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Diversity

First up a disclaimer. I don't think I have any answers to offer and I must admit I will probably not actively do much to help improve the current situation. However I do believe it would be great if this would become a non topic but I acknowledge that there is a problem. Like many I don't see myself as part of the problem, maybe I am wrong there. In general the Symfony2 scene is quite un-diverse, at least when it comes to gender. I don't remember ever seeing a women present on a Symfony2 topic at a conference. I think the only one that I have heard speak on Symfony2 is Lorna. Alvaro mentioned that at deSymfony there was a presentation by a female speaker. That being said, skimming over the top 100 contributors I don't see a single female name. Actually just going by memory I don't remember a single PR from a female contributor. I would be surprised if there wasn't at least one, likely there are quite a few. Not remembering is actually quite ok imho, because its not the most memorable thing about a PR what the gender of the contributor was. But I am quite sure that the number of patches from women is a tiny tiny part. I sure hope that the numbers in my head aren't skewed by women preferring to contribute with a male name because they are worried a female name would cause issues.

So why is that? How and where did we fail as a community? I mean I can see that we have not put a lot of emphasis on encouraging non white males (I assume despite being half iranian I also count as a white male???) to submit talks. I am not blaming anyone here for that omission, though I think it might be a good idea to change that. From what I have been hearing the Python community has been doing some exemplary work in this direction. That being said I have no clue how many non-white contributors we have, but lets just stick to gender for now. I am not sure if we have failed in anyway to attract female contributors. Or rather I wonder if there is anything one could reasonably do to attract more female contributors? Maybe something like RailsGirls for Symfony2?

While there are many ways to get chosen for a conference talk, being an active contributor is one of the best ways imho. Obviously just because you are a contributor doesn't make you a presentation super hero, but honestly I couldn't care less. If someone knows their topic I am sure I can learn something. Sure it might not be the most entertaining talk and sure its great to have at least a few head liners at a conference that energize the audience, but to me making the top 50 contributors in an active OSS project like Symfony2 is a pretty solid proof of competence to hold a talk on Symfony2. I really have a hard time seeing a PR being shot down due to the gender of the contributor. And while I have seen sexist comments and behavior at conferences, I have seen close to zero in PRs on github. Actually I cannot remember a single case, but I do acknowledge that I might lack the sensitivity to the issue to notice and remember.

Looking over the lineup for Symfony Live Berlin it seems like half of the speakers are in the top 50 of contributors. Of the rest about half are the lead developers of the project they are speaking on. So yeah being a big contributor seems like a great way to be able to speak at a Symfony2 conference. Note I think I have one more maybe twice been in the committee that chose talks. I think the last time was at least 3, likely more than 5 years ago. I don't think at either occasion I remember anyone making sexist comments or not choosing a female speaker for what I perceived wrong reasons. Actually I don't remember the topic of gender to have matter at all, meaning that there was also no explicit effort to ensure gender diversity. I also do not remember how many proposals from women were submitted or how many have been picked. I also do not know what the ratio of female submissions have been for Symfony2 conferences. I know that especially the Live conferences this year were kinda rushed in many ways, so many didn't have a normal CfP. IIRC Lorna was actually chair for the one in London, which I didn't attend (btw just checked the line up there I do see that there was a female speaker in London).

At any rate, like I said in the beginning, I would love for this to be a non topic. I have enjoyed all the Symfony2 conferences I have attended so far. I have enjoyed the people I have met there. To me the characters I met there have been plenty diverse. Having more women there would just increase the enjoyment because its obvious that we have so far failed to tap into a vast talent pool to push our community even further. We are currently at 595 contributors to Symfony2 and if we would somehow do a better job at including the other half of the world population, we would obviously have had more contributors already and therefore also we would be further along with making Symfony2 the perfect tool for our daily jobs. That being said, the topic of figuring out how to fix this in balance isn't a topic that I feel like I have much to add or that motivates me to spend the hours of my spare time I invest in coding. That is just how it is. However if there is someone that does and feels like they need some assistance from someone who is well positioned in the community I am here to help because one thing that always motivates me is helping motivated people achieve their goals.

