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How to get more women into open source

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This article was written by Samantha Wang, Product Manager at InfluxData

Now more than ever, representation matters. This idea rings just as true in the field of software development as it does anywhere else. Technology consumers include people of all generations, genders, and ethnicities. So, it stands to reason that when individuals from these same groups contribute to the development of technology, they have the opportunity to include concepts and perspectives that might otherwise be overlooked.

This reality is one of the reasons it’s so vexing that the tech industry struggles to attract and retain women. Lately, we’ve seen a surge in the adoption and use of open source software across geographic boundaries and industry verticals. Yet the disparity between male and female contributors within the open source community is significant. According to a 2017 survey by GitHub of his communityonly 3% of respondents identified as female.

Helping to deter women in open source

It’s important to recognize that while there is a gap between the number of male and female open source contributors, it’s not a function of wanting to improve open source code. In fact, 68% of female open source developers say they are interested in making open source contributions, compared to 73% of males. This raises the question of why women are less likely to do so, around 45% compared to 61% of men. A survey found that among GitHub users with ten or more contributions, just one 6% were women.

The reasons given by GitHub contributors mirror issues of sexism that women face elsewhere in tech:

  • 25% encountered language or content that made them feel unwelcome (compared to 15% for men),
  • 12% encountered stereotypes (vs. 2%), and
  • 6% have received unsolicited sexual advances (vs 3%)

The prevalence of workplace harassment for women in tech is a major contributor to the mass migration of women out of tech halfway through their career. More than half of these women experience harassment at work, compared to 16% of men. Compensation is another factor contributing to the exodus of women from tech, as female engineers earn $0.83 for every dollar earned by a male in the same position. Women engineers also point to a lack of management support or an acceptable work/life balance as factors pushing them to leave technology.

Improvement strategies

Despite the challenges these numbers highlight, women who choose to stay in tech tend to have a positive impact on those who come after them. These seasoned engineers often become role models who can foster a peer group of female technicians and help guide career development opportunities.

A long-term study of mentoring by researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that female engineering leaders who had female mentors reported increased levels of motivation, assertiveness, and lower levels of anxiety than those who had a male mentor, or no mentor at all. The study followed subjects for a year before and a year after graduation, and found that women with mentors who were also women were less likely to drop out and more likely to seek engineering jobs. after graduation.

As with mentoring, success inspires success. Therefore, having women in leadership positions in technology exposes career opportunities that may not be obvious to younger female employees. These female leaders find themselves in a position that gives them greater agency and power to challenge the negative behaviors that deter women from staying in tech. Of course, women aren’t the only ones who can hold companies accountable for diversity and inclusiveness, but it’s critical that women leaders be part of these efforts to bring their perspective and experiences to bear so that companies can develop and corporate cultures can evolve.

The very reality of women in leadership positions demonstrates to other women that avenues for advancement exist. It also provides emerging leaders with proof that women can thrive in technology. A recent study on women in tech, conducted by Accenture and Girls Who Code, recommended that companies set and publish targets for the number of women in their leadership teams. Additionally, for greater accountability, companies should align their leaders’ ability to achieve these goals with compensation-related KPIs.

Putting accountability into action

As a leading open source company, InfluxData hopes to encourage more women to contribute to open source projects. We do it in several ways. For example, we maintain a Slack community channel and encourage all of our developers to answer questions, provide feedback, and offer insight into various open source projects. We encourage our female engineers to actively engage with the community because we understand that women, in general, enjoy collaborating with other women in tech spaces.

We strive to make our Slack channel and community forums safe places for female developers to discuss their open source projects. Our female developers are often invited to speak at conferences and lead workshops and webinars on various aspects of our open source technology stack. We recognize that open source can be an entry point for a range of STEM-related careers and is a great way for developers of any skill level to practice programming. By providing this level of visibility to developers, we hope to create the kind of inclusive environment that inspires women to share their open source work and showcase what they do.

Women in Open Source: The Basics

There is no magic cure for the scarcity of women in tech and, by extension, open source. Addressing this issue requires sustained focus and commitment from leaders in the tech space to create diverse and inclusive work environments that are free from harassment. Companies also need accountability in promoting women, especially in leadership positions, so that these individuals can mentor and inspire the next wave of women in tech. The sooner companies engage in these types of initiatives, the sooner the tech world will become a better place for everyone.

Samantha Wang is Product Manager at InfluxData

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