Announcing the shutdown of the Ada Initiative

It is with mixed feelings that we announce that the Ada Initiative will be shutting down in approximately mid-October. We are proud of what we accomplished with the support of many thousands of volunteers, sponsors, and donors, and we expect all of our programs to continue on in some form without the Ada Initiative. Thank you for your incredible work and support!

What we accomplished

80 women cheering and wearing many different colors, CC BY-SA Jenna Saint Martin Photo

AdaCamp Portland attendees in 2014
CC BY-SA Jenna Saint Martin Photo

When the Ada Initiative was founded in 2011, the environment for women in open technology and culture was extremely hostile. Conference anti-harassment policies were rare outside of certain areas in fandom, and viewed as extremist attempts to muzzle free speech. Pornography in slides was a regular feature at many conferences in these areas, as were physical and sexual assault. Most open tech/culture communities didn’t have an understanding of basic feminist concepts like consent, tone policing, and intersectional oppression.

Anti-harassment policy and code of conduct work

With the support of hundreds of volunteers, the Ada Initiative led the drive to make strong, specific, and enforced anti-harassment policies a standard and expected part of any moderately well-run conference. Today, thousands of conferences have these policies, including many in the area of free and open source software, fandom, Wikimedia projects, computer technology, library technology, science writing, entomology, and many other areas we never expected to influence. This work is now completely community-driven; people everywhere are developing and improving codes of conducts for online communities.

AdaCamp unconferences

We ran our first AdaCamp unconference in 2012 in Melbourne, and ran six more AdaCamps in the following years, in Washington D.C., San Francisco, Portland, Berlin, Bangalore, and Montreal. Over 500 women had an experience many of them described as “life-changing.” AdaCamp awakened their feminist identity, helped them improve their careers, and connected them with a community of support. Many women realized for the first time that what they were going through was not unique to themselves, that their negative experiences were the result of systemic sexism, and that they could make changes in their lives with the help of women they met through AdaCamp. We created the AdaCamp Toolkit so that other people could run events more like AdaCamp. Among many other things, it includes step-by-step guides on how to provide food that matches attendees’ food restrictions, create access lanes to increase accessibility, and provide childcare, all available under the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license.

Impostor Syndrome Training

Beginning at AdaCamp San Francisco in 2013, we taught a class for women in open tech/culture communities at every AdaCamp on overcoming Impostor Syndrome. Impostor Syndrome is the feeling that you are a fraud and will be found out as unqualified, often for the work you are already performing. Many women in open tech/culture experience Impostor Syndrome, and are excited to learn how to counteract it. We will be teaching the Impostor Syndrome workshop as a standalone class in August in Oakland and Sydney. Before we shut down, we will release the materials to run the class under the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license.

The Ally Skills Workshop

The Ada Initiative created the Ally Skills Workshop in 2011, which teaches men how to use their societal advantages to do more of the emotional labor of pushing back against sexism and exclusionary behavior in their communities and workplaces. Research shows that when women speak up against sexism in the workplace, they often suffer retaliation, but when men speak up against sexism, they seldom suffer retaliation for it and sometimes even get rewarded. Cultural change happens more quickly when men, who are often in positions of greater power, are also actively working for change, especially in fields where women make up a small percentage of people involved. Women can then use the time and emotional energy they were spending on trying to make their community less sexist to work on their primary projects or main job duties.

In the past four years, the Ally Skills Workshop has been taught to over 2,000 people, and we formally trained over 40 people to teach the workshop. Already, at least five people are actively teaching the Ally Skills Workshops in several different open tech/culture communities and we hope more people will teach the workshop in the future. All the workshop materials, including the slides, presentation notes, workshop handouts, facilitator training guide, and video of a workshop, are available under the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license.

Why we decided to shut down the Ada Initiative

In late 2014, after nearly four years of leading the Ada Initiative, co-founder Valerie Aurora wanted to step down as Executive Director and focus solely on running training programs. Our Deputy Executive Director and co-founder Mary Gardiner did not want to succeed Valerie as the Executive Director, and thus the board, in November 2014, launched a search for a new ED. After a long and thorough search which attracted more than 130 applicants, the board hired a new ED. Unfortunately, that hire didn’t work out.

That brought us to a decision point. It would have been unreasonable to expect Valerie and Mary to continue with the Ada Initiative forever. We considered running a second ED search, but it had become clear to the board that the success of the Ada Initiative was very much a product of its two founders, and was a direct result of their experiences, skills, strengths and passions. We felt the likelihood of finding a new ED who could effectively fit into Valerie’s shoes was low. We also considered several other options for continuing the organization, including changing its programs, or becoming volunteer-only.

After much deliberation, the board decided to do an orderly shutdown of the Ada Initiative, in which the organization would open source all of our remaining knowledge and expertise in freely reusable and modifiable form. We don’t feel like non-profits need to exist forever. The Ada Initiative did a lot of great work, and we are happy about it.

