Category Archives: Editorial

Editorials and opinion pieces

Guest post: Deciding if or when a harasser may return to an event

This is a series of excerpts from a post by writer and speaker Stephanie Zvan, advising conference organizers on how to respond when a person who harassed people at their event wants to return to the event. The post was prompted by Jim Frenkel’s attendance at the 2014 Wiscon feminist science fiction convention, after reports of harassment by Frenkel at the 2013 Wiscon and other events. These posts are excerpts from a post that originally appeared on “Almost Diamonds” at Free Thought Blogs. You can read part 1 of this post here.

Now, once you’ve decided to treat a harassment claim like any other health and safety issue, your main decision still remains. Do you or don’t you allow the harasser to remain at or return to your event? There are two main factors in deciding.

  1. Do you reasonably think the harasser will continue to violate your code of conduct?
  2. Will your guests reasonably feel safe if the harassers remains or returns?

The trick, of course, is defining “reasonably”. We’d all like to think we’re more reasonable than we are. Still, it’s possible to work through these issues.

Judging whether a harasser will stop violating your code of conduct

What kinds of things make it reasonable to think a harasser will stop? Here are a few:

  • They were unaware that their behavior was a violation of your code of conduct. This could be true if your code of conduct is not well publicized or the language is vague or ambiguous. Of course, if this is the case, the behavior in question would also have to be reasonably acceptable outside of your event. For example, groping someone, trapping them, and screaming in their face are all broadly condemned even outside of areas with codes of conduct. No one should be reasonably unaware that these behaviors are unacceptable. If the behavior in question is the sort of thing that would be hidden from bosses, organizers, or the respected voices of the community, a harasser doesn’t have a reasonable case that they “just didn’t know”.
  • They express understanding of their behavior and remorse about it. In the case of honest miscommunication that results in harm to one of the parties, the person who caused the harm should also be upset. They should accept that what they did caused harm, and they should want to prevent causing more harm by repeating the behavior in the future. If they aren’t remorseful, then they consider their original behavior to be justified and are more likely to repeat it.
  • They understand and accept the consequences that apply to their behavior. This is sometimes easier to see in the negative than the positive. Someone who argues that they shouldn’t receive consequences or, worse, that you “cannot” apply consequences to them feels entitled to your spaces and your events. They don’t see that their access is legitimately tied to and dependent on their good behavior. This can be a particular problem when a harasser is friends with decision-makers. Communicating to that friend that what is happening needs to be taken seriously is far more difficult in that situation than it is when it’s not mixed with cozy interpersonal relationships.
  • They don’t have a pattern of unacceptable behavior. One event may be a fluke. More than one event, even if every one of them is a “miscommunication”, points to an underlying problem. In order to reasonably believe that a harasser’s behavior will change in these circumstances, you’ll need to see some kind of evidence that the underlying problem has been addressed.

Notice that I suggested you should apply a different standard to guests at your events than you apply to yourself as an organizer (feeling vs. thinking). There are two reasons for that. The first is that, as an organizer, you’re privy to more information about a harassment complaint than your guests are. The second is that your guests have signed up for a different kind of experience than you have.

When you agree to organize an event, you take on extra responsibilities that your guests don’t have. They’re at your event to have a good time, socialize, and (depending on the nature of your event) learn something. You’re there to facilitate that. This means you take on a responsibility to consider their experience as it is, not as you think it should be. In other words, you may feel that your guests or potential guests are being irrational about a situation, but that won’t stop them from deciding they don’t want to show up. People get to stay home if they want to. It’s up to you to make them want to attend instead.

Judging whether other attendees will feel safe with the harasser attending your event

What kinds of things make it reasonable for guests to feel safe with a harasser attending your event?

  • They trust you to handle violations of the code of conduct promptly and fairly. People are more comfortable taking risks when they have backup. Attending an event with a harasser is a risk. If you ask them to take that risk for you, you have to show them that you’ve earned that trust.
  • They can avoid the harasser at little cost to them. This gives people control of their interactions with the harasser. If you put the harasser in a position of authority or require people to interact with them in order to access a service at your event, they won’t feel they can maintain their safety without unreasonable costs. Volunteer-run events sometimes argue that they need the volunteer, but I’ve yet to see one account for the volunteers they’ll lose by handing power (yes, volunteer positions involve some degree of power) to a harasser.
  • Their prior interactions with the harasser are not painful to recall. To be blunt, you may well have to choose between having a harasser attend your event and having the person or people they harassed attend. Dealing with memories spurred by seeing one’s harasser, or someone whose harassing behavior you witnessed, does not make for a pleasant event experience. If people don’t want to cope with that, you can’t require them to. Attempting to shame them for it won’t work and will only lead to the impression that you care more about the prestige or financial success of your event than the people who make it what it is.
  • They know what to expect. Surprising your guests with the attendance of someone they believe to be a harasser is not a good idea. Yes, your hands are tied with regard to how much information you can safely share about a harassment investigation and follow-up without incurring legal liability. Nonetheless, issues that get broad attention, as so many do right now as we figure out as communities how they should be handled, will require basic communication now or more communication in more detail later. If you have the staff to handle a storm of bad PR, you should have the staff to get out ahead of the problem.

