Geek Feminism Wiki

FLOSS is an acronym standing for Free, Libre, and Open Source Software -- a collection of terms encompassing various software movements and licensing styles that encourage the modification and redistribution of software source code. The term Free software  refers to software that guarantees all of the four freedoms, while the term Open Source software refers to software that satisfies all 10 criteria of the Open Source definition. "Open Source" was coined by Christine Peterson as a corporate-friendly, freedom-agnostic synonym for "Free Software", and except for very minor deviations (there are only one or two minor licenses upon which there is disagreement), the two terms refer to the same set of software.


Historically, women formed a small part of the FLOSS community. A 2002 survey of open source communities found that approximately 1.1% of contributors were women. Many outreach efforts have taken place since, and the more recent 2013 survey found that 11% of FLOSS contributors are women. The percentage of participants who are women varies widely between communities, with more women participating in the communities that make outreach efforts. The 2013 survey was widely distributed among women in FLOSS groups and in communities that make outreach efforts, and therefore should be taken to reflect participation of women in these communities, not FLOSS as a whole.

Sources for statistics on women in FLOSS include:

  • FLOSS Project survey (2002) showed 1.1% of FLOSS contributors were women (the FLOSSPOLS survey in 2006 built on this research); FLOSS Survey 2013 showed 11% of FLOSS contributors were women
  • A census of the Ubuntu community[1] (2006) showed 2.4% women, while counting up the Ubuntu Members in Nov 2009 showed 4.4% women
  • Women in Debian 2013 showed 1.8% women developers
  • The Perl Survey (2007), a survey of both Perl contributors and users of the language, showed 3%
  • Before 2010, counts of attendees at major open source conferences tended to be in the 3-5% range
  • Women in Drupal - Geek Feminism page, Group page
    • 2008 - Community: 7% women
    • 2014 - Community: 17% women
  • 10-15% of attendees at are women
  • As of January 2014, there were  35 women among 340 GNOME Foundation members, which is 10.3% women
  • GUADEC, GNOME's annual conference (sources 1, 2, 3)
    • 2009 - Attendees: 8 women - 5%; Speakers: 0 women (out of 58 speakers) - 0%
    • 2012 - Attendees: 41 women - 17%; Speakers: 4 women - 7%
    • 2013 - Attendees: 41 women - 18%; Speakers: 10 women - 21%
  • Survey of newcomers who joined 12 open source communities between January 2010 and June 2012 and stayed involved in them had 50% female respondents for GNOME (22 women) and 6% female respondents for all other communities, with 15% being the next highest concentration (20 women total, 0-3 women per community) (source)
  • PyCon, Python's annual conference (statistics on speakers)
    • 2011 - Speakers: 1% women
    • 2012 - Speakers: 7% women
    • 2013 - Attendees: 20%  women; Speakers: 15% women
    • 2014 - Attendees: 33% women; Speakers: 33% women
  • Google Summer of Code participation

Some people dispute these figures, claiming that there are more women who are simply invisible in the community, due to Gender neutral names or Anonymity, or that the small percentages represent only a subset of open source community members (usually, programmers who submit patches to open source projects), discounting women who do other work such as documentation, QA, or community work. However, some of the surveys listed above explicitly include contributors in non-programming roles, or include users as well as contributors.



Main article: Invisibility

Women form a small proportion of the FLOSS community. However, people often speak or act as if women don't exist at all. Examples include:

Exceptionalism and Condescension

Main articles: Exceptionalism and Condescension

When women are noticed in the FLOSS community, that notice is often problematic. Often, women are treated as rare and special creatures, put on a pedestal, and treated as exceptional merely for showing up. (The informal shorthand for this is "OMG a girl!") This can be very awkward and disconcerting for the woman who is treated this way.


On other occasions, women new to a FLOSS community (or being addressed by someone who is himself new and is unaware of the woman's standing in the community) are treated with condescension. For instance, men may treat any small degree of technical skill or knowledge as cause for excessive praise and wonder.


  • You're the smartest woman, I've ever met.
  • You're working in Perl? That's a good language to learn on.

When women create FLOSS projects, their projects are often treated with condescension. Either the code is perceived as beginner-quality, or the project is not taken seriously as a real project.


