The value gained by groups like the Women of OpenStack

The Women of OpenStack talk outreach, education, and mentoring

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In the open source world, a women-only event seems counter-intuitive. Yet I am finding reasons for such events the more I attend them.

At the OpenStack Summit, a twice-a-year event where OpenStack contributors get together to plan the next release, the Women of OpenStack group has set up events where we invite the women first. Men aren't excluded, but our hope is to get more OpenStack women together. I can hardly capture the value of getting together with other women in OpenStack at the Summit, but here goes.

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Why do we get together apart from the rest of the conference?

We have a couple of themes for our meetups. We talk about outreach to more women, especially in education as early as elementary school and definitely through college. Also, we meet our GNOME Outreach Program for Women interns in person for the first time! That’s a huge reason for these in-person gatherings: getting to know each other personally. But we also want to find concrete ways to make our meetings meaningful, so we talk about a few tracks for our goals: outreach, education, career planning, and mentoring. We come up with ideas for our goals, and we keep discussing them at each Summit. It’s like a design summit session for women of OpenStack. And, in between Summits we stay in touch via LinkedIn.

We look for speaking opportunities for women in the cloud. We have held workshops geared towards outreach to women, introducing lots of technical women to OpenStack. For example, this past year Iccha Sethi, Jessica Lucci, and I ran a workshop at the Grace Hopper Open Source Day, and Anita Kuno, Lyz Krumbach Joseph, and Ryan Lane ran a CodeChix workshop. We generally forge the bonds that hold together a common minority by talking about schools, parenting, gin as a vegetable, shoes, traveling wardrobes, and how does this OpenStack Neutron plug-in work, anyway?

We get to know each other. I sat down across from a woman who mentioned she works at IBM in Austin. I said, "Oh, I work at Rackspace in Austin." She said, "Where do you live?" I said, "Oh, in northwest Austin." She said, "Wait, where do you live!?" As it turns out, we both have fourth graders who go to the same neighborhood school! It’s a small world with tight connections in Austin for high-tech women. It seems impossible with the numbers game we’d know each other’s schools, streets, neighborhoods, and so on, but in reality we’re rare enough birds of a feather that it is natural for us to get together and get know each other well. We can talk about families, parenting, all in a technology setting, without any concerns for: "Is it okay to talk about this here?" We are glad to share. There are so few of us that we need to be diligent about our outreach and staying connected.

This year we had a question at the OpenStack Summit related to under representation of minorities in a panel with the OpenStack Technical Committee. I couldn't quite gather my thoughts to talk about it on the panel, but I blogged about it later because it's vitally important as we grow as a community. We need to be hyper-vigilant about impostor syndrome, uncovered by researchers who found that many high-achieving females believe they are not intelligent and that others over-evaluate them. Believe me, I have to fake it to make it daily. This is part of the reality of questioning whether you belong in open source, whether you have leadership potential, and whether you have the technical chops.

Our culture as a community may reward the most confident, but in reality as we grow as a community it’s important to understand that some cultures do not view confidence in the same way, and some people do not naturally exude confidence. We’re also looking at English-as-a-second-language (ESL) increasing in prevalence in our community, and a former Outreach Program for Women intern, Anita Kuno, recently edited our Technical Committee charter to be gender-neutral. These efforts matter. These gatherings give us a chance to question the normal in a safe arena. We are also able to track numbers of women attending OpenStack Summits. We won't know if we're improving if we don't track it, and we can't improve if we don't start somewhere.

The best way I can think to describe why it matters for women to network with other women is there's an establishment of trust, that this community is also your community. We don't tend to walk into a room full of all-women in open source events. More often you walk into a room, try to figure out just where to sit, try to find someone else you recognize and can talk to, and see if you know any regulars from other areas. With small networks of women in open source, my vision is that we'll walk into the room and just know we belong. Then we won't ask questions like: "How can we get more women in open source?" We'll ask: "How can we get more people in open source?"



View the complete collection of Women in Open Source Week articles.


About the author

Anne Gentle - Anne Gentle works in open source projects with the OpenStack project at Rackspace, using open source techniques for API design and documentation. She ensures the site contains relevant and accurate documentation for 20 projects written in Python across 130 git repositories.