Some Statistics on Women in Free Open Source Software

I have been doing a lot of web research on women contributions to Free Open Source Software Projects.

Statistics on women in FOSS

Here are some numbers I have found:

  1. Roughly 25% of contributors to proprietary software are female. Basically this means that there are plenty of women programmers out there. Not a majority, but enough that I would not call the population of them small or scarce. Thus the excuse many FOSS projects use for the lack of women contributors that “there are no women programmers” is invalid.
  2. Only about 1% of contributors to FOSS are female. The attrition rate of women contributions to FOSS is 60% by the 5 year mark. So it seems most women join a community for a short time, and then leave.
  3. The main reasons given by women for leaving FOSS projects:

    • They felt that their contributions were undervalued or ignored.
    • They felt isolated within a mostly male community
    • Women left projects because they could no longer spend large amounts of time contributing. (due to having children, marriage, careers, etc)

    Most of this information can be found in the GFW FLOSS article. I also read magazine articles and read some studies at my local public library.

Fostering Arch Linux Contributions

So first I would like to say that I have no idea if these survey findings apply to Arch Linux or not. I would like to find this out. I think that trying to contact former and current women users to get their opinions and thoughts on the matter would prove the be useful. If these findings DO apply to Arch Linux, there are some ways to help fix things:

Inclusion

Many FOSS projects take the “if we build it, they will come” mentality to gaining members. This does not work so well for gaining women members (or gaining a lot of contributors in general). To increase women contributors, women specifically should be actively invited and asked to join. Most Linux users started using Linux because someone else handed them a link or live CD and asked them to check it out. Most people do not, for whatever reasons, invite their female friends the way they do their male friends. If more people took a second to look around themselves at the geeky girls they may know and invite them, it would help substantially.

Encouragement and Mentorship

If you notice a woman contributing, even if its just the forums or wiki, thank her (ideally you would thank anyone who contributes) and maybe give the women more information on other ways she can contribute, like submitting/fixing bugs, maintaining packages, etc. A simple thanks, acknowledgement and encouragement is all it would take to help keep women wanting to continue contributing to Arch Linux and maybe help keep those users from leaving the community. I would also really like to start a mentorship program within Arch Women to help increase female contributions. I heard there was a general Arch development mentorship program that was quit successful.

Networking vs. isolation

The Arch Women IRC channel and website is itself going to try and address the feeling of isolation women may feel in a mostly male community. If women have a place to network with each other, they will not feel isolated, and will perhaps not leave the project for other things.

Bite-sized tasks

On women not having large chunks of time to contribute: maybe there is a way to make Arch Linux easier to contribute to in smaller more frequent chunks of time. This would not only increase women contributions, but contributions from everyone in general. I do not know a lot about this, or how it could be done, so maybe the devs could help here?