That isn’t a long list of requirements for successfully reincorporating a harasser into a space they’ve abused. As much as some people like to suggest that nothing a harasser can do to be allowed back, these are not impossible hurdles. That doesn’t mean they’re not tricky to navigate in practice, but the principles that make people likely to be safe in reality and make them subjectively feel safe are not rocket science. They don’t require divination. They don’t require reading people’s minds or bowing to unreasonable demands.

And if you’re an organization facing these problems and feeling like you’re swimming in treacherous waters, there are people who want to help. We’ve been working on this issue, in our organizations or with multiple organizations on a consulting basis. We are invested in people starting to get things right. We want the good examples for everyone to follow. We want good decisions that, while they aren’t going to be comfortable, are going to make things better for all the people who aren’t part of the problem.

Let us help you get things right, because ultimately, it’s going to be you who bears the blame and criticism if and when you get it wrong.

You can continue reading the original post here.

Guest post: Harassment isn't an interpersonal issue, it's a health and safety issue

This is a series of excerpts from a post by writer and speaker Stephanie Zvan, advising conference organizers on how to respond when a person who harassed people at their event wants to return to the event. The post was prompted by Jim Frenkel’s attendance at the 2014 Wiscon feminist science fiction convention, after reports of harassment by Frenkel at the 2013 Wiscon and other events. These posts are excerpts from a post that originally appeared on “Almost Diamonds” at Free Thought Blogs.

So how should event organizers deal with people who have been reasonably found to have harassed one of their attendees (hereafter referred to as “the harasser” out of convenience rather than any essentialism)?

Harassment isn’t an interpersonal issue

We are accustomed and encouraged to use frames of reference in thinking about harassment that aren’t helpful, so let’s clear a couple of those up right off the bat. Harassment is not an “interpersonal issue”. Having your boundaries violated is not something a person does. It is something that is done to them. When someone says how they want to be treated (either verbally or through body language) and this is ignored, this is a unilateral action on the part of the person who chose to ignore their boundaries. When things outside the bounds of the broadest social norms or outside of a local code of conduct are done to people without them being consulted, this is a unilateral action on the part of the person who took action without consulting the target of that action.

Treating harassment as a back-and-forth between two people simply because it requires that two people be present elides the one-sided nature of these interactions. It elides the responsibility of one person who acts on another to be aware of how that action will impact the person it targets.

Worse, it places some of that responsibility on the person acted upon, the person whose boundaries—stated or reasonably assumed—were violated. It says that either the target of the harassing behavior had an obligation to stop the behavior themselves or that it is reasonable for another person to assume they consented to whatever happened. When we’re talking about code of conduct violations, this means that treating harassment as an interpersonal issue is telling people that it would be reasonable to assume they consented to being the target of racist or sexist remarks, consented to being followed or photographed, consented to being touched—simply by attending your event.

If you’re going to treat these things as reasonable assumptions when it comes time to evaluate a complaint, they shouldn’t be listed as code of conduct violations in the first place. If your intent is to create a space where anything should be expected to happen, a code of conduct is false advertising. Don’t treat someone who relies on your code of conduct as though they’ve done something wrong.

A harassment investigation is not a criminal case

Additionally, a harassment investigation is not a criminal case. You, as event organizers, are not the government of a country, a state, or even a city. When you investigate an allegation of harassment, you are not interfering with anyone’s liberties or rights under the constitution. You are determining who will and who will not attend your event.

This is true however your investigation and decision comes out. If you bend over backward to give the accused the benefit of the doubt and end up allowing a harasser to continue to attend your event, you will lose attendees who feel that harasser has now been given official permission to continue. These people are innocent of violating your rules, but that doesn’t keep them from being excluded by your decision. This is true every bit as much as if you exclude someone who is innocent of harassment on the basis of an unfounded accusation.

So, all that said, how do you go about determining when a harasser can rejoin your community?

Harassment is a health and safety issue, treat it like one

First off, stop asking that particular question. We don’t spend time agonizing over when “that person who set off the fire alarms and caused an evacuation” or “that person who held someone’s head under water in the pool” gets to come back. This is not about the harasser and their needs. Harassment is a health and safety issue, and you’ll get a whole lot further if you treat it like one. […]

I’m sure there are readers at this point who still don’t understand why harassment short of assault would be considered a health and safety issue if no one was physically injured, so I’ll break it down briefly. The mild forms of harassment are still stressors. They still make their targets outsiders, less than human beings with full agency in the spaces in which the harassment occurs. They require that not just targets, but the entire classes of people who tend to be targeted, make decisions bout how to navigate these spaces in ways that allow them to remain safer.

