Archive for August 12th, 2005

Women in open source and the Mozilla project

August 12th, 2005

One of the sessions at the Open Source Convention was a discussion about women in open source — why there are so few, are there hidden barriers, etc. Some research suggests that the percentage of women participants in the open source world is as low as 1 or 2%. The session was very well attended, by both women and men, and the questions went well over the allotted period.

The panel had six participants. Two of us — Allison Randal, president of the Perl Foundation, and I — have visible outward-facing roles in our projects. Someone asked if we thought this made a difference to the number of women programmers in our projects. I had to answer “no” because the Mozilla project does not seem to have a lot of women programmers in the core. There are a number of women in the project who I respect highly, but we’ve found or created roles for ourselves other than programming.

So I wonder why this is. And I wonder if this reflects general difficulties in finding a foothold in the project. Are we missing good contributors because of some approach or style that we’re not even conscious of? Is there something that affects women more than men?

A couple of open source projects have started mailing lists to discuss issues that might affect involvement by women. Perhaps the Mozilla project should as well. Or perhaps a combined discussion covering open source projects in general is more helpful; I think such a list may be in the works. In the meantime, if you’ve thought about getting involved in the Mozilla project but found that something in our approach or attitude or style prevents you from doing so, I would be very interested in hearing your story.

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