The other thing I want to stress is that while I said I lack motivation to "add" something on my own, I do want to make sure I do not take away anything. So if I screw up and cause someone to feel unwelcome, please let me know. This topic is quite scary to me as it feels a bit like a mine field. As a matter of fact I worry that this very blog post could be problematic simply because I lack the necessary sensitivity to realize that one of the statements in this blog post could have exactly the opposite effect from my intentions. I do realize that those who are sensitive to the topic acknowledge that I am really trying and therefore have the same level of patience teaching me that I try to exhibit when I try to help someone with coding. Thank you!

Update: When I say "fail as a community" I do not mean that everything we have done is worthless. I just mean that on the topic of gender diversity we have failed. Also its ok to be a white male, there is nothing wrong with that :)

Comments



Re: Diversity

Problem with Symfony, or problem with software development? Thinking back on my computer science classes I remember a handful of girls in class with 60-70 people. Perhaps culture is at fault here? You know the bad saying "Boys are blue, Girls are pink" kind of prejudice?

Re: Diversity

@Greg: yeah well its definitely something that every TV series teaches. once saw a documentary how the choices of women in ex-soviet countries have changed since the fall and how that may be connected to them adopting US programs as the guide line for a western lifestyle. Historically computer science afaik even used to be dominated by women.

Re: Diversity

This is something that definitely occurred to me this week - here I am going to the conference in Berlin, which will almost certainly be completely dominated by white men. Attending the conference in Paris the last two years, the lack of diversity was extremely noticeable. This is something I find most regrettable - if the adage "program or be programmed" holds true, then it's men doing most of the programming, which isn't good for anyone!

However, when it seems to be clear that female participation in the community is close to non-existent, it's hard to know where to start. There could be more women speakers (and should be), but would this encourage women attendees? All I can really offer is open ears - and maybe the observation that it might just be the case that GitHub as a means of engaging with and becoming part of a community could tend to be more culturally alienating to women? (I don't have empirical evidence for that beyond the almost complete lack of female contributors to Symfony.)

(And it's true that, when I think of my mother who worked as a programmer in a team mostly comprising women, the proportion of women programmers did use to be far higher - approaching 40% in the US in the mid-80s.)

Re: Diversity

I think if there were any artificial barriers to entry for females, or a particular race, or *insert arbitrary grouping here*, then this would be a more useful observation. But I have never witnessed any sexism or racism in the symfony community. I can only assume there are not more contributors from *group x* because there are no individuals from *group x* that are interested or able or willing to contribute. I think the focus, if any, of the community should be on ensuring that whatever group someone categorizes themselves as plays no role in their acceptance in the community; and, personally, I think we're there now. If any female or person of particular racial background has felt otherwise I would definitely like to hear why, though.

I think being an open community is more important than actively encouraging particular groups to become more active. It might look nicer from a PR perspective to have a diverse group of contributors, and I think that's fine if it happens naturally, but to actively target particular groups for the sake of that diversity seems... misplaced.

Re: Diversity

I'm not a member of the Symfony community but I see this exact same discussion/worry every day in Sweden (where I live).

I think people should simply accept the fact that men and women have different interests and this has been seen in large studies. To get a little bit of scientific perspective on things you can take a look at the Norwegian documentary called "Hjernevask" or "Brainwash" where the . It's available online with English subtitles and I highly recommend it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hjernevask (there are links to the DailyMotion hosted episodes)

The first episode deals with just women and how they choose their profession.

Re: Diversity

With regards to the one woman speaker at Symfony Live London, it was great to have a woman speaking, but unfortunately due to the quality of her presentation and subject knowledge I felt she was there because of her gender (as the woman speaker) rather than picked on merit. If that was the case, it does no favour to the cause.

Bad presentations are not gender specific issues; I will happily call out any man speaking who gives a poor presentation too. But it's much easier to talk objectively about a male speaker's presentation without being shot down as "sexist", and this is something the community also needs to overcome.

Re: Diversity

"where the" shouldn't be there - useless proofreader :)

Re: Diversity

Why is this a bad thing? Why would you want to "fix" it?

Re: Diversity

@Inori: I tried to explain that towards the end: increasing the talent pool contributing to Symfony2.

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