Even before we get to behaviors that (nearly) everyone agrees constitute sexual violence, even before we talk about the fact that the presence of harassment reasonably makes people question whether they’ll be subject to to violence, sexual harassment not only adds to people’s stress–a health issue in and of itself–but it requires people to spend their limited time and energy to protect themselves. We would not tolerate events held in places that required participants to track down safe water for themselves, whether or not the water at a venue was ultimately safe to drink. We don’t allow fake weapons for cosplay to be carried in a way that may threaten people. We don’t have any better reason than cultural inertia to make a special allowance for sexual or gender-based behavior that is stressful and threatening. That just isn’t what safety means.

Continue reading the original post here, or read part 2 in tomorrow’s blog post.

The Ada Initiative founders on funding activism for women in open source (from Model View Culture)

This article by Ada Initiative founders Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner originally appeared in Model View Culture in April 2014. It is republished here unchanged and released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike licence.

In December 2010, Valerie Aurora, then a leading Linux filesystems developer, announced that she was leaving software development to work on women in open source software activism full time. Behind the scenes, she asked several other geek feminist activists to join her to work on women in open source activism full time. “I don’t know what the world-wide economic capacity for paid activists [for women in open source] is, but let’s find out together!” she wrote.

In 2010, the smart money said that the world-wide economic capacity for paid activists for women in open source was well under one person. And only Mary Gardiner, then an unpaid computer science PhD student looking to leave academia, took Valerie up on the offer.

Thus began our long journey towards answering the question: “How does an activist get paid?

Mary and Valerie laughing

Ada Initiative founders Mary and Valerie, CC BY-SA Adam Novak

This article chronicles our own painful and sometimes expensive learning experiences around funding diversity in tech work, as well as advice and techniques from several other successful full-time diversity in tech activists and fundraising experts: Ashe Dryden, diversity advocate and consultant; Kellie Brownell, CiviCRM implementer at Giant Rabbit and former Ada Initiative fundraising consultant; Frances Hocutt, founding president of the Seattle Attic feminist hackerspace; and Emily May, executive director of Hollaback!.

Paying Activists and Funding Complications

The question we struggled with initially was why activism, and feminist activism in open source software in particular, should be a paid job at all. Thanks to the work of people including Kate Losse, today the tech community is increasingly aware that this kind of community-building labor is valuable and should be compensated. But in 2010, all we knew is that volunteer activism was not working. Women in open source software were working for free, burning themselves out while fighting for rights as simple as basic physical safety – let alone equal pay, equal treatment and a non-sexist culture.

And yet the expectation that women in open source should be unpaid activists was so high that in 2009, Emma Jane Westby formulated the “Unicorn Law,” which states: “If you are a woman in Open Source, you will eventually give a talk about being a woman in Open Source.” In October 2011, Skud — herself an activist and target of harassment — adapted Arlie Hochschild’s term “the second shift” to describe this phenomenon. But after ten years, and tens of thousands of hours of difficult, draining work, the percentage of women in open source software was still in the low single digits.

Valerie’s insight — radical, at the time — was that we needed full-time paid activists working on the problem in order to make any progress. We founded the Ada Initiative with the principle of paying fair market wages to anyone doing work for us more than a few hours a week. In 2010, this was a moonshot. In 2014, it’s increasingly how things are done. More and more diversity in technology initiatives are becoming paid activities, and a growing proportion of the technology industry recognizes this labour as something worth paying for.

For all this progress, relatively few “pre-fabricated” diversity in tech jobs exist, and the ones that do exist tend to be co-opted by corporations to narrowly focus on recruiting and, in effect, marketing. Many existing large diversity-in-tech non-profits are primarily corporate-funded and therefore end up compelled to do recruiting and marketing for for-profit tech corporations. An employee of a for-profit corporation who wants to advocate for significant cultural change as part of their job is stuck in an additional catch-22: they can’t criticize their competitors, because it looks like a conflict of interest, and they also can’t criticize their own employer, because that’s a great way to get fired.

Thus, full-time diversity activists who want to do effective, controversial, culture-changing work must often work out how to pay themselves, rather than taking existing jobs at tech companies or diversity in tech non-profits.

What follows is a survey of some of the most popular funding sources: corporate sponsorship, individual donations, and consulting and training.

But first…

Why you shouldn’t try them all

Often activists will reach for every funding opportunity they can: individual fundraising campaign, yes! Government grants, yes! Selling stickers, yes! Sucking up to wealthy potential donors at lavish one-on-one dinners, absolutely! But it is crucial to pick just two or three funding sources and concentrate on them.

Raising money in any form takes time, practice, dedication, and skill. Pursuing too many forms of funding will just mean that you’re bad at all of them. Some diversification of funding sources is often recommended, but the base requirement is a reliable funding source.

An activist’s choice will depend both on their mission and who they are able to reach. The Wikimedia Foundation is focusing exclusively on small donors from all over the world giving an average of $25 each and giving up pursuing most grants or large donors, in part because small donors are inherently diversified. However, the Wikimedia Foundation can use Wikipedia, one of the world’s most-read websites, as a fundraising platform, a rare advantage. No diversity in tech activists will have such a large pool of potential donors! Each individual and organization needs to assess which sources of funding are compatible with their mission, and of those sources, which they can access.

