Importance of women values in FLOSS

Time has gone since Open World Forum 2010, Paris, but this topic is on stage again. A recent paper appeared in Cepis Upgrade October 2010 issue, entitled “Information Technologies: A Profession for Men?” says: “women are currently under-represented in the technical areas of the IT”. Nothwithstanding they also say: “there is no reason why a profession should have to be balanced in gender terms”, their effort is in “provide the solutions, if any exists, to prevent female talent from being lost to a discipline and a profession which is destined to play a vital role in the progress of our society”.

I’ve many reasons to support the increase of female presence in IT, mainly to help IT to change its image and to foster more comprehensive models that could be able to engage a holistic vision and attract more talents and attitudes. This applies much more to the FLOSS area, where the masculine approach appears to be dominant.

[It’s not a new topic for me. See my previous post about Why women matter in FLOSS].

Now it’s time to offer you the text supporting my speech at the conclusion of the Diversity Summit Think Tank: Why women matter?

You can download the presentation here.

You can find also a post-conference video presenting a round table with me and Margarita Manterola, Debian-Women activist, here.


A last minute suggestions

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: “OSS market is dominated by men. Now my question is: are men really able to put emotion into their stories?

Would you like to know the conclusion of this story? Have a look here! (and now you can see Noirin Shirley’s video presentation here: Saving Life with Open Source).


I should introduce myself and my particular interest in this topic. I’m an IT manager at Engineering Group in Italy and in my about 30-year career I’ve led many development teams. In the 80’s, developing in cobol for mainframe, my project teams were about 50-50 percent (male-female). The rate started to decrease approaching java development and distributed computers. Now, I am leading a FLOSS initiative – SpagoWorld – including four projects – the best known is SpagoBI – and many other initiatives. I’m currently leading a team of 43 people, 11 of which are women (9 playing a technical role). I think that nowadays this is a good feminine percentage (25%). Is it good enough?


This is not a scientific analysis. Nevertheless, any presentation on this topic starts with some figures. Here you can find my figures about the IT sector in the European Union and in FLOSS, where I add some figures about the presence of women in my company and my FLOSS projects (the majority of my professional life).

An analysis, published in March 2010, focusing on women in ICT in the European Union is in Women and ICT Status Report 2009. It publishes many data, referring to 2006 or latest 2007, showing “the fact that women do not show interest for an academic or a professional career in the ICT sector”.

The report focuses on three main aspects: women in ICT employment, women in decision making positions and gender pay gap.

Employment: The 2008 employment rate for women in the EU was just over 59%. Around 25% of the total number of people employed worked in the High-tech Knowledge Intensive Services and only 2,4% of those (160.000) were women. (in my company women employed in 2010 were 2100 out of 6382 – 33%, with a lowering rate of 29% referring just to technicians).

Decision making: looking at the business sector globally, there are only 13 women in the 500 top listed companies by Fortune – only one might be considered to be working in a technical field. Looking at the EU top companies, the rate of women in boards is 8,5% (in my company one women sits on the corporate  board out of 11 with a 9% rate).

Pay gap: in EU female technicians and associate professionals earn 26% less in the private sector and 27% less in the public sector.

I know that these figures may not be significant; they just confirm a trend of a smaller presence of women in the ICT sector, compared with men.

More interesting data comes from FLOSS communities.

The FLOSSPOLS analysis published in March 2006, reported that just about 1,5% of FLOSS community members were women, compared with 28% in proprietary software.

The presence of women in FLOSS leading communities in 2010 was as follows:

  • OW2 Consortium: 0,5% in Board of Directors (1 out of 19) and 3,3% in Management Office (2 out of 6)
  • Eclipse Foundation: 0% in Board of Directors (0 out of 20) and 3,2% (7 out of 22) in Staff;
  • Apache Foundation: 0,3% in Officiers (3 out of 89);
  • Linux Foundation: 8,3% (1 out of 12) in Board of Directors and 25% (4 out of 16) in Staff.

These numbers confirm women’s small participation in technical and board decisions; their presence increases in management activities, mainly referring to marketing, communication, administrative and IP processes.

Referring to “my open source projects”, figures are a little more encouraging: 30% (9 out of 30) in SpagoWorld team and 41% (5 out of 12) in SpagoBI team (now this number raised to 46%, adding one more woman: the parity – 50% – is in the radar soon).

A last interesting example is the dreamwidth project. Looking at their Diversity Statement, I became curious to know the team composition. Not surprisingly, women were 82% (14 out of 17)!


