank you to Máirín Duffy and Barbara Muraus, who updated our program flyer and cartoon, respectively! Thank you to Red Hat for supporting my work on this and committing to sponsor seven internships for the program!

Finally, the biggest thank you to the GNOME community – to all the mentors and past interns and everyone who helped – for being the first adopter of this program and showing it can run successfully!

We still need your help! Although now we have a mentors list with 44 awesome GNOME mentors whom interns can turn to for project ideas, it would be helpful if you added the ideas you have and are willing to mentor to the ideas list for this round. You can also help spread the word about this round by using the prepared e-mail, flyer, or social network updates from our spread the word page or personally encouraging someone to apply.

If your company is able to sponsor one or more internships, either for GNOME or other organizations, it would be really helpful. Each organization only has 1-3 internship spots funded at the moment. Please let Karen and me know if you can help.

We are planning to have another round in the summer, so if your organization would like to join the program then, please come talk to us too.