Free Software Women's Group Releases Results of Study

by Ostatic Staff - Aug. 09, 2010

The Software Development Times has published an in-depth look the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) attempts at breaking down barriers for women in open source. It highlights the recently released report by the FSF's Women's Caucus, a mini-summit held last year to address issues in the FOSS community that some say prevent more females from participating.

The group cites several reasons why women don't participate more readily in the free software community and offers some solutions for remedying the problem. But is it enough?

According to the findings of the Women's Caucus, females often shy away from FOSS community events and projects for fear they aren't wanted or that their skills don't measure up to their male counterparts. The group also claims women have fewer budgetary resources to allow for conference travel to learn new skills and network with others. Finally, the Caucus also found that "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," writes FSF membership coordinator Deb Nicholson.

The group put together a wiki with a list of resources for groups and organizations that want to encourage the participation of more women. Sections include mentoring, leadership, and how to make meetings more welcoming.

Findings like these crop up on a regular basis and, though the claims aren't without merit, it's all too easy to tune them out because they're so repetitive. LIkewise, the recommendations seem to be similar in nature. Unfortunately, sometimes repetition is what it takes for progress to get a foothold. While not unique, the group's findings represent what similar studies have also reported: more needs to be done to encourage women to participate in the free software movement. Although not everyone will agree with studies like this one, until the underlying barriers are perceived to be stripped away the Women's Caucus won't be the last group with a rally cry like this one.