The understanding of and appreciation for diversity varies widely across projects
Our interviewees talked frankly about diversity and the lack of it in FOSS infrastructure projects. Overall, interviewees they were in favour of greater diversity, but the degree to which people proactively make their projects more inclusive varies a lot. Since such efforts would open up new ways of joining a project, they go against the self-image of the community. Diversity efforts are generally limited.
- Data about diversity in FOSS infrastructure projects is mostly anecdotal or drawn from GitHub, which offers only a limited perspective. No comprehensive study exists.
- Since a self-motivated, self-organized work culture so heavily influences the open-source identity, changes to it are quickly perceived as a threat to the community’s culture. However, in practice, this culture filters out people with different backgrounds.
- Projects without community managers or a governance structure tend not to gather data on the diversity of their contributors or take steps towards more diversity.
- Existing diversity efforts focus mostly on women from industrialized countries.
- Some female-presenting interview partners actively favoured projects with community management in place over other (even paid) positions in similar projects where it was absent.
- Diversity efforts are considered to be time and cost intensive; their chances of success remain unclear. Projects are more likely to support people who match their profile of existing contributors because they are assumend to become a more active part of the community, on the basis of cultural similarity, financial independence, time zones and visa restrictions.
“It is a homogenous crowd, and it will likely remain that way – it’s a shame.”
“We lack a community person. The acceptance for it is missing, we need the money to produce code.”
“I miss hardcore hacking women.”
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Reach out to people who dropped out of a project in order to learn what factors contributed to them leaving.
Our data on women is scarce, but there are indications that projects with community management and team leadership roles can help to keep women on board. Financially supporting these roles could help tackle the lack of diversity. However, especially for one-person-shops or collectives, this can mean the imposition of a governance structure on the project that the community is not willing to support.
Instead of attempting to bring more diversity into existing projects, supporting projects run by groups that are underrepresented in tech can help contributors hone their confidence, skills and reputation, and enhance their standing.
Establishing fellowships within existing projects exhibiting poor inclusivity can temporarily alleviate imbalances, but this unfairly puts the onus of reforming projects’ structure onto the fellows.
Adopt an intersectional approach towards diversity that takes into account race, place of origin, gender, class and abilities.
Rather than encouraging diversity in existing projects, support projects run by groups that are underrepresented in tech as this can have a greater impact. Contributors benefit from honed confidence, skills and reputation, and can pave the way for incoming contributors from diverse backgrounds.
By choosing what kinds of work to support, funders send a message about what kinds of work are valuable. When working with projects in which essential management roles already exist, support them to the same degree as the developer positions. Refrain from focusing solely on developer positions. At the same time, avoid filling non-coding positions with people from underrepresented groups; this can reinforce the idea that coding is performed by higher-status people
Opening channels of communication and knowledge exchange with existing groups of experts who work on non-coding tasks can make it easier for FOSS infrastructure projects to reach out to them. This can help foster respect for the people and the work, and lead to greater appreciation for these positions within the community.