GUEST BLOG: Open source needs to deliver diversity

In this contributed post, Christine Flounders, regional manager for engineering at Bloomberg L.P. London explains the importance of diversity in open source. 

Tech’s gender gap is no secret. It has been widely discussed for a decade, yet little progress has been made. In the five years between 2010 and 2015, the percentage of women in tech jobs in the UK increased from 17% to just 18%. This figure is underwhelming to say the least, but there is one critical area of technology where the gender gap is even wider.

Analysis conducted last year by the co-founder of freelance software developer network Toptal found that just 5.4% of GitHub users with over 10 contributions from their sample were female. This indicates that open source software development teams are even less diverse than typical corporate software development teams.

Whether people realise it or not, open source software is everywhere. From the Android smartphone in your pocket, to our own platform, the Bloomberg Terminal, which is powering global financial markets – open source software powers some of the most critical tools utilised by industry today.

There are numerous benefits of open source software. By having a large community of individuals work together, enhancements can be developed faster, bugs spotted sooner and more secure systems can be developed. But by not engaging women, open source project teams are missing out on a number of perspectives which could impact success. Ultimately, tackling problems from diverse perspectives is more likely to produce better solutions and diverse development teams which reflect their user base are more likely to build better products for that user base.

With so few open source contributions coming from women, other female developers are less inclined to participate. This may have implications beyond product development. Many technology companies are increasingly looking for candidates with open source experience to fill top roles. If women are not represented in this pool, the outlook for gender parity in top tech roles looks bleak.

To tackle gender disparity, we must first increase open source participation across the board. Companies have a big role to play in this.  Creating a culture where people are encouraged to contribute to open source should be the norm. And for employees who wish to actively participate, a combination of common sense, guidance and trust is essential, to ensure that contributing to open source is beneficial for the company, the employee and the open source community.

I recently caught-up with one of our leading open source contributors, software developer Christine Poerschke on this point. Her view was that more organisations need to publish open source case studies. It is through case studies that we can inspire people to take part and realise that there is a practical path to contributing to the open source community.

By the same principle, I believe we should be championing more women who are working and leading in open source. That is why we have sponsored the WISE International Open Source Award – to recognise today’s female leaders in open source software projects, and to inspire others to join them.