[ I was working on a blog post about the Women In Open Source roundtable I ran, and then Brenda Wallace tweeted: “it seems reasonably easy 2 get women involved in opensource documentation, ui design, and even management. Why is it hard 2 get women coding?” Here’s my longer response, mostly with ideas I got from the roundtable. ]
I ran a panel discussion about Women in Open Source at the PostgreSQL Conference East (last weekend). I talked about all the conference events that I’d seen in the last 1-2 years specific to women, and a pair of researchers talked about communication patterns among women on the KDE women’s list. Then we had a 2 hour discussion with the 10 people in attendance.
Three issues that stuck with me from the discussion were:
* Mentoring: Women do not often receive the same type of mentorship that men receive. This has two important consequences: women don’t feel as connected to the community (don’t learn cultural norms, don’t receive favors, don’t get as much praise or reward for work), and women don’t see clear pathways to greater responsibility or prestige (roles are not obvious unless you’re “in the know”, few role models).
* Self-efficacy: Women consistently rate themselves as far less capable than they prove themselves to be. Example: survey of Computer Science undergrads showed that women rated their preparedness at an average of 0%, while men rated their knowledge and prep around 60-70% — even though GRADES proved that the women had just as much ability/knowledge (these 0% folks were getting As and Bs in courses). The UMD researchers said that self-efficacy has been strongly correlated with success in achieving goals.
* Quality of Life: some coding jobs are low prestige, require superhuman hours and aren’t friendly to women (or men) with children. We didn’t have any research to back this up, but there was a lot of speculation that women 25-45 would not be excited to come back to programming after having children because of the life/work balance problems.
Some or all of these issues can probably be linked to the experience of other minority groups.
As far as “what we can do” — I think we need to work environments more humane and accepting of people who have children. There’s a bit of anti-child culture in some high tech circles, and my personal feeling is that this will continue to turn women away.
I also think we need more mentorship! Women need to mentor women, and men need to mentor women. I think training a group of men on how to mentor women would be greatly beneficial — especially if those men-mentors got some kind of seal of approval at the end of their mentorship bootcamp.
There’s always a tension when men mentor women, and maybe if it was a little more organized and some rules were set — like no using the mentorship program as a personal dating service — it might work better than the ad hoc mentorship stuff we have right now.
Less formal than GSOC, but more formal than just contacting people on a mailing list.