Geek Feminism Wiki

Liveblogging Pia Waugh's "Heroes: Women in FOSS" talk at OSCON 2008.

Talk originally given at in Australia -- talk has been updated based on feedback, but is essentially a similar talk.

Topics that will be covered:

  • Who are some of the women in FOSS?
  • Issues and challenges
  • Where we can go from there

Think of:

  • 10 technical women
  • 5 non-technical women
  • 3 issues facing women

When Pia was young her mother was a techie. Her friend (male) at school was into computers. He was into Macs and she was into PCs. She didn't realise she was in a minority at first.

Women are in a minority in technology in most western countries. This is not the case in all countries however -- and we need to learn from them. Went to a tech conf in Geneva, and the Malaysian stand was mostly women, who were highly technical or in leadership roles. Malaysia had about 55% women in IT, were surprised to hear Australia had only 15%.

This is not a gender (i.e. sex) issue. It is a cultural issue. Nothing to do with body parts, but to do with cultural expectations.

Pia hates "we support women in non-traditional roles" because it reinforces that they are non-traditional roles, and makes her "feel like a freak".

Pia hadn't experienced sexism in the workplace. Then one day she had a negative experience, and it made her realise that she'd been arrogant before, and that not everyone is as assertive as she is, and she needs to be aware of it and not dismiss it.

Pia's sexist incident: that guy didn't get disciplined, and Pia realised that it's more acceptable than it should be. Some people are morons, but we shouldn't be allowing that to dictate our (women's) behaviour, or leaving the workplace, etc.

Pia found she was starting to "butt heads" (with men) more and more. Our generation aren't taught that there's a glass ceiling, so we can go through it.

Odd sayings:

  • Women aren't interested in computers anyway
  • She must be butch to be into computers
  • You're not really a woman, you're one of us
  • You're too pretty to use mutt
  • Women like "creative" jobs
  • "Non-traditional" roles for women

Anecdote about a woman at IBM who asked the men to take down porn pictures, and they wouldn't, so she put up pictures of men, which made the male co-workers feel uncomfortable. In the end management made them take both sets of pictures down.

Creativity: there's creativity in everything we do (eg. programming).

Myths and facts:

Girls aren't interested in computers

  • Top users of teh interwebs
  • Gamers (some sim games, some WoW etc)
  • Not as polarised as boys -- study of 9yo boys either loved/hated computers, but 9yo girls mostly liked them, and used them for all of internet, gaming, homework
  • Focused on social good (Pia talks to schoolgirls about open source because of this), not money nor politics

Women in IT must be butch:

If you're not a stereotypical male nerd, then you must be a big scary person. There is nothing intrinsically macho about using a computer. We all use them these days, for fun and work and everything.

"We should be able to come in all shapes and sizes, just like everybody else. Breaking down stereotypes is hard." -- from Brazilian LinuxChix

Women like more creative jobs:

Women jobs - FOSS community census says:

  • 31% web dev
  • 31% other
  • 25% software eng/design
  • 13% other

Women earn less than men in IT -- not a myth, at least in Australia. Sad!

There are no women in IT and there are definitely no women in FOSS:

Australian census found ~7% in Australian FOSS community. Pia suspects more. Was the FLOSSPOLS survey (which said 1.5%) broadly representative?

Bemused old guy asked Pia: "Isn't the point of Free Software that everyone can get involved? Isn't it meant to be this amazing open community?"

We gots hackers: a list of women

Story about Val: was standing in a room with other kernel hackers who hadn't met her. They were talking about how there were no women kernel hackers, and she said, "But I sent you a patch yesterday!"


  • Joh Clarke
  • Fernanda Weiden
  • (need to add Zebee Johnstone, Australian sysadmin)

Advocates and leaders

Promo for Geek Feminism Wiki.

Real issues:

  • Active discouragement - schools, teachers, parents
  • Misdirection -- "supporting women in non-traditional roles", "as a woman I'm not interested in technology, so I don't see why women would be", Western country perspectives
  • Stereotypes -- Pia didn't feel comfortable as a woman until 23 because she was a tomboy
  • Global move away from ICT in young people
  • Lack of public representation of gender
  • Lack of empathy -- try not not be surprised!
  • Hard to not share the negative stories!
  • A**holes + lack of leadership/policies => mass exodus (code of conduct/behavioural guidelines/ etc in FOSS projects can help - it's not about being good to women, it's about being good to everyone)

Real pathways:

  • Profiling of awesome women AND men
  • Getting into schools, universities, and in front of parents
  • Good community practices - code of conduct and leadership
  • Learning from other countries
  • Working with children
  • Industry engagement with education
  • POSITIVE LEADERSHIP - be the change you seek

Feedback from an 11yo: "Thank you for your talk. It was very interesting. Now all my friends and I are going to go into IT."

What do we need?

  • To know the facts
  • To connect with each other
  • To try to assume stupidity over malice
  • To fulfil our dreams
  • Education about pay, how to negotiate and general expectations
  • Just a little empathy - we are hackers (and people) too!
  • Not let issues get in the way of our goals

Connecting: anecdote about a Slayer (heavy metal) fan. Imagine being the only Slayer fan at a school where everyone was into the Spice Girls. You'd feel isolated. Then you go to a Slayer concert, and feel great to be surrounded by other Slayer fans.

What we need to do!

  • To represent!
  • Women need to not hide
  • Encourage others
    • Speak at 3 schools/unis this year
    • go along to LinuxChix meetings
    • Software Freedom Day
    • International Women's Day
    • OLPC Australia
    • Take someone under your wing

FOSS is the world's most powerful platform for social change

Meritocratic, cross-everything, extremely diverse.

We succeed in spite of politics, social agendas, economics, the Digital Divide, and ourselves.

Question/Comment Time

  • Encourage women to speak at conferences -- women don't often submit papers -- when you go to confs, teach women to give lightning talks, etc
  • A para-event like LinuxChix miniconf can increase women's attendance at confs
  • Emma-Jane is giving a talk tomorrow about how she got 50% women speakers and attendees at her conference
  • Danese is talking tomorrow about "why whinging doesn't work" -- was originally about women but now it's about everyone. "Let's keep heading for the goal here, let's stop all this infighting."
  • There is a daughter here who's speaking at OSCON. Her dad is well known in Linux but he's not speaking here this week, he's just here for her.