Happy Ada Lovelace Day!
Last year, FSF executive director John Sullivan wrote, "these stories are an important way to simultaneously highlight both the under-representation of women in these fields and — based on the achievements of women who are in these fields — the potential we could realize if barriers to participation can be named and removed." This year, I want to take this thought and build on it.
Women face barriers to participation in science and technology fields starting at a very young age and continuing throughout their entire careers. Even women that manage to overcome enough barriers to make technology a career face so many challenges to advancement that drop-out rates are high. We have to acknowledge deeply rooted cultural biases here. To wit: a recent Yale study found that science professors presented with two equivalent resumes, one from "James" and one from "Jennifer", were much more likely to hire the mythical male applicant (they offered him a higher starting salary too). What's more, female professors shared this bias with their male counterparts.
Basically, we've got a big problem on our hands. I'm pretty sure this isn't news to anyone.
Here's the thing: even though there are even less women in computer science than in other STEM fields, and even though the number of women in free software may be even lower than that, I think the free software movement may be uniquely positioned to do something about it. Allow me to elaborate:
The free software movement needs diverse participation to achieve its goals. If we want to make proprietary software extinct, we need everyone on the planet to engage with free software. To get there, we need people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, and abilities leading the way. That gives the free software movement a mandate to identify under-represented groups and remove their barriers to access.
The free software movement values empowerment. The free software movement exists to empower people to take control of their computers and their data. We can apply this value to proliferate and support projects that give women and girls the experiences they need to overcome the cultural bias against women in technology.
The free software movement is a community. One of the free software movement's strengths is a community built on collaboration. Free software folks are used to working together effectively, but we may require additional tools as our movement becomes more diverse. We can always do more to invite new people in, create safe spaces for them, and make their contributions visible so that they can inspire others to get involved.
It's that inspiration that Ada Lovelace Day is all about.
This Ada Lovelace Day, you can help to raise the profile of women in free software by nominating a woman for the Free Software Awards. Each year, the Advancement of Free Software award is given to an individual who has made incredible contributions to free software. There are plenty of women out there who fit the bill, and we need your help to make sure they will be considered for this year's award.
The FSF is currently accepting nominations for the 15th annual Free Software Awards. You can submit your nomination by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, on or before Thursday, November 15th, 2012. For more details on submitting a nomination, visit: http://www.fsf.org/news/the-free-software-foundation-opens-nominations-for-the-15th-annual-free-software-awards