[Foundation-l] encouraging women's participation

Eugene Eric Kim eekim at blueoxen.com
Fri Jun 18 06:24:44 UTC 2010

On Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 10:15 PM, Gregory Maxwell <gmaxwell at gmail.com> wrote:
> If nothing else I hope that my frequent incoherence can serve as an
> example of why it is essential to be patient and tolerant when we
> communicate with others.

Indeed. And you're being too hard on yourself; I don't think you were
incoherent, and you're definitely not frequently incoherent.

I think Ryan definitely misread your message, and I think he reacted
strongly to what he thought he read. And if you had indeed said what
he thought you said, I think his response would have been appropriate
-- strong in criticizing the substance, but not personal.

But, he didn't, so it was fair for you to clarify your words, and it
was also fair for you to be sensitive about them. These are sensitive
topics and sensitive times, and we should all remember to cut each
other some slack as we try to grapple with them.

I think a few good things came out of this interchange. I agree with
Greg's point that trying to make Wikimedia sites more palatable to
non-uber-obsessive technobiblio walking-fact-machines (but still well
qualified) types will probably have a greater impact at reducing
gender imbalance than targeting improvements at a specific
demographic. Removing Wikitext as a barrier may, in and of itself,
have a significant impact on editor diversity.

I also agree with Phoebe's point. We can't treat this as a
one-size-fits-all problem. There may be serious contextual differences
across different languages and projects that may require different
approaches. We need to be aware of this while also addressing the
clear systemic problems. It would indeed be interesting to see what we
could learn from id.wp's recent experiences.

Which brings me to Ryan's points. There are serious cultural issues
that need to be addressed. They may not be systemic -- it's possible,
even probable, that there are projects that do not, intentionally or
not, create environments hostile to women or other demographics. But
when we do see that happen, we need to address it.

Speaking as a man who grew up in a household of women and who works a
lot in fields that are predominantly female (nonprofits and
facilitation), I'd like to claim that I'm especially sensitive to
these issues. Sadly, it doesn't really work that way. This stuff is
not simple, and environment can exacerbate things.

In the strategy project alone, there have been at least two instances
where I've been guilty of perpetuating an environment that was less
than conducive to women. Last September, when a group of us were
brainstorming a list of potential candidates for the Task Force
Selection committee, the first list was almost entirely men. This was
a natural and harmless result; after all, the vast majority of our
volunteers are men. However, I asked the group to think harder to see
if we could come up with a group that was 50-50 male-female. I wasn't
proposing it as some artificial quota that might reward lesser
qualified candidates just because they were women. Despite the gender
skew of our volunteers, I didn't think it was unreasonable to identify
five great women volunteers.

I think we did a good job of this, and I was thrilled by the final
makeup of our committee. However, in one of the committee discussions,
I once again expressed my hope that we would think a little harder in
order to achieve greater diversity in our Task Forces, and I told this
story as an example of what I wanted to see. However, I wasn't careful
enough with my words, and one of the female committee members
interpreted my story to mean that she was only asked to be on the
committee because she was a woman. I tried to clarify my words, but
the damage had already been done.

The second instance was during IRC office hours several months ago. It
was late at night (for me), and I'm pretty sure only men were
participating -- you can never be sure with IRC. At one point, some
locker room humor started. I chuckled to myself, and let it go. I like
locker room humor, and when I'm in a room with a bunch of guy friends,
I think it's harmless. The problem is, office hours on a publicly
logged IRC channel is not the same as my living room. I realized
afterward that women who were on the IRC channel or who read the logs
afterward would not have found our interchange welcoming. I've been
much more diligent about moderating this since, and Philippe's
sensitive facilitation has helped immensely, but the tendency has come
up again and again. It's not intentional, but it's not right either.

This stuff will happen, even if we have the best of intentions. We
need to be willing to call each other out when we see it happening,
and we need to be firm, yet forgiving in how we educate each other.
It's a challenge with diversity as a whole, not just with women, and
it's a challenge that we should all embrace. It will make our projects


Eugene Eric Kim ................................ http://xri.net/=eekim
Blue Oxen Associates ........................ http://www.blueoxen.com/

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