What changed in 2012 for women in open tech and culture?

We are replacing our monthly newsletters with periodic updates on the state of women's participation in open technology and culture. We'll also be sharing regular calls to action with you, with ideas for how you personally can help support women in open technology and culture.

First women in open tech/culture conferences

Mary and Valerie laughing

Mary and Valerie at AdaCamp DC

2012 saw the first stand-alone conferences specifically for women in open technology and culture, AdaCamp Melbourne in January and AdaCamp DC in July. Topics included fighting Impostor Syndrome; success stories from open tech/culture communities with many women; geek moms; women editing Wikipedia; burnout and lifehacking; fandom; feminism & social change; soft circuits. The response from attendees was overwhelming – "The experience profoundly changed me," and "AdaCamp was a phenomenal event! I’m grateful to the Ada Initiative and AdaCamp attendees for helping me stay inspired to fight for open tech, open culture, and women’s involvement in both." We are currently planning the next AdaCamp, in San Francisco in June 2013.

Online groups for women in technology generally, and open technology and culture in particular, have been around for decades. They include Systers, LinuxChix and Girl Geek Dinners. The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is a conference for women in computing in general, and the Haecksen gatherings are small miniconference or BoF style events at larger conferences. These groups and events generally focus on networking and support. A complementary goal is activism: discussing, exploring and changing the culture for women in open technology and culture. What makes AdaCamp different is a focus on changing the culture, and bringing together women from all over open technology and culture rather than focusing on computer programming.

Based on the AdaCamp manuals, we released our conference booklet templates for other events to re-use.

Harassment policies continue to be implemented

The Ada Initiative continues to focus on supporting open technology and culture events in publicly condemning and fighting harassment incidents. We believe that conference organizers are especially empowered to act on harassment, paving the way for anti-harassment norms to spread throughout open technology and culture.

The example anti-harassment policy for technical conferences and support materials were one of the early projects of the Ada Initiative and other community members. Adoption of anti-harassment policies continued strongly in 2012, and we developed additional resources to support conferences that implemented such policies. One of the resources is a guide to responding to harassment incidents, based on the Ada Initiative's experience assisting conference organizers faced with an allegation of harassment and has already formed the basis for a section of the PyCon US staff manual. We also developed a variant on the anti-harassment policy for conferences that discuss sex and/or pornography as part of their program.

In a very widely read article, the Ada Initiative's Valerie Aurora challenged hacker conferences to adopt such policies, with the first conference to do so, BruCON, reporting that the policy allows them to keep their friendly feel as they grow. Several hacker conferences have since adopted anti-harassment policies.

Outside of the Ada Initiative's community, other geek communities are using the example policy and its derivatives. In 2012 the atheist and skeptic communities discussed and adopted anti-harassment policies for many conferences amid continuing concerns about discrimination and harassment in their communities. We hope communities at large continue to benefit from this work.

Women's inclusion in open technology events and education continues to be funded

Outreach programs which pay for women to attend events or do internships in open technology have a long history, inc. Diversity scholarships attract not only the recipients to events, but also promote the event among networks of women and other underrepresented groups and signal that it is inclusive, resulting in higher attendance of people who didn't receive or even apply for a scholarship.

Offering such scholarships continued in 2012, with for example PyCon US and DjangoCon scholarships, but their size and visibility is increasing with more substantial offers, for example, the Etsy Hacker Grants, offering living allowances for women attending Hacker School. Similarly, the GNOME Foundation's Outreach Program for Women grew in 2012 to include not only funding for an internship working on GNOME projects but also internships on Fedora, Mozilla, OpenStack and Wikimedia projects, among several other communities.

Awareness raising talks

As in 2009, several large conferences invited keynotes on the subject of diversity in 2012. The Ada Initiative's Mary Gardiner keynoted Wikimania on Fostering diversity, describing concrete steps to increase diversity in open technology and culture projects; and Michael Schwern addressed YAPC::NA on Perl: the Next Generation, describing the problems with open technology's tendency to concentrate power in the hands of those who've always had it.

Progress on women speaking at technical events

In May, gaming conference organizer Courtney Stanton laid out techniques for getting much higher representation of women technical speakers than many conferences are able to achieve. Technical conferences such as JSConf EU are beginning to report success with vastly improving the representation of women on stage at their events. Conferences are starting to be actively challenged on lack of gender diversity in their line-up.

Looking forward into 2013

Photograph of the San Francisco cityscape

by Glen Scarborough, CC BY-SA

The Ada Initiative will continue with our successful AdaCamps: we're already planning AdaCamp San Francisco in June, and have recently welcomed our first four event sponsors to the project. In addition we're having a more informal event as part of PyCon 2013: a feminist hacker lounge organized by advisors Lukas Blakk and Liz Henry. We've also launched a program to offer our allies workshop more widely, including a soon-to-be-released video version. Valerie and Mary are meeting in March to develop our 2013 plans and are looking forward to sharing them with you.

Activism outside the Ada Initiative continues to be vibrant. Already this year challenges to events that have very male-dominated speaker lineups are increasing, with Rebecca Rosen calling for men to refuse to appear on all-male panels and the campaign to ban "booth babes" at consumer electronics event CES. New website confcodeofconduct.com is advocating the further adoption of codes of conduct with anti-harassment norms.

If you or your organization are planning events promoting or supporting women in open technology and culture, we'd love to hear from you. Contact share@adainitiative.org.

The Ada Initiative depends on your support to continue our work supporting women in open technology and culture! Support our 2013 plans by donating today. Thank you to all our 2011 and 2012 donors for your crucial support during our first two years.

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