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Women in free software: Recommendations from the Women's Caucus

by deborah Contributions Published on Jul 15, 2010 12:16 PM
Nearly a year ago the FSF held a mini-summit for women in free software to investigate practical ways to increase the number of women involved in the free software community.

Those that attended the summit formed the Women's Caucus, and have been working to develop practical policy to recommend to the FSF and the wider free software community. Today, we are publishing the Caucus's initial findings and recommendations.

  1. We identified a number of barriers to women's participation in free software and strategies for overcoming these obstacles. What we found were some fairly simple short-term solutions and some more complex long-term solutions that are already being used successfully. Some successful strategies we encountered in multiple projects include: encouraging non-coding contributors, emphasizing cooperation rather than competition and (where appropriate) implementing a mentoring program.

  2. Women who are not already involved in free software often don't feel invited to join free software groups or projects. We have identified strategies for groups who are looking to grow and diversify their membership. While not always intuitive, many of these procedures are fairly easy to implement. The resource wiki is still growing, so we expect more resources to be added in the near future.

  3. We noted the relative invisibility of women who are already making significant contributions to free software. This skews women's perception of the free software community and impacts retention. We have created a mailing list to announce free software speaking opportunities to women. We also worked with the FSF to pilot a successful system to increase women's attendance at free software events by setting up a travel fund specifically for women at our conference. By making it easy for attendees to donate, we were able to provide travel funding for women who would otherwise not have been able to participate. We recommend this strategy to other free software event organizers hoping to increase women's attendance.

  4. Not enough young women are being exposed to free software. Middle school and high school are when girls potentially have the time and interest to tinker and try new things, but all too often access to public computers means running proprietary software. The Caucus is working on a plan to get free software into girls' hands, teach them how to use it and how to get the most out of free software. We recommend that the major GNU/Linux distributions start to develop programs and materials to attract young women to use the free software they distribute.

In collaboration with the FSF, the Caucus will be creating an internship position to help grow and further these resources and initiatives.

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The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software — particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants — and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at fsf.org and gnu.org, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at http://donate.fsf.org. Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.

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