Women in Open Source

I stumbled across this on the fabulous http://www.everythingsysadmin.com :

from:  http://www.socallinuxexpo.org/wios07/

The Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) will host a Women in Open Source Event as part of their upcoming 2007 conference, SCALE 5x.

The focus of this event is on the women in the open source and free software communities. The goal of this event is to encourage women to use technology, open source and free software, and to explore the obstacles that women face in breaking into the technology industry. The Women in Open Source event will be held on February 9, 2007 at the Los Angeles Airport Westin Hotel.

I have seen the dearth of women, in system administration as well as database administration, having worked in both fields.  Network administration has fewer women than both system administration and database administration. 

I have noted that there are more women in database administration than system administration.  The MySQL Conference I attended last year had the biggest percentage of women I’ve ever seen at a technical conference.  Checking out the names at http://www.planetmysql.org the first name there is female (mine), and then a few dozen names go by, and most of them are clearly identifiable as male.  There are only a few names whom I can’t place a face/picture to, and to whom I cannot assign a gender.

I’m not denying that barriers and prejudices exist. In fact, one of the reasons I opted to get a Master’s Degree in Computer Science is that I have no idea who’s looking at me, and consciously or subconsciously are thinking, “She’s a woman, she’s not as good as a man.”

Certainly, there are the usual barriers to entry in the scientific world.  Is open source any different from any other type of “boys’ club”?  My partner is a sleight-of-hand card magician, and he laments that there are few women in the field.  He also laments that he does not see women interested at all — it’s not that they’re starting and being turned away, or getting discouraged, it’s that they’re not even starting.  How would we know if we reach that point in the open source world? 

I have not met with any barriers to my career.  Then again, I grew up with 2 brothers (my sister is 7 years older, so I never really “grew up” with her), and adapted to “living in a world of boys/men” a long time ago.  Mostly it’s just grabbing the bull by the horns and just doing.

My issue with the lack of women in open source is that I wonder how far we can get into it without bringing up the stereotypes.  I am not a shy, quiet woman.  I am not ladylike in many ways.  Many “qualities” that American society teaches their girls and women — don’t interrupt, have a lack of self-confidence, looks are your most important asset so do not seem to intelligent — are the barriers to entry I’ve seen, though not encountered.  That, and the struggle between family and career.  I have seen more and more men struggle with this as well, so it’s not as much of a “female” issue as it has been in the past.

Professionally, I make sure to wear my glasses on a job interview or important meeting, and dress conservatively when I do (I’ve fallen back to wearing glasses all the time because I’ve been too lazy to get more contact lenses).  I actually don’t want to look too pretty on a job interview, and consciously think of this.  So I’m definitely aware of the discrimination that exists, but so far I have been lucky enough to not encounter it, or at least I’m not aware of encountering it.

It’s my belief that women make less than men for the same job because they are less likely to negotiate and hold out for more money, and more likely to take one of the first offers — “good women” don’t “rock the boat”, after all.  (tongue in cheek, of course)

As someone who is rather type A (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_A_personality), I know there are colleagues and co-workers who find me to be too strict, which translates to “she’s a bitch.”  For men, this turns into “he’s too strict and type A.”  The double-standard is annoying, though not something I particularly worry about, since it has not gotten in the way of advancement or recognition, and has not targeted me for anything negative in particular (that I know about).

So, what’s the point of this?  I think it’s good to teach girls and women the skills they need to make it in a male-dominated field.  But I feel it should be taught and instilled at an early age, to both girls AND boys, as “this is the way American/Western society works, and these are ways folks are successful.”

I just feel as though singling out women, while it’s accurate, is saying, “we’re going to put you in the special room because you haven’t learned something you should have” and therefore is somewhat degrading.  Not a lot degrading, but somewhat.

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