  • A man who maintains a tiny FLOSS project with few users asking a woman who maintains a large, thriving FLOSS project with many users to merge her project into his.
  • Mean comments about how ugly and disgusting a woman's FLOSS code is, often behind her back

Gender essentialism and social expectations

Main articles: Essentialism, Social expectations

Many people express the opinion that women are just "naturally" better or worse at certain tasks, or have innately different interests. This is generally attributed to differences in brain function, hormones, or the like; the field of Evolutionary psychology claims that women evolved to have these skills/interests (or lack thereof) many thousands of years ago.

The problem is that it is very hard to study biological differences between men and women when our environment and culture have such a strong influence. Studies are generally unable to completely exclude environmental factors. Even those studies which are well conducted generally show far less variation between men and women, than between individuals of either gender.

In the FLOSS community, this often plays out as an excuse for why the proportion of women in the field is so low: "They're just not interested" or variations on that theme. The implication is that any inequality is biologically ordained, and that there is nothing that the community could/should do about it.

Along with biological essentialism, there are also strains of argument that recognise that women are culturally conditioned to like certain things, or are trained to be good at them, and which expect women to conform to those societal roles. Examples include being good at "people" stuff, communication, visual design, etc. Women in FLOSS projects are often pressured into these activities even if they do not feel much personal interest in them, or may simply find that it is easier to conform to expectations and take on documentation, UI work, etc, than to buck the status quo.

The effect of essentialism and social expectations is to exclude women from FLOSS projects, or to include them only in certain parts of the project. It is no surprise that the majority of women in Open Source do documentation, community management, and the like, nor that the documentation, community work, etc is mostly done by women.

Sexualized environment

Main article: Sexualized environment

Perhaps because of the paucity of women in FLOSS, the community often behaves as if it were an all-male environment. Sexually oriented graphics, text, and speech, including eg. desktop wallpapers, advertisements, and conference presentations are common.


A sexualized environment is uncomfortable for many women, not because they are prudes or dislike sex, but because they generally want to engage with the community on the subject of computers and software, and constantly being reminded that the rest of the community sees women primarily as sexual objects is distracting.

Sexually oriented material also reinforces the Invisibility of women in the FLOSS community, by assuming that the audience is male (and presumably straight).

Finally, women who have experienced sexual assault or harassment (as a large proportion of women have) may find that being subjected to sexually oriented material without their consent in a majority-male space triggers them, and makes it extremely difficult or impossible for them to work in that community.

See also: Sexist advertising, Sexualized presentation, Booth babes, etc.

Discussion of issues

How to encourage women in FLOSS

Many people have written about how to get more women involved in FLOSS or support those who are involved. For example:

Many strategies have been suggested. Below are some of the common ones, broken down by category:


  • It may help to take a survey (formal or informal) of your community's gender breakdown to get an idea of where you started, so you can tell whether things are improving over time.
  • Consider creating a Diversity statement or Code of conduct
  • See also: Recruiting women (tips on how to recruit women to your project/whatever - non-FLOSS specific)

Women-only or women-centric groups/events/etc

Groups such as LinuxChix and events such as the LinuxChix miniconf support and encourage women in several ways:

  • Combatting Invisibility
  • Providing mutual support and an understanding environment to discuss issues
  • Assisting women with gaining advanced positions within projects (eg. Debian Women and Ubuntu Women both assist women towards official membership in their respective projects)

If your FLOSS project does not have such a group, you might consider starting one. See Statement of purpose: women-only communities or Statement of purpose: communities including men for sample documents to get you started.

User group meetings, conferences, etc

The following steps can be taken to make user group meetings, conferences, and other real-life gatherings more welcoming:

See also: Women-friendly events

Mailing lists and other online forums

Development tools and techniques

  • Providing hosted development environments, as Dreamwidth does, can help encourage women to participate by making it easier (and less time consuming) to get started
  • Make a list of easy bugs/tasks in your bug tracking system to encourage new developers
  • Wikis and other such collaborative documentation/resources can make the barriers to entry lower for new developers

Note that efforts to lower barriers to entry can encourage all kinds of new developers, not just women.


The FLOSS field is rife with incidents of sexism, harrassment, and the like.


In 2009, several incidents and discussion thereof fed into 2009 women in FLOSS discussions

Harrassment incidents

Main article: Online harrassment

Inappropriately sexual conference presentations

Main article: Sexualized presentations

Sexist advertising

See also: Sexist advertising, Booth babes



Conference presentations/panels about women in FLOSS

(Most recent first.)

Groups for women in FLOSS

Conferences/events about women in FLOSS

Finding women in FLOSS

Further reading