Women in IT and Open Source: a controversial topic

Some time has passed since the Open World Forum, Paris took place, where I participated in the Diversity Summit: Why women matter? think tank.

You can download my presentation on the “Importance of women values in IThere. I’ll also post an article about it on this blog soon.

Now, I just would like to highlight my feeling about this topic, as a result of my participation in the forum.

First of all, it was a great experience and I thank once more Marie Buhot-Launay, the organizer, who invited me. This was an opportunity to promote a collective effort, in which I’m doing my best to involve girls and women in the IT context.

I know that I’m dealing with a controversial topic.

I met an open source testimonial (a man) telling me: “Be careful! I’ve decided time ago not to deal with this topic! Any word you adopt may be misunderstood”.

Actually, at the meeting some women held a very “feminist” position, judging all my words.

Ok, we all have different histories, attitudes, cultures and … I’m and old-aged and old-fashioned man … However, please let me do my best effort if it can help. Judge contents of my speeches and actions. I’m open to any debate. I think that just the will of doing something which may improve the situation is a good thing (and consider that I live in Europe and Italy, and the “gender diversity issue in IT” is probably mainly an European -and Italian – issue!)

I’d like to give you an example now.

The day before the Diversity Summit I participated in the Open Source Think Tank Paris .

During a conversation I grabbed this sentence: “If you have to promote open source, you must tell stories to potential adopters and you must put emotion into your stories”.

As a consequence, I decided to open my talk with this anecdote, asking the following: “OSS market is dominated by men. Now my question is: are men really able to put emotion into their stories?

Well, after one day, a women asked me: “Do you really think that women are better suited to put emotion in stories than men? It’s a typical stereotype, because you think that women deal with maternity, love, etc. It’s just culture, no biological motivation exists”.

Something like: emotions deal with women and rationality with men! Ugly man, you promote the usual stereotypes!

I don’t know if it’s a stereotype or not. To be honest, stereotypes can be used in order to develop a schema of reasoning which can support people in facing a complex topic. Moreover, stereotypes may be a means to understand a specific issue and find out a result. To do this, they must not be the result itself. But it’s not my point.

I’m answering with an example now.

This year, Open World Forum was a great event. More internationalization, better organized (even though last year it was very well organized too), a lot of interesting talks and tracks: a very difficult choice. And some up-to-date talks (which is not usual in open source events).

As usual, many of the speakers were men.

Among others, I attended the speech by Noirin Shirley, vice-president of Apache Software Foundation. A great speech, probably one of the very few speeches (if not the only one) putting real emotion in the story. The format, the content, the speaker’s participation! Thank you Shirley! A great example of communication and of what open source is!

I don’t know if emotions deal with women, but if the previous is a result, we definitively need more women in the FOSS world (to teach many men how to work and communicate, at least)!

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