In most technical communities, women are a minority. But in the open source world, they are an even greater minority. In 2006, the FLOSSPOLS survey, a broad survey of open source usage and development, funded by the EU, found that only 1.5% of open source contributors were women. In 2007, Kirrily surveyed the Perl community and found that the proportion of female population was 5%. The Drupal community had 10% women, whereas the population of women in technical professions and in computer science in universities was approximately 20%.
Kirrily compares the sense of unease that a woman experiences in participating in a male dominated community to that a male would feel in finding himself to be the only man at a salon, getting his nails done.
She debunks the issues of sexism that are ubiquitously prevalent in the software development community and the workplace. She talks about the enormous pressures to perform well, about being thought less of, and about the feeling of standing out in a crowd that women in the software development community are subject to on a frequent basis. In a survey, while the majority of men pleaded ignorance to the existence of these issues, the majority of women acknowledged them to be the reality on the ground.
Sharing her experience of being a part of a female-majority project, Kirrily conveys the message of equality of gender, and shares her insights as to how work environments can foster diversity.
Kirrily Robert has been involved in open source software since 1993, as a Linux user, Perl developer, and community leader and advocate. She is best known for her work in the Perl community, where she has been a CPAN contributor, author, speaker, and trainer. She has worked extensively in the Open Source and Internet industries since the mid 90s, as a developer, sysadmin, and community manager. She has presented and given tutorials at many conferences, including OSCON, Yet Another Perl Conference, linux.conf.au, the Open Source Developer’s Conference (Australia), and has also spoken to numerous user groups and at BarCamps and unconferences.
Kirrily has recently been working on several projects related to women in Open Source and other geek communities. In 2008 she launched the Geek Feminism Wiki, and more recently she has been contributing to and writing about two large open source projects with majority female developers: the Dreamwidth journalling platform and the Organization for Transformative Works’ “Archive Of Our Own.” Her interests also include free culture, open data, and technology for social justice.
Kirrily currently resides in San Francisco, where she works for Metaweb Technologies as Community Director for Freebase.com, an open, creative-commons-licensed, API-accessible, structured database of the world’s information.
This free podcast is from our Open Source Conference series.
Photo: Kirrily Robert