Women and Mozilla!
(for a French translation of this post, please visit Julia's Blog. Julia is a French contributor -and soon intern!- at Mozilla. Thanks Julia, you rock!)
Since I arrived in Mozilla last year, it has been impossible not to notice that women's presence is almost non-existent among the community, the employees, and in Mozilla and Free Software events. So I started wondering about this, and did a bit of research on women's implication in the FLOSS world.
The numbers I found astounded me: only 2% of women work in FLOSS communities, against more than 25% in proprietary software. In the development field, numbers are even lower: the percentage of Open Source women developers falls down to almost 1% (European Commission FLOSSPOL 2002-2005)
From that point on, I started wondering: Why? What are the reasons for this? And should Mozilla do anything about it?
I thought all these questions over, and made some more research. That's when I realized that many FLOSS projects already had women's groups: Ubuntu Women, PHP Women, GNOME Women, DrupalChix, and many others.
So I took the opportunity at the Paris Ubuntu party to give a conference about this. I wanted to engage a discussion with the audience, in order to gather their ideas and points of view about women's involvement and visibility in Mozilla as well as in other FLOSS projects.
Here is a summary of what I talked about:
Women's implication and visibility in Mozilla and FLOSS
* Only 2% women in FLOSS communities vs. 25% in proprietary software
* Slight increase in number of women since 2000, but too slow to be really noticeable yet
Famous examples of women in FLOSS
* Mitchell Baker (Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation, and who recently won this year's "Women of Vision Awards" delivered by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology).
Mitchell published a post a while ago precisely about women in open source and the Mozilla Project.
* Satoko Takita (Chair of the Board of Directors, Mozilla Japan)
* Women's groups: Ubuntu Women, DrupalChix, PHP Women, etc.
What about Mozilla?
* There is no "Mozilla Women's Group"
* Idea = instead of creating another women's group and dividing things up even more, maybe we should create a meeting point where women / men / existing women's group / anyone interested by project can join. This could be a mailing list, forum, blog, IRC channel ...
* More women also means more potential contribution in FLOSS communities and in Mozilla
reasons why women don't participate as much in FLOSS
* Seems very technical on first approach, even if things have evolved a lot in last couple of years. General public (so both women and men) tends to think that Open Source softwares demand technical skills
* Discrimination (sexist jokes, repeated flirting, stereotyped approach of their computer-skills)
Hey, just as an example: check out what happens if you search for "girls linux" in Google (same thing happens in French, in case you're wondering), or again if you mistype LinuxChix (linuxchicks, I'll remember that one! ...)
However, when you type "girls mac/macintosh", "girls windows" or "girls maths", the first 10 answers aren't links with naked girls (and ridiculous fake Tux tattoos added with GIMP or Photoshop) ... I'm wondering if this doesn't reflect something?
* Communities are mainly composed of men. Therefore, women tend to approach them less naturally
Why a "women's project"?
* Online and software society is a product of its participants
* If there are too many men : this (consciously or not) finally reflects in product. And product probably won't attract women
* In order for the Web and computing to become even more open, and more representative of the entire population
Questions to the audience
* How can we incite more women to participate in FLOSS projects?
* What keeps you (women) from participating?
* How can we help women integrate an overly masculine field?
* In your opinion, is there something missing, and that could explain such a low feminine participation?
The audience gave great feedback, and a few people gave their opinion on all these questions.
Reactions ranged from one "extreme" to the other: from the very feminist position, to the "we shouldn't do anything, I don't think there's even a problem" one. I must say that I feel in between the two: something should be done, but I don't think we should start a "women's only group". It would be great if it could stay something open in all senses. Women's group already exist, why start yet another one that might end up dividing us even more?
When I hear things like "*All* the girls I know just want their computers to turn on when they press the power button -and that's it. There's no need for a women's project in computing", that just proves to me that something should be done.
So if you think the same -or not!- please feel free to leave your comments and feedback here. I'm really curious to know what you think, in order to create a project that will make as much sense as possible.
Some pictures of the conference at the Paris Ubuntu party:
Picture taken by Maurice Svay
Picture taken by Maurice Svay