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Finding Oodles of Adas

by deborah Contributions Published on Mar 24, 2010 12:09 PM
My thoughts on the Women's Caucus we held on Sunday and a few of the inspiring women who participated.

This weekend the Free Software Foundation hosted our annual LibrePlanet conference. We added a Women's Caucus this year, building on the mini-summit we held last year. There's been a lot of talk about the FLOSSPOLS research, particularly the number showing that the free software community is less than 2% women. Obviously that number isn't going to get us where we need to go as a freedom movement that seeks to procure freedom for all computer users.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. It's a day for highlighting women in technology who are doing great work. As a nerdy, sci-fi reader with a soldering iron, I am a fan of women in technology. I'm also a free software activist, so I like to take these kinds of opportunities to highlight women who are doing great work in my own community. That 2% figure might give you the impression that I'd be hard pressed to find someone to write about. Or that everyone in free software would end up writing about the same few women. The opposite is true.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to meet many women who are doing important and inspiring work in the free software community. I also got to catch up with women I already know and hear them speak about an issue they feel passionately about -- increasing the number of women participating in free software.

Selena Deckelmann is a Postgres superwoman and a community organizing whirlwind. She presented this weekend on how to give presentations at technical conferences and shared 50 ways you can contribute to a free software project without writing code. In her home city of Portland, she is known as a user group guru and a good source of information re: free lunches for geeks. She's also been known to use free software to fix a rigged election in Nigeria -- I can't think of a better demonstration of using your powers for good.

Denise Paolucci spoke about the amazing work they have done over at Dreamwidth to create a welcoming space for contributors and developers, no matter who they are, and especially women. Seventy-five percent of Dreamwidth's developers are women. Their very thorough Diversity Statement has been picked up and used by many other projects. Denise stressed that recognition and positive reinforcement are extremely successful motivators and crucial for retaining new contributors. Dreamwidth offers a place for writers and artists to share their thoughts with as much or as little privacy as they want, and they are doing it with free software. Thanks for all your work, Denise!

Erinn Clark does packaging work for Tor and is the founder of Debian Women. She recounted how women often just needed a little reassurance that it is OK to screw up sometimes after which they were ready to start contributing. For those who don't know, Tor allows you to search the web anonymously. Tor usage is high in places where censorship is intense, so Tor allows people in places like China and Iraq to read and say things their government would rather they didn't. Erinn is doing great work for the global political community and her own developer community.

Many other women talked about their free software work this weekend. Some women are contributing code, but women spoke passionately about everything from interface design to free software book publishing to learning their first few lines of python. It's an exciting time to be part of the free software community. Thanks to everyone who helped shape the agenda for Sunday's caucus and thanks to all the supportive men and women who came and participated. I hope you all found Sunday as inspiring as I did. And I hope you'll take a minute on this day to recognize the contributions of a woman you know in free software too!

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