Fostering diversity in open source projects – panel discussion at KubeCon

This week I’m attending the KubeCon conference in Seattle. The conference’s full name is KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America 2018. I’m taking notes from some of the sessions I attend. Any mistakes in these notes are my own, and all credit goes to the presenters and to the audience who contributed ideas during the session.

Orna Berryman moderated a panel discussion titled “Growing Diversity in Open Source Projects”.  The speakers were Jasmine Jaksic, Lin Sun, and Limin Wang. The goal was to focus on how we can increase the number of people with different backgrounds, skill sets and experience working on open source projects.

The statistics for  the number of women in open source communities are around 3-5%. Orna put a question to the panel about why this may be the case. This compares to 20-30% in tech companies. One reason may be that there’s no regulation of bad behaviour in open source, such as instituting a code of conduct. More than 40 000 projects have already adopted one, many of them based on Contributor Covenant.

Another way to tackle the lack of diversity is to say something. Often, if someone addresses a problem immediately, the perpetrator will stop offending.

Imposter syndrome afflicts people starting on an open source project. There are a few ways to tackle imposter syndrome. Label issues with “help wanted”, or some way of indicating that an issue is a good place for a starter to contribute. Also provide mentoring for new starters, and recognise their work.

Communicating remotely can be intimidating. It’s hard to share your thoughts, and sometimes your thoughts are so different from the rest of the community that the community doesn’t appreciate them. (No-one +1s your comment.)

Travel is hard for some contributors, especially those who have young children. This makes it difficult to travel to conferences.

A question from the floor: what about governance? We can’t rely on an honour system. A code of conduct can’t do everything. We need to have governance over the community. The open source projects need to ensure there are members who monitor the behaviour within the community, and to take responsibility for that behaviour. Large organizations, such as the Linux community, should encourage this type of monitoring. The responsibility also belongs to every person in the community. Step in if you see bad behaviour happening.

People hesitate to join communities where they don’t see people who they can identify with. So communities should keep diversity front and centre.

Contributing to the community should be seen as of equal importance as contributing to the code. No matter how valuable someone’s code contribution, or how large their following, we should follow up on any bad behaviour by that individual.

Question from the audience: Is there a community where we can send people who need to create contacts? There are mentorship programs, such as Google Summer of Code for students. has a number of projects where you can sign up. There’s also for students who want to enter the open source community. and which focuses on diversity. If such programs can pay people, or provide childcare, this will make things easier for people with young children.

From the point of view of hiring new employees, open source contributions are viewed as more important than an internship. Employers should encourage people to work on open source projects, which are equally valuable to their CVs.

From me: Thanks to the panel for an interesting discussion. The points above should be useful especially for new open source projects, as well as for open source contributors.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 12 December 2018, in open source, technical writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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