We have a very large problem in the open source community: we are the epitome of a hostile misogynistic work environment.
If you’ve missed the latest example, read the comments on “A hell of a time” (cached) right now. Then come back and read the rest of this post.
I don’t know either of the people involved. I’m not going to comment on this specific incident beyond saying two things:
- This sort of thing should never, ever happen. It is inexcusable in any context. Full stop.
- A large number of the comments posted on the blog indicate just how pervasive the problem really is.
The first point is simple. Touching someone without their consent is assault. There is no excuse for not knowing and understanding this painfully simple concept. If you don’t, seek professional help before you hurt someone.
The second point, though, demonstrates just how pervasive misogyny is in the technology and open source community. I am extremely disturbed at the number of “LOL STFU you asked for it” posts. “Suck it up, if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen” is just as bad, just less obscene. Not only are there members of our community that are supporters of abusive behavior, they’re willing to post their vitriolic opinions for the world to see. They make it appear that we as a community consider their abhorrent attitudes acceptable.
Standing up and speaking out against abusive behavior is a critical first step, but this is a systemic problem deeply rooted in the culture of our community. It’s not just that we need to stop it, abusive behavior shouldn’t be happening it in the first place!
We need to move beyond blog posts, angry tweets, and contributing to comment flamewars (of which I am equally guilty) and start making substantive changes to the way we run our community. Projects like CAHP are examples of attempts to make some of the fundamental systemic changes, but we need to do more. We need to change the underlying social mores our wonderfully chaotic and individualistic community.
Effecting fundamental change in any community is difficult. There’s no one “right” way to do it. A combination of multiple top-down and bottom-up approaches is likely the only way we’re going to make any progress. I’m no expert on organizational culture and change, but I have some ideas on where we can start:
- We need to have codes of conduct in our projects and conferences that specifically ban abusive and sexist behavior. Moreover, these codes must have real consequences for violations – loss of commit access, removal from governing boards of committees, bans from conferences, etc. A scolding and a slap on the wrist is not sufficient. We need to make it abundantly clear that if you say or do something abusive, you will be booted from the project/community/conference. Then, of course, we actually have to enforce them. As painful as it may be, “but he’s a really brilliant coder” is no excuse. Booting someone for inappropriate behavior may cost you a valuable community member, but how many brilliant people have left or not joined the community because of the hostile environment engendered by letting the abusive members stay?
- Trainings around diversity and sexual harassment – not just for people who have done something wrong, but everybody. I know, I know. I can hear the eye rolling from here. Badly-done trainings are worthless … as a public employee I’ve sat through more than a few that were painful wastes of time. That said, when well-executed these trainings really do work. Trainings help the majority (straight white guys like me) see the signs of trouble that we would ordinarily miss- they help us step back and really see what it’s like for members of the community minority. They help us know how to appropriately respond when we see problems, without condescension or paternalism and without disempowering the very people we’re trying to support . Most importantly, they make us think about how we do things and how we unthinkingly contribute to the problems within our community’s culture.
- Keep speaking out. We need to learn to be more effective in how we respond to inappropriate and abusive behavior. Commenting on blogs can be useful, but it’s also shouting into an echo chamber. It makes a lot of noise, but is anyone really listening? Speaking out publicly helps, but we also need to pull our peers aside and speak to them privately about things they say and do – even when there were no women present – that are sexist or misogynist. One-on-one personal conversations are vastly more valuable than shouting on a blog.
Look around the next time you go to a conference or hack-a-thon or meetup. Tally the gender ratio. It’s appalling. It’s embarrassing. It’s totally unacceptable. Why is it this way? In no small part due to the behavior of us, the straight white male majority in the open source community, and how we treat the people who make up the rest the world’s population. We must do better. We have to turn this hostile work environment around and make it a welcoming place for everyone, not just some exclusive good old boys’ club.