Karen Sandler: "We've created ways that we can talk about it that allows women to cope"

Our advisor Karen Sandler, Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation, was interviewed in March at LibrePlanet. The Open Source at Google blog recently published the interview, in which Karen talks about the GNOME Foundation, free software in medical devices and other free software advocacy.

In the video, Karen talks about the GNOME Outreach Program for Women (beginning at 12 minutes, 19 seconds), and how it has created a community where women not only become advocates for GNOME and its community, but can support each other:


Jeremy Allison, interviewer: So, the other thing that you’re very interested in is women in computing and I believe that’s the Ada Initiative that you’re associated with. Could you tell our viewers a little more about that?

Karen Sandler: Yeah I’d love to and it’s actually two things and I think one led me to the other. The first one is the GNOME Outreach Program for Women and Google is a sponsor of the program and we’re so grateful that Google sponsors interns in our community because what our program does is we specifically invite women to apply and take on — it’s inspired by Google Summer of Code actually — and it encourages them to come into projects. They don’t need to be [into?] development although many of them are: we have marketing interns, design interns, you know, documentation interns.

And what these women do is that they come in, and in order to apply you must have made contributions already into the project so basically it specifically invites women to come and participate in our community and tells them how to get started. And in order to even submit the application, you need to make contacts with people, talk to them, figure out, you know, what the needs are in the project and make a real fix.

So the program’s been really successful and what we’ve done is basically systematically addressed all of those reasons why we think women are excluded or have traditionally not been present in the Free and Open Source Software community. And at GNOME it’s been tremendously successful: a very high percentage of the women that participate in our programs stay in our community. I think, there’s a number that — I think it’s something like 40% of the women who participated in, uh, two rounds ago and the round before that — not only stayed in our community but were active in outreach. So they were mentors, they were speaking on behalf of GNOME to get more people involved because they had such a good experience.

And so it’s this kind of thing and the GNOME community has changed so much since I first became involved in it many years ago where now I go to a conference and there are women there. And not only that, there’s a supportive community where, you know, sometimes when I have a bad day — I posted a blog recently where I had spoken on a panel at South by Southwest [SXSW] and my discussion was so intellectual and high level — but I posted a photo of me and the others I’d come with and someone commented on a specific part of my anatomy and it shocked me and I remembered —

Jeremy [speaking as Karen speaks]: That is gross.

Karen: “Oh! That is why I don’t post photos of myself generally!” But it was like “I’m already a seasoned member of our community, one bad comment isn’t going to turn me away.” But five years ago, I maybe would have just gone away. But I knew that I could go to the women’s outreach forum on the GNOME server and I — you know, on the IRC channel — and we all talked about it and three other people said “I had that happen to me last week” and it’s unfortunate that it’s so common but we’ve created infrastructure, we’ve created ways that we can talk about it that allows women to cope and understand that our community is more valuable and not just represented by the few bad actors.

So the GNOME Outreach Program which is the fantastic — and Marina [Zhurakhinskaya] is at Red Hat and she does this and she’s amazing, she’s the one who spearheads this effort, it’s incredible. You’re laughing?

Jeremy: No, I’ve actually interviewed Marina, if people want to look you can find an interview with her on exactly this topic.

Karen: Oh OK, so I’ll skip to the Ada Initiative.

Jeremy Allison’s 2010 interview with Marina Zhurakhinskaya is also available on Youtube.

Tomorrow we’ll post more of Karen’s interview, focussing on the Ada Initiative and her experience at AdaCamp Melbourne.

The transcribed part of Karen’s video has been subtitled using Amara. Help subtitle the rest of the video!