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Re: Women in FOSS at OSWC II

Hey Erinn and all,

<quote who="Erinn Clark">

> The thing I'm not clear on, which I think Pia could probably elaborate
> on, is: what level of silence is appropriate? Screaming from the
> rooftops about the evils of men is certainly unproductive, but I am
> concerned that pretending nothing is wrong is going to mislead people.
> At some level, at least within Debian, there is not much to complain
> about. There are visible women in Debian and there are also,
> statistically speaking, a /lot/ of women in Debian and people are used
> to us being around by now. But as a general matter, is it that good across 
> the board? I really don't know. When does it stop being "awareness" and
> start becoming "discouragement"? 

This is I think the balancing act we face. I don't think it is a matter of
"be silent or blame the men". I think this is also a problem with women who
also maintain the assumptions about gender roles and in particular that
girls aren't technical (ever had a female say to you "when is the engineer
turning up?"). I think a negative approach simply doesn't work, and saying
that, even though we all have our stories in the free software world, I
still think this world gives us a far better opportunity to drive real
social change throughout the world, and we should be celebrating that fact
and empowering those within it to help us achieve our goals. I think there
are a few key messages we _could_ be using more:

1) "By participating in free software, _you_ are helping make the world a
better place. You are helping drive the kind of social change that will give
future generations real choice and opportunity". Empowering members of our
community, men and women in a positive way helps them realise the issues and
feel good about helping do their bit.

2) "There is a difference between active and passive biases that can affect
the people you deal with. Sometimes your assumptions may get in the way of
your positive attitude". I have found far, far, far more men (and women) in
this space to be actively and loudly supportive of women in FOSS, and really
hurt when someone like the woman on that panel try to suggest that they
"lock women out" because they really do try. What many people don't realise
is that just because you've changed your active bias, it doesn't mean all
your behaviours are pro that choice. The book "Blink" by the same guy who
wrote "The Tipping Point" really helped me realise this. First helping
people differentiate between active and passive biases helps, and then
gently drawing their attention to ways that their passive biases can get in
the way. For instance, I had a notable free software hacker tell me he was
keen to see more women but for all his effort he didn't understand why the
women who had worked for him sometimes didn't seem to pick stuff up as fast
as the men. In that case, it turned out that his teaching methods were a
very male way of learning, and so the women had to go out on their own a bit
more to learn. He had an active bias to support women in software devel, but
hadn't looked at the passive biases or assumptions that got in the way. I
think educating people of this is useful as they can start to say ok well
what is it about my behaviour that may limit another persons ability (women
or otherwise) and that leads to a better working environment all round :)

3) I think DW does a good job of promoting rocking women in the Debian
project, and that is important. I think we could be doing more to get that
information out there. I point to the dw website to people I speak to
interested in whether there are many women in this space.

4) Perception becomes reality. this isn't so much a core message as it is my
motto. By being positive, by showing how FOSS is a place that is driving
change and where girls can get involved I think we can make that perception
be more and more real every day. The more people we say that too, the more
people will take pride in being such an inclusive global community, and the
more people will enforce it in their own interactions. People are proud of
this community, lets give them another reason to be proud of it that offers
real opportunity for girls and women.


Linux Australia                                         http://linux.org.au/
    "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once
     forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all and the earth
                itself to nobody." - Jean Jacques Rosseau

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