Corporate Sponsorship

The Ada Initiative, like many diversity in tech groups, initially planned on getting most of our funding from technology-related corporations. Our focus was on women in open technology and culture, which includes open source software, Wikipedia-related projects, open data, and similar areas. Our logic was charmingly naïve: since corporations reaped most of the benefit of open tech/culture, they should pay most of the cost of increasing the percentage of women in their talent pool because fairness. Also, corporations tend to have a lot of money.

Major corporate sponsorship for diversity in tech work comes in several common forms: conference sponsorships, grants for specific projects, fellowships employing a specific person for a few months, and completely unrestricted grants (our favorite). Corporate donors are attractive because, compared to the typical activist, many have effectively infinite amounts of money.

However, corporate sponsorship has clear downsides for many diversity in tech activists. The sponsor’s goal tends to be making sure the corporate sponsor has access to a diverse hiring pool. Most companies therefore prefer to support events and education initiatives that serve as recruitment opportunities in the short or medium term.

Corporate sponsorship is also often very cautious. They are looking to associate their name with a popular message, and groups who do not yet have a history of successful programs may have trouble accessing corporate donations. Organizations intending to rely on corporate donations may have to bootstrap with other funds or volunteer labor while building a history of success.

The main exception to these rules, in our experience, is smaller privately-held companies whose owners account only to themselves for how the company’s money is spent. They tend to be less conservative and more risk-tolerant than publicly owned companies. In the Ada Initiative’s case, these kinds of corporate donors were crucial to our success and included Puppet Labs, Dreamhost, Dreamwidth, and Inktank.

Early on, our philosophy at Ada Initiative was to accept any no-strings-attached corporate sponsorship as long as the company’s business model wasn’t fundamentally anathema to our mission. But since many corporations — and corporate management — are complicit in discrimination and harassment of women in tech, much of the effective work to support women in tech involves criticizing the status quo and has the potential to offend the very corporations who sponsor us. We gradually came to realize that every corporate sponsorship has an invisible condition: unspoken internalized pressure to avoid any actions that might cause that corporation to stop donating to us.

We had another motivation for our initial corporate-funded model: guilt. We felt guilty asking individual people to support our work but no such compunction when it came to corporations. We suspect this kind of guilt plagues many activists; we tend to want to help others, not ask others to help us. Our guilt about asking individuals to support our work instead of corporations drove us to end our first fundraiser early, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of dollars from eager donors and forcing us to start another, less-efficient fundraising campaign only 5 months later. Reframing how we viewed asking individual people for donations took three years, a career counselor, a therapist, several books, and a perceptive fundraising consultant, Kellie Brownell.

So let’s talk about…

Individual Donations

Since mid-2011, the bedrock of the Ada Initiative’s funding has come from a few hundred individuals within the technology community. Being accountable to donors who are primarily interested in culture change even when it has no direct benefit to themselves allows us to take on more radical programs. This includes work that is not directly connected with hiring or careers, or that is connected with gift and alternative economies like media fandom with little direct connection to corporate profits.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to adopt an individual donor funding model is that donors often become advocates for diversity in tech themselves. Kellie Brownell, our former fundraising consultant, says, “While fundraising at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, I kept noticing that our donors were the first to take action when we asked for help.” Many an Ada Initiative donor has gone on to successfully advocate for an anti-harassment policy or a diversity scholarship in their community. We also receive many thank-you notes from people too shy, too burned out, or too busy to be advocates themselves, who are relieved that they can take action in some way by donating. Individual donors create a virtuous circle where fundraising supports our mission, and our mission increases our fundraising.

Two women smiling, CC BY-SA Adam Novak

AdaCamp DC attendees, CC BY-SA Adam Novak

Diversity in tech organizations are increasingly bootstrapped with a crowdfunding campaign. Diversity advocate and consultant Ashe Dryden raised $20,000 in July 2013; Trans*H4CK raised $6,000 beginning in May 2013; feminist hackerspaces Double Union and Seattle Attic raised $15,000 and $11,000 respectively in November 2013; and in March 2014 Lesbians Who Tech raised $29,000 for a summit in San Francisco and $20,000 for a summit in New York.

Crowdfunding, with its constant outreach and rewards is an excellent way to interest donors and community members in an organization, but Dryden cautions that “[it was and] still is a considerably larger amount of work on top of the other work I’m doing.” At the extreme, the work required to publicise a fundraising drive and then fulfill rewards can risk exhausting the funds raised! It may also only work a limited number of times. Emily May, executive director of anti-street harassment non-profit Hollaback!, says “80% of our donors are young[…] They are incentivized to give by new exciting initiatives, but there are only so many ‘new exciting initiatives’ that [we] can launch without overwhelming our capacity.”

