Ada Initiative Census results, part 2: Women's representation and perceived friendliness of open/tech to women

We ran the first Ada Initiative Census of open technology and culture in March 2011. We wanted to know two main things: Where women are active in open technology and culture, and how people perceive women's representation in those communities.

Our first post on the census results simply described the respondents' gender and the communities they were involved in. This post is about the survey respondents' perception of friendliness and openness to women in two arenas: open technology and culture as a whole, and their primary community (e.g., open source, open data, transformative works) within that overall culture.

Structure

We asked respondents to reply to four statements with one of the answers: strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree, or undecided. In discussing the results, we usually grouped "strongly disagree" and "disagree" together, as well as "strongly agree" and "agree." The statements were:

  • Women are well represented in open technology and culture generally.
  • Women are well represented in my primary open technology and culture community.
  • Open technology and culture (in general) provides a welcoming and supportive environment for women.
  • My primary open technology and culture community provides a welcoming and supportive environment for women.

This analysis focuses on two major distinctions: The gender of the person answering, and the whether the person was talking about open tech/culture overall or about their primary community, the specific group they spent the most time in.

Limitations

We made no attempt to get a representative sample of people in open technology and culture, so overall percentages don't represent overall opinion with open tech/culture as a whole. If you are thinking of writing "75% of people in open source think we need more women in open source" – you can't, at least not based on this survey.

Repeat: Responses to this survey are not likely to represent the open tech/culture community as a whole.

What this survey does tell us is, amongst approximately 2800 people interested in responding to a survey by a women in open tech/culture organization, what is the distribution of opinions? What areas are they involved in? How do responses differ based on a person's gender? Their primary community? These are questions this survey can answer.

Representation of women in open technology and culture generally

In the first question, we asked people to respond to the statement "Women are well represented in open technology and culture generally." This question was intended to get a feeling for the satisfaction of the respondent with the representation of women in open technology and culture overall. For example, if a person feels that the current level of involvement of women and their tasks are appropriate (estimated at 1-15% women, depending on the field), then they'd respond "Strongly agree." Another person in the same community who felt that a more appropriate representation was at least 50% with tasks distributed similarly as in the male part of the community would respond "Strongly disagree."

Our comments indicated that some respondents chose surprising interpretations of "well-represented" such as "the women in open technology and culture are usually intelligent and present themselves well." But we think most people interpreted it somewhere along the lines of "Do women making up a reasonable proportion of the community and are they and their work respected?"

  Female Male Other Response
Totals
Women are well represented in open technology and culture generally. Strongly disagree 20.5%
(215)
22.6%
(170)
28.0%
(14)
21.5%
(399)
Disagree 54.7%
(573)
52.3%
(394)
46.0%
(23)
53.5%
(990)
Agree 7.1%
(74)
7.4%
(56)
8.0%
(4)
7.20%
(134)
Strongly agree 0.7%
(7)
1.5%
(11)
4.0%
(2)
1.08%
(20)
Undecided 17.0%
(178)
16.2%
(122)
14.0%
(7)
16.5%
(307)

The numbers look quite different across genders at first glance, but grouping "strongly agree" and "agree" and "strongly disagree" and "disagree" produces remarkably similar results across genders. Across all genders, 75% of respondents thought that women were not well-represented in the open source community overall, about 8% felt they were, and about 17% were undecided. Men, women, and people of other genders had very similar responses to this question, within a few percent.

Bar graph

Representation of women in my primary open technology and culture community

On the next question, we asked people the same question about the representation of women, but about their primary community instead of the open tech/culture community generally:

  Female Male Other Response
Totals
Women are well represented in my primary open technology and culture community. Strongly disagree 14.4%
(151)
26.4%
(199)
18.0%
(9)
19.4%
(359)
Disagree 32.0%
(335)
45.9%
(346)
18.0%
(9)
37.2%
(690)
Agree 18.9%
(198)
10.9%
(82)
20.0%
(10)
15.6%
(290)
Strongly agree 23.8%
(249)
4.4%
(33)
38.0%
(19)
16.2%
(301)
Undecided 10.9%
(114)
12.4%
(93)
6.0%
(3)
11.3%
(210)

On this question, the gender of the respondent strongly affects the answer. Women are far more likely to say that women are well-represented in their primary community: 43% of women vs. 15% of men. A whopping 72% of men and 46% of women don't feel that women are well-represented in their primary community.

Our data can't answer this question in and of itself, but from the disparity in the answers to the questions about the overall community, and the free-form comments, we believe that the women who responded have gravitated towards the communities that were most welcoming to women.

Welcoming and supportive environment for women

Next we asked if open technology and culture provided a welcoming and supportive environment for women.

  Female Male Other Response
Totals
Open technology and culture (in general) provides a welcoming and supportive environment for women. Strongly disagree 11.1%
(116)
5.7%
(43)
18.0%
(9)
9.08%
(168)
Disagree 37.7%
(395)
28.7%
(216)
44.0%
(22)
34.2%
(633)
Agree 16.3%
(171)
18.2%
(137)
10.0%
(5)
16.9%
(313)
Strongly agree 1.6%
(17)
4.9%
(37)
4.0%
(2)
3.0%
(56)
Undecided 33.2%
(348)
42.5%
(320)
24.0%
(12)
36.8%
(680)

Women were much more likely to disagree or strongly disagree, 48% of women vs. 34% of men. 18% of women and 17% of men agreed or strongly agreed. However, "undecided" was a very common response, at 37% overall, suggesting that this question was too broad to answer meaningfully for many people.

Next we asked about the respondent's primary community, which got more definitive answers.

  Female Male Other Response
Totals
My primary open technology and culture community provides a welcoming and supportive environment for women. Strongly disagree 3.3%
(35)
2.8%
(21)
4.0%
(2)
3.1%
(58)
Disagree 11.7%
(122)
16.3%
(123)
18.0%
(9)
13.7%
(254)
Agree 37.2%
(389)
36.3%
(273)
36.0%
(18)
36.8%
(680)
Strongly agree 26.4%
(276)
10.8%
(81)
28.0%
(14)
20.1%
(371)
Undecided 21.5%
(225)
33.9%
(255)
14.0%
(7)
26.3%
(487)

Again, respondents are much more positive about their primary open technology and culture community, with 64% of women rating their primary community positively on support for women (vs. 18% of women for open tech/culture overall). Only 15% of women felt their primary community was unsupportive of women (vs. 19% of men), down from 48% for open tech/culture overall. The "undecided" response was down significantly for all, from 37% to 26%.

Bar graph

Summary

In summary, few of our respondents feel that women are well-represented in open technology and culture overall (about 8% regardless of gender). Women view open technology and culture as a whole to be less welcoming to women than men do. At the same time, women tend to view their primary community as much more welcoming to women than open tech/culture overall. We speculate this is because women are attracted to more welcoming communities and/or cause their communities to become more welcoming.

Because we collected data about what communities respondents were involved in, we have a place to start doing more research about what makes a community welcoming to women. For example, we had 487 responses from people whose primary community was an open source project they considered welcoming to women, and 144 from transformative works fandom.

Next up: Outlook for women in open technology and culture in the future.