Fostering Representation of Women in Open Source Software Projects

Jul 28,2021 by Manoj Yadav

Percentage of women contributors in open source software projects is growing at a snail’s pace. It is certainly an encouraging sign because proportion of women in open source software was dismally low a few years ago. Presently, the percentage of women contributors in open source is between 3 to 9 per cent, depending upon the source of information. 

Need to have more women in open source projects

According to Stormy Peters, Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) advocate, women software contributors must come forward to make effective change in open source projects so that together we all can help save the world.

There is an urgent need to take the percentage of women in open source to greater levels. Peters offered three significant observations that are given below. 

There is every chance that women are glued to careers that are not matching their passion and skills. It is a fact that working in open source can be highly exciting and enjoyable in addition to being challenging. 

There may be number of women who are not aware of the fun and thrill that can be experienced in open source software careers. Women can put their problem solving passion to work in open source environment. 

It is obvious that if there is an equal representation of women in open source projects as men, we will have more number of contributors. 

Advantages of having more women in open source projects.

We will be able to inculcate greater diversity into our project. If our end products are representing viewpoints of more people, then these will have ability to solve problems of more people around the world.

It has been demonstrated and proved that women can make a considerable difference to open source software projects. Outreachy is an exclusive program for women. It began as a GNOME Outreach Program for Women. They had to keep aside funding for six women interns due to dearth of women applicants to the Google Summer Code for GNOME.

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The example of Outreachy shows that no woman applied to the Google funded GNOME Outreach Program for Women, when it was launched. However the program is now supporting as many as 30 women interns.

As per recent report from Linux foundation about ‘who writes Linux’, kernel interns from the Outreach Program for Women ranked at number 13 from the top 20 sponsors and contributors. Stormy Peters strongly feels that the growing trend of women joining open source software projects must consolidate and we all should design a change management strategy to welcome the new wave of women contributors. 

Ushering the change

The change management strategy will have to consider the cultural impact of introducing a large group of women to the existing contributors who are already enjoying the status quo. In order to ensure that the transition is smooth, Peters feels that a well designed strategy initiative consisting of steps for transformation based on recommendations of John P. Kotter, Professor at Harvard Business School.

• Creating sense of urgency: No change can be initiated without creating a sense of urgency or necessity. If everyone involved in the project is convinced about the value addition and other benefits of bringing in more contributors, then there would be no resistance to change.

• Build a team of change agents: It easier to bring in the desired change by developing groups of individuals who are already convinced about the significance of new initiatives. If you have well informed and convinced individuals within the group itself, then it would not be difficult to push the change. 

• Clarity of vision: If you are not having a broad vision about an idea, then there is every chance that the idea will be discarded. You must build a grand vision around the new concept to make it easily acceptable by the people who are involved in the implementation process.

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• Build an effective communication method: You may have done all your homework as far as vision and other aspects of change process, but if you fail to communicate it effectively then the change process may never take off. You must constantly talk about the idea and enhance the visibility and noise level to gain faster recognition.

• Take small steps initially: It is always preferable to go for small achievements in the beginning. This will make you more confident about the success potential of new idea and will also boost morale of the team involved in the whole process. Smaller gains are also necessary to convince those who are skeptical about the change.

• Incorporate the process into project’s culture: Individuals should never feel that the change is an isolated event. It must be made part of the project’s fabric. 

It is highly encouraging and motivating to learn that as many as 41 interns participated in May–August 2016 round of Outreacchy. Stormy Peters, advocate at Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is a strong propagator of women’s involvement in open source software projects. She has been consistently speaking about this in various forums and conferences. In recent Red Hat Summit in Boston she underlined significance of ushering an effective change to include everyone for the noble cause of changing the world

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