Activists are beginning to be able to raise enough money to pay themselves from many very small regular donations. Dryden’s funding now comes primarily from Gittip, a service that allows people to make anonymous weekly donations directly to her. She is the top Gittip recipient with an income of $750 a week, and is not the only diversity in tech activist among Gittip’s top receivers. Others include Lynn Cyrin, a trans woman of color working on a guide to class mobility and CallbackWomen, working to increase women’s representation at conferences.

Dryden says, “Community funding is great because it means I’m working directly for the community. I often tell people that the community is my employer, so I’m working directly for them, instead of what would look best for a company. It also means that I can be impartial in critiquing what’s wrong with the industry without worrying about financial ramifications either through my employer’s view not aligning with mine or people attempting to get me fired for my views, which many other activists and advocates have experienced.” Dryden’s model is beginning to approach what Sue Gardner, the outgoing executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation and an Ada Initiative board member, identifies as the future of non-profit funding: small donations from a large number of donors, requiring relatively little fundraising effort from the organisation compared to traditional models.

Every individual donor population is unique. In Dryden’s case, anonymous donors make small weekly donations on the order of $5. In the Ada Initiative’s case, we tend to have donors with high-paying technology jobs (or who own technology companies themselves) with generous bonuses, stock grants, and programs that match employee donations to non-profits. Kellie Brownell explains how we grew our individual donor base: “We adapted fundraising practices from individual major giving, for example, (1) thanking donors quickly, (2) asking what motivated them to give, and (3) reporting back later what we did with their money. Major giving practices are highly personal and aim to help donors grow in their understanding of an organization’s mission and why this mission matters to them. Once a fundraising team becomes good at doing both these things, you can develop this model further by giving donors opportunities to participate in the process.”

Relying on individual donors has downsides. Recruiting the initial slate of donors can take months of full-time work, and reminding them to give again takes more work (which is one reason why non-profits tend to prefer automatic recurring donations). Individual donors may also attempt to redirect the person or organization’s work towards less controversial programs. Dryden explains that the anonymity of her donors, which is not an option for most non-profit corporations, “removes the pressure to fit my message into what I think my larger funders would agree with, which protects the integrity of my work.”

Membership

A variant of individual donations is the membership model of funding, where funders pay membership fees instead of donating, and in return receive benefits from the organization such as access to private events, training or spaces. It often comes with input into the activist group’s governance, usually as the right to vote for or stand for the governing committee.

This model is most successful where activists are primarily working to provide ongoing benefits to a small group of people; for example, feminist hackerspaces (a.k.a., community workshops), which exist for the benefit of local women and others who are not welcomed in existing hackerspaces. Frances Hocutt, founding president of the Seattle Attic feminist hackerspace, says “We aim for members to fund the bulk of our operations because we want our community to be able to continue even if donations drop off. We are trying to build a community that is sustainable and can be self-supporting if need be.”

For organizations like the Ada Initiative, which aims to benefit a very large group of people and provide resources widely and freely, the membership model is less suitable as we have little additional benefit to offer members. Hocutt also observes that it is not ideal when activists are trying to benefit people who can’t afford membership fees: “We believe that ability to pay dues has nothing to do with a person’s ability to contribute to the creativity and energy of the Attic community, and we want to remove barriers that keep some of us from doing that.” Seattle Attic offers the ability for donors to donate memberships for people who can’t afford one, and a transport subsidy to members who don’t have access to transport.

Consulting and training

Counterintuitively, one way to raise money from donors without giving them undue influence is to provide consulting and training directly to them for a fee. This makes the terms of the relationship very clear; they receive a specific tangible benefit in return for their fee, rather than there being an unspoken expectation of a long term PR or recruiting boost.

In addition to her Gittip income, Ashe Dryden funds her work by consulting for corporations looking for help improving diversity in their organization. The Ada Initiative’s training programs include the Allies Workshop, which teaches men simple, everyday techniques to fight sexism in their workplace and open tech/culture communities. The Allies Workshop is a fairly challenging and confrontational program, as it teaches people to directly confront sexism and harassment without being transphobic, homophobic, racist, ablist, or classist. By offering it as a corporate training program on a voluntary attendance basis only, we attracted companies with employees who were ready to take personal action to support our existing strategy.

As with the membership model, providing consulting or training in return for a fee may compromise the ability of an organization to benefit the public.

“I would love a stronger earned income revenue stream, but our values of making it free to launch a Hollaback! in [any] community conflict with that,” reports Emily May, whose organization’s funding is primarily foundations (65%) and government (20%). In order to combat this effect, the Ada Initiative makes our training materials available publicly, and offers cheap and free spots at public training sessions, as well as offering training using the same materials to fee-paying clients.

Incorporation and funding

The Ada Initiative is incorporated as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit in the United States with tax-exempt status. This has some immense practical benefits in exempting us from corporate income taxes and allowing us to receive tax-deductible donations in the US.

