Some fundamentals for creating a welcoming, productive environment.

If the tech sector has a problem attracting and keeping half of the population working in it, open source has an even bigger problem.

Camila Ayres, Jona Azizaj and Jan Christoph Borchardt combed through current reports and found that women working in open source are between one and 11 percent – compared to about 25 percent for the tech sector in general.

“We have this ambition that we want to change the world, and we want to make it better for everyone,” says Borchardt, Nextcloud design lead speaking at his company’s conference. “We really think that representation is key for that, so if half of society is so underrepresented we can’t really be innovative in in a way that we really need to be.”

Build a bridge

For starters, a code of conduct. It may seem standard and, unless you have been on a news fast recently, you might think that every major open source project already has one. Not so.

Time to change that: People from underrepresented groups are the ones most likely to encounter rudeness and denigrating terms consequently, they’re the ones who suffer most if they there is no clear code of conduct or guidelines, notes Ayres, a software engineer.

Just add

Once you’ve established a code of conduct, having less formal communication guidelines for all of the channels (IRC, mailing lists etc.) where people are contributing also help.
A few simple but time-tested ones include:

  • Ask, don’t tell
  • Be specific
  • Explain yourself
  • Offer solutions
  • Avoid hyperbole
  • Use emojis

Other ways to be more inclusive include programs like Google Summer of Code, providing travel grants and tickets for conferences and setting up a Wiki or repo where people can contribute ideas and offer suggestions.

There are a number of reasons why it makes sense to cultivate inclusivity in  your open source project.

Referring to the “Harvard Review” research on how diverse teams can be more smarter, Borchardt says it’s also worth considering “that the bottom line is better. So if you like money, it’s a pretty good also to have a diverse team — and it’s also more innovative.”