"There are lots of ongoing efforts to increase the number of
women participating in free software, but reports on how those
efforts have fared are few and far between. Sarah Mei spoke at the
Women in Open Source (WIOS) conference, which preceded SCALE 8x, to
report on what she and other members of the San Francisco Ruby
community have been doing to bring more women into that community.
Her talk, Moving the Needle: How the San Francisco Ruby Community
got to 18%, looked at the goals that were set, the methods that
were used, and the results.
"Mei had been involved in various communities over the last 15
years, including Java, PHP, and Linux, and she had never really
thought about why there weren't very many other women active in
those communities. But, when coming back into the Ruby community
after not being a part of it for a few months, she attended the
Golden Gate Ruby Conference (GoGaRuCo) in 2009, which was infamous
for a presentation that featured soft-core pornography in its
slides. That conference, with around 200 attendees, five of which
were women—including, in an amusing coincidence, three named
"Sarah"—became something of a turning point for Mei.
"She started out by posting about it to her blog, but soon
realized that the presenter didn't really mean to be demeaning and
was, instead, just a "socially awkward computer programmer". She
didn't think she could change the person, so she started thinking
about changing the community. In particular, if you could "change
the audience at these events" such that it was 100 women and 100
men, she believed that inappropriate presentations would naturally
fall by the wayside."