Incorporating in some form — non-profit, B-corp, limited liability company, etc. — is not a requirement for funding diversity in tech work. We were astonished to discover how much money people would give us with the ink barely dry on our mail-order certificate of incorporation from the State of Delaware. In retrospect, we realized people were initially donating to Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora, not the Ada Initiative, Inc. In the tech sector, people are frequently willing to give hundreds or thousands of dollars to individuals as long as they personally trust the recipient, with or without the incentive of tax deductions or certification by some charity-related authority (e.g., the U.S. Internal Revenue Service).

The decision of whether or not to create a 501(c)3 requires weighing significant trade-offs. Preparing our application for tax-exempt status and then following various accounting and reporting rules to retain it take an astonishingly high proportion of our time — our 2012 taxation filing consumed approximately a month of staff time. In the U.S., non-profit incorporation is most suited to an organization that, like the Ada Initiative, intends to grow into a larger multi-person effort. We deliberately created an organization that would allow our projects to be continued by other activists if and when we burned out and move on to easier jobs (like writing operating systems software or leading a computational research lab).

To The Moon!

In 2010, Valerie described paying one activist to work on issues facing women in open technology and culture as a “moonshot”. In the short time since, so many activists have found that the work they do or the resources they need both should be paid for and can be paid for. The Ada Initiative, Black Girls Code, Seattle Attic, Double Union, Trans*H4ck, Lesbians Who Tech and others have joined older organizations such as the Anita Borg Institute and the Level Playing Field Institute. More are appearing every month. They are joined by community-funded individual activists such as Ashe Dryden and Lynn Cyrin.

Diversity in tech activists are using a wide variety of strategies: corporate sponsorship, yearly fundraising campaigns, monthly or even weekly small donors, foundation grants, conference sponsorships, and many more. The technology and culture around giving are changing so quickly that funding strategies that were completely impractical three years ago can now fund a full-time activist or an entire non-profit with several paid employees. Conventional fundraising experts, raised on a diet of buying email lists and snail mail appeals, are hard-pressed to keep up with these massive changes. We recommend that diversity in tech activists learn fundraising techniques from each other in addition to learning established fundraising best practices. In many ways, diversity in tech activists are outstripping received fundraising wisdom.

Wikimedians at AdaCamp DC
CC BY-SA Adam Novak

We can’t imagine what diversity in tech activism will look like in another four years, but we’d love to see reliance on corporate donations fall back to simply being one of many options for activists to consider. We hope that people who have benefited from the technology industry continue to give back by supporting diversity in tech activism, by joining diversity activist communities and by donating to individuals and organizations working towards a diverse and equitable tech workforce.

[Disclosure: former Model View Culture editor Amelia Greenhall and Valerie Aurora, one of the authors of this article, both serve on the board of Double Union in a volunteer capacity.]

Pinboard explains why you should care about fandom

This week we were super excited to announce Pinboard as an AdaCamp sponsor! Pinboard is a personal bookmarking and archiving service. It is near and dear to our mission for several reasons: Pinboard is committed to a stable, user-centered business model, has a famously snarky Twitter account, and takes fandom seriously.

5 teenagers dressed in Slytherin costumes and holding quiddich equipment

Harry Potter fans CC BY-SA John Stephen Dwyer

What is fandom? Fandom is a form of open culture, a group of people united by a common interest: a particular TV series, an historical era, a band – the possibilities are endless. Fans participate in fandom in many ways, including writing fan fiction, creating costumes, and organizing conventions. Fandom is a woman-friendly community at the center of open technology and culture, and an example for other open tech/culture communities looking to be more women-friendly. Despite its popularity, fandom is an area of open culture that is often looked down on and discounted.

Maciej Ceglowski, the founder and owner of Pinboard, wrote a blog post about fandom [Trigger warning: references to sex between fictional characters] shortly after many fans moved to Pinboard in response to Delicious removing several features they used. Here is an excerpt (emphasis ours):

Fan culture is extremely collaborative, and its participants had rapidly taught one another how best to combine LiveJournal, Delicious and other sites into an network for sharing and discovery that, due to the social stigma of the hobby, remained under the radar even though it would have meant instant success for any entrepreneur sincerely willing to work with them. Fans shared their setups and workflows with each other in much the way that startup subculture obsesses over tool chains and “stacks”. The whole thing reminds me a lot of what HyperCard was like in the nineties, right before its demise, when a large number of otherwise non-technical users had basically taught themselves to do elaborate programming with the tool, and were doing amazing things with it. […]

For any bookmarking site, the fan subculture is valuable because it makes such heavy and creative use of tagging, and because they are great collaborators. I can’t think of a better way to stress-test a site then to get people filling it with Inception fanfic. You will get thoughtful, carefully-formatted bug reports; and if you actually fix something someone might knit you a sweater. And please witness the 50 page spec, complete with code samples, table of contents, summary, tutorial, and flawless formatting, the community produced in about two days after I asked them in a single tweet what features they would want to see in Pinboard. These people do not waste time.

