What can men do? Inclusion in Open Source

Our latest session was titled “Increasing Diversity in BSD Projects” and it was part of EuroBSD 2016. This European conference gathers people from all projects related to the BSD based operating systems. Some of these people are hired by different organizations, some are volunteers. We had the chance to discuss with them diversity in their community and it was such an energizing experience!

img_20160924_205128-1The conference vibe was very laid-back, as the conference badge showed. Here you have a picture of it, which shows the logo. The logo is always a little demon that is then adapted to give a local touch depending on where the conference is being held. In this case, it has the traditional Serbian look. One of our discussions included mentioning how this logo would look to someone outside of the community: “Are you portraying Serbians as evil?”. Sometimes one may be seeming to send the wrong message (in here, an apparent disliking of Serbians) inadvertently! It was great to see how open to feedback the community was and how willing they were to work on this input. In this particular case, they did have Serbian representation in the logo creating team, which made things even more interesting.


Our session proposal came from Bev Bachmayer, ACM-W Europe Vice Chair. Bev talked to Deb Goodkin, Executive Director of the FreeBSD Foundation, to discuss the possibilities of talking about diversity -particularly, about gender- at EuroBSD as one of the ways of getting this kind of conversation started in the community. Bev then contacted Reyyan Ayfer, ACM-W Europe Chair, and myself to work on this idea. I suggested that we made the session a teaching by case opportunity, an approach that seemed to have been very well received in other events. So we got to work!

Reyyan Ayfer presents ACM-W Europe and the importance of diversity

Teaching by case involves presenting the participants of your session with a fictional situation -perhaps based on a real one, anonymizing it- where a problem is described and a decision has to be made. We gave our participant three different cases:

  1. A woman in the community posts a question with a username that signals her gender, and the question is ignored or she is made fun of. Her male friend then posts the same question with his @GeekGuy username and immediately receives answers.
  2. A woman in the community has been harassed and reports it to the core team. Since this is a team of volunteers and they are not specifically trained for this, this woman feels frustrated with how the situation is handled. Her male friend wants to help but doesn’t know how.
  3. A woman in the community finds the logo offensive and feels that it signals she and women in general won’t be taken seriously at the conference.

The participants were divided in three groups, one per case and according to the participants’ interests. Each group had a facilitator and someone taking notes. The discussion had the following points:

  • What are the facts (and not opinions or interpretations)?
  • What are the problems?
  • What are the causes?
  • What happens if nothing is done?
  • What are possible solutions?
  • What are the consequences of these?

Then the group decided which solution they would go with. After the discussion, the person who took the notes shared those with all participants.

Reporting the notes of group 2

Perhaps something has caught your eye while looking at the pictures. While talking about gender usually gathers mostly women, this time we had a vast majority of men! This allowed us to shift the conversation to an angle that is not so common in the current discussions: what can men do to help with efforts for diversity?

Many ideas were shared during the case session, including how to report harassment, the importance of having a Code of Conduct that others can point to when they see harassment, the need to invite a diverse team to be part of committees so that more perspectives are represented, etc.

The point that I would highlight the most would be the “myth” of peer pressure: some men were discussing that, if a man was to call it out when another man was discriminating against a woman, then the man reporting this issue would be excluded from the community as well -as the woman-. Thus, due to these peer pressure, many deter from calling out sexism. But to the surprise of many, the number of people willing to do something about discrimination was high! In other words: if you were to speak up about discrimination, there would probably be way more support from your peers that you may imagine. But since this is not talked about enough, this and other “myths” persists.

That is why we discussed the importance of keeping the conversation going in the community. One way of doing this is repeating the session at future conferences. We also look forward to expanding this experience to other communities. I found the case of the BSD community particularly interesting, as most of their interactions are online, which present challenges different to those I have focused on so far.

Thank you to all our participants for your engagement and interest! In particular, a big thank you to Deb Goodkin for her constant support of women in computing. I look forward to following your communities’ efforts for diversity.

For more conference pictures, check the official ones taken by Ollivier Robert.

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