Anonymous donor gives $100,000 to support women in Linux

Today we are proud to announce a $100,000 donation to the Ada Initiative to support women in open technology and culture, on top of the $215,000 given by 1100 donors in our 2014 fundraising drive. The donor, a Linux kernel contributor who wishes to remain anonymous, is motivated by the continuing low proportion of women in the Linux kernel development community: currently around 1-5%, as compared to about 20% in closed source software development. Our donor believes that free and open source software like Linux should be more diverse and more open to underrepresented groups than closed source software, not less.

In response to this generous donation, the Ada Initiative pledges to teach 4 Ally Skills Workshops free of charge at Linux-related conferences in 2015, and give 100 hours of free consulting to Linux-related organizations working on making the community more welcoming.

Why focus on women in Linux?

The Linux project, now 23 years old, is one of the world’s best known and longest lived free and open source software projects, and continues to serve as a model to other projects. The culture of Linux kernel development strongly influences open source culture as a whole. People in all open source projects would benefit from a healthy, inclusive, and welcoming Linux kernel community.

Increasing the proportion of women in Linux to at least match that in proprietary software is a difficult task for many reasons, among them a culture of verbal and emotional abuse perpetuated by some leading Linux developers, including the Linux project leader, Linus Torvalds. This abuse affects people of all genders, as shown by Lennart Poettering’s description of the harassment and threats he experiences, but it is especially harmful to women given the additional barriers they face such as sexism, stereotype threat, sexual assault, and other gender-related discrimination. Solving the problems that contribute to the low percentage of women in Linux will also make the Linux community better for most people, regardless of their gender.

Many Linux community members already want a more productive and welcoming working environment, and are looking for specific, concrete ways they can help make that a reality. The Ally Skills Workshop teaches these people the skills to respond when they see sexist or abusive behavior, as well as how to prevent it from happening in the first place. In the workshop, people learn specific techniques for how to have more productive and useful discussions, how to implement codes of conduct that support good technical decision-making, how to avoid wasting time and energy on unproductive arguments, and how to improve listening skills and reduce defensiveness. All of these skills help create a more productive, creative, and rewarding working environment for the vast majority of Linux community members.

Progress for women in Linux

The good news for women in Linux is that, after 4 years of advocacy spearheaded by the Ada Initiative, all major Linux conferences now have strong, enforceable anti-harassment policies as of November 2014. These policies have significantly reduced the incidence of many kinds of in-person abuse at Linux conferences, including physical and sexual assault, pornography in presentations, and sexist jokes by keynote speakers. The next step is spreading this kind of cultural change from conferences to online interaction in the Linux community, as the Django, Python, and Rust communities have done so successfully in recent years.

To support the many Linux community members who have been working for a more humane working environment for many years, the Ada Initiative will teach 4 Ally Skills Workshops at Linux-related conferences in 2015, free of charge to attendees or the conference. These workshops will train up to 120 advocates to fight for major, systemic changes in the Linux development culture, using best practices from other open source communities that have successfully increased the participation of women. We will also reserve 100 staff hours to provide free consulting to Linux-related organizations working towards the goal of a less toxic, more productive Linux development culture. If you would like to host one of these workshops or consult with us, email us at

Our Ally Skills Workshops are in high demand by software companies, foundations, and conferences, and are often fully booked months in advance. We developed the workshop over 3 years, drawing on many years of experience in open tech/culture communities. We normally charge several thousand dollars to cover the costs of each workshop. This level of sustained advocacy for women in Linux is only possible thanks to this generous donation.

Change is possible

We understand that raising the percentage of women in Linux is a daunting task. The invitation-only Linux Kernel Developer’s Summit, the most important Linux developer conference in the world, has a single-digit percentage of women attendees. Influential leaders make and defend disgusting insults as part of the development process, make sexist comments in talks, and argue about the definition of rape on public Linux mailing lists.

At the same time, we offer these signs of hope: as free and open sources software conferences adopted anti-harassment policies, the number of publicly reported sexist incidents dropped, from 4 incidents per year at FLOSS conferences in 2009 and 2010, to 3 per year in 2011 – 2013, and 1 in 2014 (so far). Women and genderqueer people participating in the Outreach Program for Women contributed over 1092 patches to the Linux kernel, and were the top contributors by patch count to the 3.11, 3.12, 3.13, and 3.14 kernels. The Python software community radically increased the percentage of women attending PyCon from less than 10% in 2011 to about 33% in 2014, and the percentage of women speakers went from 1% in 2010 to 33% in 2014. Change is possible; let’s get to work!

Thank you again to our anonymous $100,000 donor, and to our major individual donors from previous years: Sumana Harihareswara and Leonard Richardson, who donated $21,000 in 2012-2013, and Jesse Ruderman, who donated $5120 in 2011. Because of you, and all of our donors in the last four years, the open source software community is more diverse and welcoming than ever before – and it will keep getting better. Thank you!