In 2007, a Gartner research reported an independent research of Catalyst, 2005, containing some stereotypically feminine and masculine traits. Reported feminine traits were: supporting, rewarding, mentoring, networking, consulting, team building, inspiring; while masculine traits were problem solving, influencing upward, delegating.

Are these traits (or differences) true or false?

If you think they are true, look at what in 2005 the American Psychological Association published in one of its studies:

  • Men and women are basically alike in terms of personality, cognitive ability and leadership. The similarities are greater than the differences
  • Males and females from childhood to adulthood are more alike than different on most psychological variables
  • Gender differences seem to depend on the context in which they are measured.

And, finally, “children suffer the consequence of exaggerated claims of gender differences”. (For example, the widespread belief that boys are better than girls in math. However, according to her meta-analysis, boys and girls perform equally well in math until high school, at which point boys do gain a small advantage. That may not reflect biology as much as social expectations, many psychologists believe. For example, the original Teen Talk Barbie ™, before she was pulled from the market after consumers’ protest, said, “Math class is tough.”)

My poll: feminine traits

I’m not in favour of stereotypes, even if I think they could be a start-point for reasoning (I usual need a schema to support my reasons and now I’m going to use these stereotypes as a means to drive our reflections in an open way).

The previous ones are general stereotypes. But what do women really think?

I’ve decided to open a poll of women of my corporate team. It has no statistical validity at all (6 respondents out of 12), but could be effective to nurture the discussion.

They suggested that specific feminine traits are:

  • the ability to operate in multi-tasking
  • general focus on co-operation toward a collective result
  • in competitive environments, the attitude for an healthy (unextreme) competition
  • a general attitude for embracing a holistic view
  • the attitude toward self-analysis, i.e.: introspection about their own results
  • attitude for perseverance and patience
  • courage and resoluteness
  • the capability to adapt themselves and to change targets accepting the change (a characteristic particularly underlined by working mothers)
  • a particular focus on solving a problem today, instead of laying a foundation for an exchange tomorrow: men are more interested in results and power, women in the realization of their projects
  • the ability to see, listen and build relationships and in inspiring collaboration
  • the capability to fulfil an objective and achieve a result also beyond job boundaries.

(It’s interesting to point out that, during the presentation, someone told me that many of these suggestions came from men when responding at the OWF Gender Diversity Survey).

I can just add that some of these attitudes don’t foster affirmation and visibility. As a consequence, they are in opposition to the “classic” FLOSS meritocratic model (very suitable for men’s usual attitude).

Sentiment and rationality

What a tricky title for this chapter. An Italian philosopher, Umberto Galimberti, dealing with a different context, outlines different feminine and masculine approaches to sentiment and rationality.

Working out with his words, we can think over the following suggestions.

Femininity gathers the opposite that the thinking way of man divides. In sentiment (the conscious subjective experience of emotions), a mental activity keeps together (from syn, a greek term) the opposite. Men enter that sentimental system only at intervals.

In other words: men and women use rationality and sentiment in a different way.

This difference must find the right room and opportunities in order to allow the masculine rationality – base of our cultural heritage – face its opposite: the feminine vision of the world, which has no confidence with clear boundary lines.

What’s the target?

Following a sole technological vision, men will maintain the leadership over time. Following a cognitive vision, women over-perform due to their holistic, systemic and relational system.

The questions we must answer are:

  • is Information Technology a particular context separated by the digital world, or is it included in a cognitive ecosystem?
  • are industries for-profit organizations or collective cognitive enterprises?
  • is FLOSS a technological activity (and a business activity, especially in the last years), or is it a way to actively participate in an informed way to a cognitive ecology?

A correct answer to these questions is crucial.

A clear target is crucial to success! All actors involved in this debate (and external audience too) must be aware of it!

Why women matter

In articles and researchers you can find many reasons supporting the request for a greater presence of women in the IT sector. They usually follow a pragmatic point of view, based on the following assumptions:

  • women influence or control upward 80% of consumers spending decisions;
  • in a world dominated by relationships, collective decision making and consumer spending, women are innately better suited than me.

In practice, women are potentially better suited for supporting commercial businesses and promotion than men. It’s becoming a more and more important point for FLOSS projects and solutions.

It’s probably true, but it’s not my point.

I’d like to look at FLOSS from a non-technological point of view, focusing on the nature of communities. A real community relationship refers to a relationship between lovers, where a lover (man or women) reflects himself (his unknown inner desires) in the other one. A community can stably and constantly grow only if its members love it. I.e.: they are aware of the basic emotional/cognitive relations existing among single individuals or in a group. (For a better understanding of my thoughts, have a look at Foundation of community relationships in FLOSS).

Participation, contributions, trustworthy relations and empathy are crucial.

