Open source software is a great enabler for technology innovation. Diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth. Open source and diversity seem like the ultimate winning combination, yet ironically open source communities are among the least diverse tech communities. This is especially true when it comes to inherent diversity: traits such as gender, age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
It is hard to get a true picture of the diversity of our communities in all the various dimensions. Gender diversity, by virtue of being noticeably lacking and more straight forward to measure, is the starting point and current yardstick for measuring diversity in tech communities.
For example, it is estimated that around 25% of all software developers are women, but only 3% work in free and open software. These figures are consistent with my personal experience working in open source for over 10 years.
Even when individuals in the community are doing their best (and I have worked with many who are), it seems to make little difference. And little has changed in the last ten years. However, we are, as a community, starting to have a better understanding of some of the factors that maintain this status quo, things like unconscious bias or social graph and privilege problems.
In order to overcome the gravity of these forces in open source, we need combined efforts that are sustained over the long term and that really work. There is no better example of how diversity can be improved rapidly in a relatively short space of time than the Python community. PyCon 2011 consisted of just 1% women speakers. Yet in 2014, 33% of speakers at PyCon were women. Now Python conferences regularly lay out their diversity targets and how they intend to meet them.
What did it take to make that dramatic improvement in women speaker numbers? In her great talk at PyCon 2014, Outreach Program for Women: Lessons in Collaboration, Marina Zhurakhinskaya outlines the key ingredients:
- The importance of having a Diversity Champion to spearhead the changes over the long term; in the Python community Jessica McKellar was the driving force behind the big improvement in diversity figures
- Specifically marketing to under-represented groups; for example, how GNOME used outreach programs, such as Outreachy, to market to women specifically
We know diversity issues, while complex are imminently fixable. In this way, open source foundations can play a huge role in the sustaining efforts to promote initiatives. Are other open source communities also putting efforts into diversity? To find out, we asked a few open source foundation leaders:
How does your foundation promote diversity in its open source community?
Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation:
"The Eclipse Foundation is committed to promoting diversity in its open source community. But that commitment does not mean that we are satisfied with where we are today. We have a long way to go, particularly in the area of gender diversity. That said, some of the tangible steps we've taken in the last couple of years are: (a) we put into place a Community Code of Conduct that covers all of our activities, (b) we are consciously recruiting women for our conference program committees, (c) we are consciously looking for women speakers for our conferences, including keynotes, and (d) we are supporting community channels to discuss diversity topics. It's been great to see members of our community step up to assume leadership roles on this topic, and we're looking forward to making a lot of progress in 2017."
Abby Kearns, executive director for the Cloud Foundry:
"For Cloud Foundry we promote diversity in a variety of ways. For our community, this includes a heavy focus on diversity events at our summit, and on our keynote stage. I'm proud to say we doubled the representation by women and people of color at our last event. For our contributors, this takes on a slightly different meaning and includes diversification across company and role."
Chris Aniszczyk, COO of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation:
"The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) is a very young foundation still, and although we are only one year old as of December 2016, we've had promoting diversity as a goal since our inception. First, every conference hosted by CNCF has diversity scholarships available, and there are usually special diversity lunches or events at the conference to promote inclusion. We've also sponsored "contribute your first patch" style events to promote new contributors from all over. These are just some small things we currently do. In the near future, we are discussing launching a Diversity Workgroup within CNCF, and also as we ramp up our certification and training programs, we are discussing offering scholarships for folks from under-representative backgrounds."
Additionally, Cloud Native Computing Foundation is part of the Linux Foundation as a formal Collaborative Projects (along with other foundations, including Cloud Foundry Foundation). The Linux Foundation has extensive Diversity Programs and as an example, recently partnered with the Girls In Tech not-for-profit to improve diversity in open source. In the future, the CNCF actively plans to participate in these Linux Foundation wide initiatives as they arise.
For open source to thrive, companies need to foster the right environment for innovation. Diversity is a big part of this. Seeing open source foundations making the conscious decision to take action is encouraging. Dedicated time, money, and resources to diversity is making a difference within communities, and we are slowly but surely starting to see the effects. Going forward, communities can collaborate and learn from each other about what works and makes a real difference.
If you work in open source, be sure to ask and find out what is being done in your community as a whole to foster and promote diversity. Then commit to supporting these efforts and taking the steps toward making a real difference. It is exciting to think that the next ten years might be a huge improvement over the last 10, and we can start to envision a future of truly diverse open source communities, the ultimate winning combination.