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SCALE 8x: Moving the needle

Mar 05, 2010, 07:02 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jake Edge)

"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."

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