Open source community lagging in diversity

Tech companies that build diverse and inclusive workforces are more successful than companies that don’t, according to a recently released report from the United Nations Technology Innovation Labs (UNTIL) in Finland.

The report, “Inclusion and Diversity: Tech It or Leave IT”, found that companies which invest in and recruit women and minority staff at every level of their organisation function better, produce products that are appealing to more people and earn higher revenues.

“Technology is vital for achieving the (United Nations) Sustainable Development Goals but innovations that rely on the inputs of narrow groups of people are missing a huge opportunity to move the world ahead faster,” said Razi Latif, Lab manager for UNTIL Finland.

UNTIL, a project of the UN Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT), was established to “leverage emerging technology to transform societies, nations and humanity as a whole” using open source solutions so as to enable sharing and technology transfer among all UN member states.

However, when it comes to inclusivity within the open source community itself, there is still much to be done. This was one of the key findings in the DigitalOcean Currents – December 2019 report on developer trends within the open source community.

Based on a survey involving over 5 800 respondents, 60% of whom were developers, the report found that while respondents generally had good things to say about inclusivity and friendliness in open source, women – who constituted only 9% of the respondents – and the younger generation of developers felt more out of place and less welcome.

The majority of respondents (58%) found the open source community to be friendly and/or inclusive with 44% rating the state of diversity in open source as “very good”. However, this view was shared by only one-third of the female respondents compared to 45% of their male counterparts, with over a quarter of the women respondents (and only 11% of the men) rating the diversity of the community very badly.

There were several other clear disconnects between the male and female respondents’ perceptions. Asked whether they actively participated in open source projects, 64% of the men respondents and less than half the women (49%) responded in the affirmative. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of women respondents – compared to 26% of men – said they would be more likely to contribute to open source if there were resources to help them get started.

On the question of how important diversity in the open source community was to them personally, three-quarters of the women respondents said it was “of the utmost importance” while only 58% of their male counterparts felt the same.

Similar discrepancies in perception were found between older (over 45) and younger (under 25) respondents, with 38% of the younger respondents (vs 20% of the older) saying they felt excluded by the open source community because people were different from them. In addition, 59% of the younger (compared to 42% of the older) respondents stated they would contribute more to open source if there were resources to help them get started.

These responses, the report’s authors suggest, raise the possibility that the open source community is “unprepared or even unwelcoming for the more diverse population that makes up the next generation of open source developers”.

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