What’s next

Ada Lovelace portrait

Ada Lovelace portrait by Colin Adams, CC Zero/publicdomain

The Ada Initiative will shut down in approximately mid-October after using our remaining funds to complete our current obligations and do the tasks necessary to shut down the organization properly. We have several Ally Skills Workshops booked or in the process of being booked during our remaining months of operation. (We will not be booking additional Ally Skills Workshops through the Ada Initiative, but we will refer clients to other people who are teaching the Ally Skills Workshop.) We will teach Impostor Syndrome training classes in Sydney and Oakland in August, and release the materials under the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license. We will do the work to keep the Ada Initiative’s web content online and available after the Ada Initiative shuts down. We will complete the many legally required tasks to shut down a U.S. non-profit properly. If we have any funds left after completing these tasks, we will donate them to an aligned non-profit.

We will cancel all recurring donations and stop accepting new donations as of today, and issue receipts for 2015 donations in September. Please do not pressure our donors or sponsors to contribute to the Ada Initiative. Pressuring them to give additional money is unethical and ungrateful to the many people and organizations who made the Ada Initiative’s work possible over the last four and a half years. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who supported us, and we ask you to treat them with the respect and consideration they deserve.

Continuing the work of the Ada Initiative

Everything that the Ada Initiative created with the help and support of our volunteers and donors is continuing on in some freely available, reusable, and modifiable form. The conference anti-harassment and community code of conduct work is fully in the hands of the community, with dozens of forks of various anti-harassment policies and codes of conduct in active use and development. The AdaCamp Toolkit makes all of the AdaCamp innovations available to anyone who wants to start a conference or improve an existing conference. Over 40 people are trained to lead the Ally Skills Workshop, materials for which are all available for free use and modification. The Impostor Syndrome training materials will soon be released under the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license for anyone to use or modify for free.

Future plans and next steps for Valerie and Mary

Valerie still loves teaching the Ally Skills Workshop, and plans to start a for-profit training business teaching it and any other trainings she may develop. Mary will be looking for a new position based in Sydney, Australia, working in a leadership role with the right organization. Mary, Valerie, the board of directors, and the advisory board will be sad to no longer be working together directly, but value the relationships we built during our time together. We will always be immensely proud of the success of the Ada Initiative and proud of the work we did together.

Mary and Valerie would welcome positive comments on the work of Ada Initiative and stories about how their work benefited you and your community. Please do not send advice or expressions of sadness for the end of the Ada Initiative.

Thank yous

Photograph of Mary and Valerie

Ada Initiative founders Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora

We want to thank everyone who made the Ada Initiative’s work possible. We could not possibly have accomplished what we did over the last four and a half years without incredible support from thousands of people. We thank:

  • Our current and former staff
  • Our many consultants
  • Our current and former board members
  • Our current and former advisors
  • Our fundraising volunteers
  • Our AdaCamp volunteers
  • Our anonymous $100,000 donor
  • Our Seed 100 donors
  • Our many individual donors
  • Our corporate sponsors
  • Everyone who advocated for anti-harassment policies and codes of conduct
  • Everyone who advocated for or attended Ally Skills Workshops
  • Everyone who attended AdaCamp
  • Everyone who helped our mission to support women in open technology and culture

Overall, the change in the environment for women in open technology and culture from 2011 to 2015 has been enormous. We’re proud of the crucial part that the Ada Initiative’s programs played in making this happen. Thousands of people – donors, supporters, workshop participants, AdaCampers – came together to improve the culture of open technology and culture communities, showing widespread support for continued change.

Continue to support women in open technology and culture

You can still take action to support women in open technology and culture! Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Sign up for or spread the word about the upcoming Impostor Syndrome workshops in Oakland or Sydney
  • Sign up for or spread the word about Ally Skills Workshops, eg at LinuxCon Chicago
  • Advocate for a code of conduct in your community
  • Advocate for an anti-harassment policy at your conference
  • Use the AdaCamp Toolkit to start new events or make existing events better
  • Support women and other oppressed people entering your community by impostor syndrome-proofing it: documenting your norms, providing mentoring for newcomers, and encouraging a supportive style of collaboration.
  • Suggest women or members of underrepresented groups to be speakers and panelists at events you attend
  • Support Outreachy with mentorship, sponsorship, or donation
  • Support Black Girls Code and similar organizations by donating or volunteering
  • Join or donate to feminist hackerspaces
  • Ask your employer to support the Recurse Center
  • Ask your employer to sponsor a feminist event for women in an open technology and culture field
  • Ask your employer to review their hiring process and their HR practices to support employees who are women or members of other underrepresented groups
  • Ask your employer to run unconscious bias training
  • Ask your employer to only sponsor events with anti-harassment policies
  • Ask events you attend to adopt inclusive practices such as access lanes, childcare and travel grants
  • Push the Overton Window by advocating for “extreme” positions supporting women in open technology and culture (remember: once, conference anti-harassment policies were extreme)
  • Start your own brand — start your own company or activist group making change for women in open technology and culture

Thank you everyone again for your hard work in support of women in open technology and culture. Together we can make a difference!