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Being a woman in an open source community

Jul - 30 - 2009
Nicole C. Engard

Yesterday I read this awesome post by Kirrily Robert about being a woman in open source. This post is a summary of her talk from OSCON about standing out in open source as a woman.

So what does it feel like to be a woman in open source? Jono Bacon, at the Community Leadership Summit on the weekend, said — addressing the guys in the room — that if you want to know what it’s like to be a woman in open source, go and get your nails done at a salon. He did this a week or so back, and when he walked into the salon he realised he was the only man there, and felt kind of out of place.

Another example someone suggested is walking into a sports bar on game night wearing the wrong team’s jersey. It can be the most friendly sports bar in the universe, but you’re still going to feel pretty awkward.

So as a woman in open source, it can be a bit like that. You walk into a space, and you feel like you stand out. And there’s enormous pressure to perform well, in case any mistake you make reflects on everyone of your gender.

I haven’t felt this way in the Koha community – which says something great about the people involved in Koha – but I do sometimes feel like I know less than the others on the project because I can’t program in Perl and submit substantial patches. One way Kirrily recommends making women and community members in general feel welcome is to thanks them for even the smallest of contributions – once again – something I have seen done in the Koha community plenty of times!!

Value all contributions.

Large or small, code or docs or bug reports or organisational tasks. All are valuable to your project. Say “thank you”. You don’t have to be the project leader to do this; anyone can do it, and it makes a big difference.

The entire post is well worth reading even if you think your project is creating all participants equally.


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