The Ada Initiative was a United States 501(c)3 charitable organization. Between 2011 and 2015 the Ada Initiative supported women in open technology and culture through activities such as producing codes of conduct and anti-harassment policies, advocating for gender diversity and teaching ally skills. Our work included:
- Ally Skills Workshop teaching materials
- Impostor Syndrome community resources and teaching materials
- Conference anti-harassment resources
- The AdaCamp toolkit
How the Ada Initiative changed open technology and culture
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.
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 the Ada Initiative never expected to influence.
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. Between 2011 and 2015, the Ada Initiative taught the Ally Skills Workshop to over 2,000 people, and formally trained over 40 people to teach the workshop.
The Ada Initiative ran its 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. The Ada Initiative then created the AdaCamp Toolkit so that other people could run events more like AdaCamp.
Beginning at AdaCamp San Francisco in 2013, the Ada Initiative 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. The Ada Initiative released the materials to run the class under the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license.
Founders of the Ada Initiative
Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora co-founded the Ada Initiative in January 2011. Our goal was to advance the cause of supporting women in open technology and culture by paying activists to work full-time on solutions. Previously, we volunteered for over ten years in open source software, open culture communities, and women in computing activism.
The Ada Initiative’s namesake: Ada Lovelace
The Ada Initiative was named for Countess Ada Lovelace, widely acknowledged as the world’s first computer programmer. Since she published the source code of her program, the world’s first programmer was also a woman open source programmer. The Ada Initiative founders think this set an excellent precedent.