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Where are the Free Software Women?

Today I found an excellent small website about the gender imbalance in Free software. There's been a lot about the topic on the linux/free software news sites too.

Large parts of the free software community are rather hostile towards women, as unfortunately is usual in communities with a huge male majority. Which then prevents the community from becoming balanced because it will be unattractive to women.

I think it is odd the proprietary software industry is closer to gender balance. Aren't people who care a lot about freedom supposed to be more friendly to others who are different from them in any way?

Perhaps the difference is caused by the strong connection between hobby computing and Free software. Not everyone who has an IT job also likes to tinker with computers in their spare time, although probably the majority does have that hobby. For some reason it is a typical male hobby... I don't really understand why. So with more spare time programmers involved, it makes sense there are less women involved in Free software.

Another possible cause for the difference is the image of the Free software community being a resistance movement (against microsoft), which is of course nonsense, but half the community thinks it's true and so does almost everyone outside it. Resistance movements are more attractive to young men than they are to young women. Why? I've noticed most women just won't get as angry about microsoft as men will, but I wouldn't know if this has to do with testosterone or with those women being less informed because of not being part of the Free software community. Anyway I still think being angry at microsoft is a very poor reason for joining the community.

So what are we going to do about this gender imbalance? Labeling projects as friendly to women (or any other group) isn't going to help, because it will imply all the unlabeled projects are NOT friendly. Live in the ghetto or fear being discriminated... not a great choice, is it?

I think we need to make more clear to everyone what Free software really is about. It's not a bunch of geeks who have trying to kill some company by giving away an imitation product for free. It's a community of nice people who want to get things done, who will write their own software if needed, and who don't want to be prevented from helping each other. Maybe that will help, and if it doesn't, it will still be an improvement in other ways.

original article (with CC-BY license)


Quote: Resistance movements


Resistance movements are more attractive to young men than they are to young women.

I find that quite wrong in real life. In personal experience I find that young women can be very opinionated. A good few of my female friends hate major corporations that do basically the same stuff as MS. When you educate them about the evil doing of MS they often do turn around and say they are wrong.
However my hate for MS is near enough non-existent, I don't think of FOSS as a fighting front to defeat Microsoft. Though I know some 'high up' people do think that..

You're right, I guess.


You're right, I guess. However all the things we hear about "fighting" and "killing" proprietary software do come from angry young men. Call me sexist, but I don't think that is a coincidence. Women tend to get involved in more, er, serious movements.

I think the easy win is to


I think the easy win is to emphasise the "for the children" aspect of what the work is about.

Child bearers place pinnacular priority on raising offspring to make it in life, all we have to do is describe how the free software movement is trying to give their miracles more choices whereas the proprietary/patent lobby are trying to shut down opportunities.

That tack has worked a treat for me on several occasions.

I would like to note that


I would like to note that argument does not only work for women who have or want children, but for anyone who gives a damn about what the world will be like in the somewhat less near future.

Absolutely true of course. I


Absolutely true of course.

I failed to mention that the first thing I usually do is ask questions and listen, find out what people care about. Once you know the button to push it's a case of showing how free software is on their side in whatever that is.

Education won't do everything


I can only say I'm flattered that is given such a spotlight, since I'm the author :-)

AndrewB and democrates, I think "education" just cannot be a complete enough answer. My experience is that it's such a vast process that it's extremely hard to change. Even if, say, we change the school curriculum, we are still left with countless other hugely influencing factors, including things like teacher behavior & decision, the parents' attitude (extremely varied), the kids' behavior during recess, advertising on TV, etc, all intertwined . So we cannot simply say "let's change education" - it's akin to say "let's change society"!. What's more, it'll take 10 years before it makes a real difference in our community. That's a very long time to wait...

I laid out more "general" thoughts on the problem in my blog.

Thanks for the link, and what an important subject!


Excellent blog, it's clear a


Excellent blog, it's clear a lot of thought has gone on prior to the postings.

I've had two diametrically opposite experiences of gender balance in IT.

As a technician maintaining a telephone exchange there was less than 1% women in the grade, less going back further. The two in the class I trained with got awful stick, comment about positive discrimination and endless repetition of any mistake, especially from the poorest male performers in the class. Maybe I was out of line there. Joking, I was on great terms with them both so often had the job of facing down the idiots.

As for the complaints about "taking a mans job", one left to raise a family after a few years, and I lost touch with the other lass. But I moved on from that job too to work as a systems analyst doing mainframe development and maintenance. Only one guy gave stick about that "too high too fast" but shut up when I reminded him all these jobs are open to everyone, so long as they can do them, and they're not life sentences "and sure why don't you have a go?"...

Anyway, women were at about 50/50 in the mainframe area. I worked directly with one as a peer and another was a boss for a while. Nothing was lacking on the technical side, indeed the local guru was a 50+ single woman, Ireland's answer to Grace Hopper. For a few weeks, one young woman I shared an office with was in tears every other morning after a phone call, her marriage was breaking up and I shudder to think what toxic sludge he was troweling out to leave her in that state. But she still did her job and stayed friendly as usual. Most admirable.

When it comes to community work helping young and old, the women are by far in the majority. There's no lack of care.

So technically able, and caring, seems an ideal fit for foss. Maybe the two biggest turn-offs are the likes of me spitting bullets about the latest outrage on the campaigning/discussion side, and the rtfm/"that's illogical" atmosphere within and between some projects. Is "be nice" it?

What's stopping women *starting* more projects? Maybe a "Grace Hopper Award" for women in the google summer of code each year would garner interest, sponsored by the Dixie Chicks or Oprah or what not. Just a thought, maybe something more interesting will dawn on me later.

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