Read more at the Pinboard blog. Thank you Pinboard for sponsoring AdaCamp!

pinboard-logo

The Ada Initiative founders on funding activism for women in open source

This week, Ada Initiative founders Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora wrote about Funding Activism for Women in Open Source in the Funding issue of Model View Culture, drawing on lessons from their first years raising money for the Ada Initiative:

We founded the Ada Initiative with the principle of paying fair market wages to anyone doing work for us more than a few hours a week. In 2010, this was a moonshot. In 2014, it’s increasingly how things are done. More and more diversity in technology initiatives are becoming paid activities, and a growing proportion of the technology industry recognizes this labour as something worth paying for[…]

[F]ull-time diversity activists who want to do effective, controversial, culture-changing work must often work out how to pay themselves, rather than taking existing jobs at tech companies or diversity in tech non-profits.

What follows is a survey of some of the most popular funding sources: corporate sponsorship, individual donations, and consulting and training.

Read the full article, The Ada Initiative Founders on Funding Activism for Women in Open Source, at Model View Culture to learn more about the rationale for each of these funding sources… and their pitfalls!

Dinner plans for all: How conference organizers can make newcomers feel welcome

Woman wearing a hat and glassesThis is a guest post from Becky Yoose about the Newcomer dinner at the code4lib conference, going on at the time of this posting. Becky is the Discovery and Integrated Systems Librarian at Grinnell College, where she plans, implements, and maintains several critical technology initiatives at the Grinnell College Libraries. She prefers nano and vim over emac, knows enough python to be a danger to herself and others, and likes pie.

Figuring out what to do after the sessions end for the day is a challenge for most first time conference attendees, and underrepresented attendees feel an added level of stress in determining what, if any, safe and inclusive activities they can participate in during this free time. Sure, there might be brewery tours, game nights, dances, and movie screenings, but what if you’re not interested in them? What is one thing that all conference attendees, no matter who they are, have in common?

They all have to eat.

Take a small group of conference attendees (mix of new and veteran attendees), add a restaurant of their choosing, throw in some planning, and you get a conference social activity that provides a safer, informal environment that anyone can participate in. For the conference, planning these kinds of informal dinners is an opportunity for building inclusiveness in the community.

Recipe ingredients matter

Many conferences provide food at various social events, but the effect these events have on creating a more inclusive environment varies. Some conferences try to welcome first time attendees by holding a separate event, which traditionally includes some food; however, these events have their pitfalls and blind spots. You’re surrounded by fellow new attendees, but that’s about it. You’re still part of a big crowd, and if you don’t see yourself represented in said crowd that only aggravates the existing stress you’re already under. In short, the food meant to welcome first time attendees in this format itself causes anxiety due to the lack of a safer space for integration into the community.

When I attended my first code4lib conference in 2009, I managed to stumble my way through the conference, but there were many who were struggling to get a sense of the loosely-organized community. Since I’m not a drinker, my social options were limited; however, I ended up grabbing someone I didn’t know well from the conference and we went off to eat at a local foods restaurant holding a movie showing. The movie and food were both good, but the company of the attendee that went with me made the outing special. I started thinking about how to take this experience and repurpose it into something that can build community while being inclusive to everyone at the same time.

Building the recipe

I shot out the idea of an All Conference dinner, with the emphasis on getting conference veterans to mix with newcomers for the 2010 conference. Even though code4lib is a smaller conference, an all-conference dinner would still have fallen in the same pitfalls as the traditional events I described above. And then there are logistics! How do you fit 70+ people in a restaurant without paying for private room fees?

After some discussion with the code4lib community, the Newcomer Dinner was born. The base has stayed the same, but with a few tweaks each year:

  • The Social or Local Activities Committee compiles a list of restaurants around the conference hotel. Many conference goers have specific dietary needs – veg*n, kosher, allergies – so make the extra effort to seek out restaurants that can cater to specific needs, or at least note which restaurants have specific dietary offerings.
  • Schedule the dinner for the night before or the night of the first day of the conference. The connections made at this meal gives attendees a set of familiar faces in the conference crowd, making the big anonymous crowd a little less anonymous.
  • Around a month before the conference, create a place for sign-up for small dining groups, no larger than six to a group. Discussion becomes difficult when the group is larger than six, from experience.
  • Promote the dinner early and often! Encourage a mixture of new attendees and conference veterans in each group, and get the vets to lead the groups. This is where cultivating buy-in from various established community members helps! Sometimes you’ll need to persuade folks into leading groups, especially during the first couple of years of doing the dinners or if you have some shy folks in the same group.
  • In the sign-up page, give explicit instructions as to what the group leader is responsible for: reservations, leading the group to and from the restaurant, main contact for the dinner group in case people are running late, etc.

Recipe reviews

How does the Newcomer Dinner help create an inclusive community environment at a conference?

It provides the opportunity for marginalized folks to find each other and to connect – for those looking for others like themselves, the Newcomer Dinner becomes the opportunity to connect with each other in a small group environment. The dinners are planned ahead of time; people have the chance to do their research and stake out a group or restaurant. This focus on small groups and advanced planning provides a lower-pressure, informal safer space for underrepresented attendees who otherwise might not venture far from their hotel rooms outside of conference hours.

