Monday, July 27, 2009

Perl, open source and gender bias

Recently, I have been reading a discussion regarding gender bias in the tech industry.

I realize it is a problem, but for the past years, it has been more of an intellectual realization than something that hit me in the gut. Perhaps it has something to do with the work place culture where I have been working, combined with the informal technical fora I have seen, as well as the general state of things here in Norway.

However, these things are perhaps not talked about quite as much as they should, and today I re-learned that although things may seem mostly rosy, they are not necessarily so.

Kirrily "Skud" Robert has been active in various open source contexts for years, and should be no stranger to the Perl community. She recently held a presentation at OSCON -- Standing Out in the Crowd -- where she discussed some of the challenges when women are in minority, and experiences with open source projects where they are in majority.

What kicked me in the gut this time was the rather low percentage of women involved in Perl. While better than open source in general, it seems excessively low.

But Skud does not sling mud at the Perl community. Instead -- if I understand her correctly -- she aims to help open source communities -- and I suppose particularly new projects -- to utilize the resourcefulness of women in development, to reduce the gender bias by increasing the overall activity.

I can only recommend that you read the presentation, and contemplate the issue for yourself.

It certainly made me think. Again.


Anonymous said...

The ways the surveys were conducted were kind of different, so I'm not sure that Perl is better than most. The FLOSSPOLS one contacted people whose names were in commit logs of major open source projects, I believe. The Perl survey was not just for contributors *to* Perl but also users *of* Perl, so we got a lot of people who were eg. using Perl for their dayjobs but not really part of the Perl community. The Drupal figures, from what I hear, are largely based on the proportion of women attending major Drupal conferences. So it's all a bit fuzzy.

Casey West was asking me at OSCON whether I thought Perl was better than most open source communities. I said it was about standard. We realised we know a lot of women "in the Perl community" but that none of them are on the major mailing lists, IRC channels, or the like; rather, women in Perl tend to be at the *edge* of Perl, having burnt out at various points and left the centre of it. We had trouble coming up with the names of any/many women who are currently regular contributors to Perl 5 or active CPAN authors.


bakkushan said...

Thanks for the clarification and correction!

Phillip Smith said...

You may find this take interesting too:

'd like to see some of the discussion that David raises in the Perl community.

bakkushan said...

Thanks, Phillip, David's blog entry is pretty darn good!