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“Happy Pony” openSUSE?

September 22nd, 2011 by

At the openSUSE conference last week, Lydia Pintscher from the KDE Community Working Group led a BoF on “women in openSUSE”. This is what we (Stella, Bruno, Lydia, Pascal, Susanne, Greg) worked out:

There are very few women in openSUSE for a variety of reasons. In our perceiption, despite the good efforts of moderators on IRC, forums and mailing-lists, some attitudes there still persist, and we believe these are a key issue that keeps women away. To further address this as a small group, we decided to start at just one place, opensuse-project@. Here’s why and how:

There is quite some research on why there is so few “women in FLOSS” in general. One of the recurring topics there, and one that we also quickly came to in the BoF, was the ‘flaming’, or more generally, the negative possibilities of the direct, unfiltered yet anonymous communication on IRC, forums and mail.

We all value the speed and positive directness of those forms of communication — however it’s cutting off facial expression and physical reaction. So it’s very easy to miss the tone, without even noticing. To more sensitive souls, this is creating a barrier of entry that especially women do not want to cross, or if it hits you unprepared, will reject you, often with no return. Nota bene: this effect is not limited to women! It just happens to reject women more than men.

What’s going on there? On one side there is newcomers wanting to learn, and with a great potential to contribute, however with a “thin skin”, an expectation of being treated with respect and politeness, whatever that means. On the other side, there are knowledgeable people, often young, sometimes unpatient, maybe tired, frustrated themselves. Now the former ask naive questions while the latter “shoot out” a quick response without any visual feedback on what happens right after they hit the “send” button. Kazoom! And the frustration results into discussions that quickly are far beyond the original topic, frustrating, unproductive and the opposite of what we want: respect and getting things done.

openSUSE, like many other open source projects, has set the direction for mutual respect by working out Guiding Principles, and making members accept these. The openSUSE project Board is forming a body of volunteers who “enforce” these rules, something like the Community Working Group in the KDE project. The objective is to focus the speed and directness of the communication on productivity: turn the flaming energy of frustrations into creative energy that makes openSUSE a place to enjoy and to contribute to!

We, the BoF participants, want to simply support that effort, by working on just one list (opensuse-project@), and by providing additional material that complements the very high level goals set forth in the guiding principles.

Stay tuned :-)

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6 Responses to ““Happy Pony” openSUSE?”

  1. Another important aspect, which came up pretty quickly during the BOF, is that it isn’t just about “women in openSUSE” (even though it is quite obviously a topic that deserves a lot of focus).

    It applies to anyone who puts the atmosphere of the project (i.e. how the people in the project interact) higher than others, and higher than other criteria (such as technical quality, lack of limitations and hierarchy, etc…).

    That seems to apply a lot more often to women, but is definitely not limited to women.

    • Susanne Oberhauser

      yes, indeed, thx for pointing this out:

      During the BoF, we realized, a low female participation here is just a symptom of an underlying challenge: a way of dealing with newcomers and their ‘dumb’ questions asked ‘at the wrong place’, and a way of dealing with non-technical topics or less tech-savvy people.

  2. And, by the way, thanks for summarizing ! :)

  3. Gregory Zysk

    +1 @Pascal

    It is about the health and overall environment of openSUSE. We need to make it a fun and effective place for all contributors, both men and women, old and young and from every culture. This is where we can and will make the difference ;-)

    @ Susanne Thanks for the summary Susanne, it was a great pleasure to meet and work with you and look forward to further discussions and coordination on attracting and retaining women in openSUSE. I think if you give Stella a push, we can start a discussion, as she seemed very interested in continuing the discussion Lydia started in the BoF :-)

    • Susanne Oberhauser

      Greg, I’ll gladly see where I can support the effort of a community council / community working group if it emerges. As said above, the challenge here is not the technology being attractive to women: the IT industry has ~30% female techies. The challenge is about the fine points of FLOSS communication. Addressing this will in itself open the doors to people who have higher expectations wrt respect.

  4. Maxim

    There are many reasons. Not only ‘flaming’.

    Imagine an open source project with 1000 male contributors. You have only ~30% female contributors maybe because of less interest in IT. Then you have another ~30% because of potentially smaller salary. Then you have ~30% because in most cultures women have much less spare time to work on project (cooking, cleaning, children and so on). And then you have ~30% because of ‘flaming’.

    As a result: 1000 * 0.3 * 0.3 * 0.3 * 0.3 = ~8.

    It’s very positive estimation yet, I must say. There are many other conditions, not only specifically to FOSS…