I think that feminine traits matter a lot with team and community building and collaborative development.

Not only more women

The focus is not probably the gender diversity. Neither it deals with the different gender behavioural traits. Differences are not the issue. However, if they exist, they are not deficiencies, but potential values and opportunities to learn (e.g.: even people who are not used to listening to others may improve their listening skills if they live close to people who are willing to listen to others).

FLOSS communities and project teams need peer-support, mentoring, rewarding, networking, team-building, solidarity, empathy, inclusion, problem solving … and more. Do these traits belong to women exclusively? No, but:

we need more feminine values in people.

In other words, we need a wide mix and match of different behavioural traits in people, increasing the ones dealing with team building and co-operation and decreasing the importance of competition and self-promotion. More collaboration and less competition could be the new formula to live in the new knowledge society.

We must revise the FLOSS model, its values and practical rules; once more it could be the leading experimental model.

FLOSS was founded by men. We need more women to revise it!

Main barriers

If we agree that we need more women in IT and in FLOSS, we must understand which barriers don’t allow women to enter these fields, in order to find a way to involve them and to foster different attitudes in people.

You can find many remarks in literature; I’ll summarize the main ones.

With reference to the IT sector in general:

  • IT is perceived as a “boy thing”: girls tend to eliminate consideration of a job in IT in early stages
  • Particularly in IT the everyday communication language is masculine and not inclusive
  • Sexual stereotypes are still alive
  • IT is one of the most competitive industries
  • The syndrome of self-imposed overtime (presenteeism in workplace), due to the seductive and exciting nature of working in technology
  • The imbalance of power in IT industry drives women away
  • Men are more comfortable with men when promoting someone
  • A lack of commitment to involve more women exists both in men and women.

With reference to FLOSS:

  • It’s basically a technological activity
  • It tends to increase the competition in the ICT sector
  • Its meritocratic model rewards technological and business results
  • It’s the hackers’ world; clever men don’t waste their time to teach to entrants
  • Its model is open within its close boundaries
  • A lack of commitment to involve more women exists in IT boards and communities.

(Consider the previous as suggestions, not scientific results. They are not traits belonging just to males. E.g.: this doesn’t mean that technological and business results are suitable just for men. This means that over-esteemed characteristics, typical of the current masculine environment, could be a barrier to entrance for women if we don’t envisage a change in our perspective).

What could help? Recommendations

To be pro-active, it’s time to find out some recommendations in order to foster a change in the future perspective. We can address three domains:


  • Change the current image of the IT word (too much technological)
  • Nurture real values in new generations, promoting a more comprehensive vision of the IT
  • Any initiative to attract more girls, giving them the opportunity to prove their talent, is welcome.

IT industry

  • Improve the number of women at all levels, also as a means to review corporate values and organization
  • Adopt new organizational models focusing on clear values and using practices like: look at how people achieve their results instead of at the results themselves; plan for free time for employees, including mothers; promote the father parental leave, etc.
  • Bridge (or reduce, at least) decisional and pay gaps, when they exist
  • Commit all actors involved (not only decisional boards) to do it.

FLOSS communities

  • Attract more women to FLOSS communities and projects
  • Commit boards to include women
  • Review the rewarding and governance models
  • Focus on real values: remember that FLOSS is a part of the digital cognitive ecosystem.
The perspective

In conclusion, it’s time to underline the general perspective once more.

Our actions are often part of a very restricted vision of the world; this doesn’t allow us to understand the world itself and to find the real meaning of our being.

We must enter others’ world, in order to compare stories, to learn to live in new places, to go along unknown paths, to see beyond our horizon.

It’s all about FLOSS in an ecological (non-technological) vision!

Diversity matters with ecology. The mix of different genders, and as I assumed above, of different gender traits (no matter if belonging to men or women), fosters the growth of a real ecology of value. It’s about inclusion, addition, redundancy sometimes, rather than lack of resources.

It’s all about women and men together!

If all the involved actors don’t share this vision, any effort is useless.


Last Adjournment

Three months and a half have gone since Open World Forum.

I entered this tricky topic gathering both consensus and opposition. The main criticism is about the affirmation of differences between men and women, my masculine stereotypes, the not requested effort to attract more women in IT/FLOSS field, because the opportunity already exists for everybody.

I accepted to deal with this topic with a humble approach, just rationalizing my way of being and describing my personal thoughts and actions in my daily working environment. I hope not to hurt anyone’s feelings; please accept (or reject) this contribution.

Anyway, in order to be coherent with my premises and recommendations, I’m recruiting more women in my FLOSS teams nowadays.

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