Nearly a year ago the FSF held a mini-summit for women in free software
to investigate practical ways to increase the number of women involved
in the free software community. Those that attended the summit formed
the Women's Caucus, and have been working to develop practical policy to
recommend to the FSF and the wider free software community. Today, we
are publishing the Caucus's initial findings and recommendations.
1. We identified a number of barriers to women's participation in free
software and strategies for overcoming these obstacles. What we found
were some fairly simple short-term solutions and some more complex
long-term solutions that are already being used successfully. Some
successful strategies we encountered in multiple projects include:
encouraging non-coding contributors, emphasizing cooperation rather than
competition and (where appropriate) implementing a mentoring program.
2. Women who are not already involved in free software often don't feel
invited to join free software groups or projects. We have identified
strategies for groups who are looking to grow and diversify their
membership. While not always intuitive, many of these procedures are
fairly easy to implement. The resource wiki is still growing, so we
expect more resources to be added in the near future.
3. We noted the relative invisibility of women who are already making
significant contributions to free software. This skews women's
perception of the free software community and impacts retention. We have
created a mailing list to announce free software speaking opportunities
to women. We also worked with the FSF to pilot a successful system to
increase women's attendance at free software events by setting up a
travel fund specifically for women at our conference. By making it easy
for attendees to donate, we were able to provide travel funding for
women who would otherwise not have been able to participate. We
recommend this strategy to other free software event organizers hoping
to increase women's attendance.
4. Not enough young women are being exposed to free software. Middle
school and high school are when girls potentially have the time and
interest to tinker and try new things, but all too often access to
public computers means running proprietary software. The Caucus is
working on a plan to get free software into girls' hands, teach them how
to use it and how to get the most out of free software. We recommend
that the major GNU/Linux distributions start to develop programs and
materials to attract young women to use the free software they distribute.
In collaboration with the FSF, the Caucus will be creating an internship
position to help grow and further these resources and initiatives.
## About the Free Software Foundation
The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting
computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute
computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as
in freedom) software -- particularly the GNU operating system and its
GNU/Linux variants -- and free documentation for free software. The FSF
also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of
freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at
http://www.fsf.org and gnu.org, are an important source of information
about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at
http://donate.fsf.org. Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.