It provides the opportunity for others to listen and to learn from each other – in some groups, there are a mix of diverse people, and the conversation can and sometimes lead to an exchange of ideas and experiences by all sides. Again, conferences big and small don’t have a lot of opportunities for small group, face to face conversations outside the conference, which makes the dinner a place where people have dedicated time to share thoughts, experiences, and engage in conversations otherwise not present in the conference center hallways.

There are a few considerations for organizing a Newcomer Dinner. code4lib’s dinner is completely voluntary, which means that the people who really want to be there will be there if their schedule permits. There is also the consideration of the dinner group; not all group dynamics are ideal, but the focus on food gives some buffer for some groups that have one or two folks who like to talk. Lastly, even though the focus is on creating a welcoming environment with great food, having the Newcomer Dinner covered under the conference’s Code of Conduct helps ensure that if anything happens in the group, then there is a system in place to address any issues.

Make the recipe your own

The dinner has since become one of the rare traditions of the code4lib conference since 2010, and is one of the highlights of the conference for many people, including those newer to the community, leading to lasting friendships and professional connections alike. Past participants have even organized their own dinners in their own communities! The focus on conference veterans mixing with the newer attendees adds the dimension of networking opportunities for newcomers within the community. More importantly, it provides an opportunity for inclusive community building. Overall, the Newcomer Dinner is a good (and filling) tool to help build an inclusive environment for conferences and communities alike.

Ed. note: At AdaCamp, one of the more popular events is the Saturday night dinner in the form described in this post. AdaCamp Portland applications are now open!

Breaking the Unicorn Law: Stop asking women in open tech/culture about women in open tech/culture

Have you heard of the Unicorn Law? Formulated by Emma Jane Westby, it states:

“If you are a woman in Open Source, you will eventually give a talk about being a woman in Open Source.”

Tapestry of unicorn bucking in the midst of dogs and hunters

This unicorn has had enough

We recently read a post by a woman in open source software[1] that reminded us of the Unicorn Law. The author was nostalgic for the days before everyone was talking about sexism in open source, when she felt like she could fit in more easily in the open source community.

We sympathize – and so did many other folks. Over the last few years, people and organizations like Geek Feminism and the Ada Initiative have raised awareness of sexism in open technology and culture to the point that it can’t be ignored. Now, women who used to be able to “fly under the radar” and concentrate on writing code or editing Wikipedia are getting pulled into the fight against sexism, whether they want to participate or not. (Of course, some women were never able to fly under the radar in the first place, especially if they were women of color, trans women, and/or women who dress in more feminine styles, to name a few.)

Medieval woodcut of a unicorn pawing at a woman's lap

Augh! I am so sick of unicorns!

Part of making open tech/culture more welcoming to women is not putting the responsibility for fighting sexism on every woman in these fields, whether or not she has the energy or interest to do so. Giving women an extra job in addition to their work in open tech/culture won’t make it a better environment for them. (See the chapter on “How to Speak for All Black People” in Baratunde Thurston’s “How to be Black” for a satirical take on a similar problem facing black people in the U.S.)

We think the solution to the Unicorn Law isn’t asking people to stop working to end sexism in open tech/culture. Instead we should stop asking all women to be feminist activists. Here are some ways to do that.

Breaking the Unicorn Law

If you’re curious about women in open tech/culture, that’s great! But the time to learn about that is not when you meet a(nother) woman in open tech/culture. Don’t say things to her like:

  • What is it like being a woman in $FIELD?
  • Why do you think there are so few women in $FIELD?
  • What do you think about $SEXIST_THING?
  • I know another woman in $FIELD, I will introduce you!
  • What do you think about $WOMEN’S_GROUP_IN_FIELD?

She’d probably rather be talking about Wikipedia or open hardware or whatever her field is. Even if her job is feminist activism, she’s probably had these conversations many times before (which is one reason the Geek Feminism Wiki was started). Here’s what you can do instead:

  • Search for blog posts, videos, and podcasts talking about what it’s like to be a woman in $FIELD.
  • Search for “women $FIELD”, “feminism $FIELD,” or explore the Geek Feminism Wiki.
  • Find feminist thinkers and organizations that regularly write about $SEXIST_THINGS in your field and read what they write.
  • Introduce women in your field to people who can help their projects or careers, regardless of gender.
  • Search for “why $WOMEN’S_GROUP_IN_FIELD”.

Of course, if she brings up the subject, go ahead and talk about it, while paying attention to her level of interest, what areas she wants to talk about, and when she’s ready to change the subject.

Beyond the Unicorn Law: Slay some dragons

Woman in armor with dragon

Let’s stretch this metaphor way too far!

Once you’ve learned more about sexism in your field, you may find yourself interested in actively working to stop sexism yourself. That is very cool! In fact, the only way we can end discrimination against women is if people of all genders voluntarily step up and take on some of the work. Here are some ideas for what to do next:

Fighting social injustice isn’t easy, but we’re making progress and together we can make a difference.


[1] We don’t agree with all of this post!