Thursday, July 24, 2008

Women and FOSS

Speaker: Emma Jane Hogbin (from Canada). Taking notes live:

Women Don't Ask and Unlocking the Clubhouse are two good titles on women in computing. Susan Pinker's The Sexual Paradox, new, is also good, also Glass Houses.

In India, there's a much higher percentage of women in the technology sector, Pinker thinks because of pay scale issues. Women can more easily afford a non-technical career in the west. Is she right in her analysis?

Talking about "the lack of women" isn't moving us forward. We need to change the conversation, to world domination by FOSS (Free and Open Source Software). Currently, 98.5% of FOSS projects are headed by males.

The HOWTO for encouraging women's participation in the Linux community includes 26 rules of engagement. In sum: don't be a dick, encourage participation.

She cited Mark Shuttleworth's talk, with his crack about creating sexy software that helps people "get laid" (citing some philosopher). Accept awkward moments and move on?

The challenge of recruiting to FOSS is a marketing challenge, so lets think in terms of branding.

Women are more likely to switch brands "based on a good cause" (men less likely). Women place more importance on brand characteristics and personal assistance than men do -- but FOSS is self serve (no store).

The Red Hat Society provides more of a model -- look for groups of people (especially women) to recruit. Charities (nonprofit sector) tend to employ a lot of women -- there's a group.

Help seniors escape from routines. They have grandkids don't forget. Help forge an alliance across the grandparent / grandkid bridge, based on FOSS -- a way to develop that relationship.

Women are workshop junkies (if not conference junkies): quilting bees, scrap booking retreats. Women will pay for these workshops. Having a cost increases the perceived value and commitment (Larry Dotson).

HICK Tech: How the Internet Connects Knowledge -- a good model? Women predominate at this conference, plus are more likely to register early. The focus is on the impact of technology on rural lifestyles.

Constructive suggestions:
  • If we have consciousness on every daily action, we can change the "mainstream" conceptions (Claudia Lulkin) -- mindfulness (do one thing different).
  • Live in the future, behave as if already surrounded by women (because you are, duh).
  • Ask women to be role models (
  • Ask men to help make change happen too.
  • Empower people to make foolish mistakes. Reduced stress will empower you to work more creatively.
  • Empowerment eliminates fear (how people deal with foolish mistakes makes a big difference).
  • Clearly transfer authority.
  • Encourage women to question the software, ask them how to improve it, teach them to change reality.
  • Allow for matriarchies to run geek communities, participate in viral marketing etc.
During Q&A I mentioned my "party line" that computer science is already "matriarchal". Perhaps I live more in the future in that respect?