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Ada Initiative highlights challenge to get more women in open sourceJay Lyman, December 21, 2011 @ 10:16 pm ET
The lack of women involved in open source has unfortunately long been a weakness for open source software and its many, varied communities around the globe. In fact, we found out recently just how significant the problem is, with troubling figures as reported by Valerie Aurora with the Ada Initiative that indicate significantly lower representation of women in open source (2%) compared to the overall IT industry (20%).
Though there are some signs of improvement, with apparent growth in awareness of the issue and thus a more respectful environment, there is still obviously a long way to go before open source can live up to its ideals of transparency, collaboration and openness.
There is also some belief that female participation in open source software and other development and IT work is underestimated by handles, nicknames and identities that might appear male to avoid any sexism. In addition, there is also the fact that while open source software communities are typically true meritocracies, the initial experience for the new developer can be a harsh one, regardless of gender. Still, it is somewhat shameful the representation of women in open source is typically less than what we see in proprietary software and, as alluded to earlier, the rest of IT.
Aurora wisely argues we need more women in open source so that we have more women in startups. We also see other sub-communities of IT and software, such as the new Women Innovate Mobile effort, that similarly aim to involve more women. Given the longstanding nature of this issue, it is disappointing to see open source software and its communities left behind by mobile, other parts of IT and other industries that are more effectively incorporating women and expanding their reach.
The Ada Initiative, named for the first computer programmer who was also a woman, Ada Lovelace, is a nonprofit organization formed to grow female participation in open source software, Wikipedia and open technology in general. In addition to awareness and education, consulting, workshops and other services, the initiative is primarily focused on teaching women skills to help them succeed in open technology and its culture and how men can help. The group is currently raising support as it seeks to boost awareness and help build an open source software world where women are not only more prevalent, but are also more welcome, encouraged and respected for their work, their code and their talents. In order for open source software communities, projects, products and commercial plays to succeed and reach their full potential, the greater open source community and its supporters should be finding ways to incorporate women, wherever they can contribute and improve the effort.
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