The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is acting to implement strategies to broaden the participation of women in the free and open-source software community (FOSS).
Recommendations for removing barriers and broadening membership among women in open-source projects were published July 16 by the FSF’s Women’s Caucus, which was formed nearly a year ago and was tasked to devise solutions to address the problem.
Barriers include the perception that the FOSS movement is a “boys’ club,” a shortage of female role models in the community, the feeling that women are being judged at a higher standard than men, feelings of isolation, sexist behavior, and non-coding roles that are often occupied by women being undervalued.
The Women’s Caucus also found that finances were more likely to be an obstacle for women than men (in terms of being able to donate to open-source projects), and that young girls were not being exposed to FOSS software in K-12 education.
Several of those findings mirror research compiled by Teresa Dahlberg, director of the Diversity in Information Technology Institute at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She found that isolation is a key factor for a higher attrition rate in programming jobs among women and minorities.
People tend to associate with “like communities,” where people have similar backgrounds and interests, Dahlberg explained in a previous interview. She also cited personal interviews conducted by Carnegie Mellon University where women felt that they had less room for error than men.
The FSF views itself as being in a conundrum, because it has observed that even when young girls have access to technology in the classroom, that “public computers means running proprietary software,” according to the report. It suggests inserting open-source software into computer science classes.
The National Science Foundation has found that many women are turned off of computer science in grade school before they understand computing due to the perception that it is an isolating profession.