Melbourne AdaCamp to address open technology's gender issues

Melbourne will host the world's first AdaCamp on 14 January. The conference is a project of the Ada Initiative, a non-profit organisation that aims to boost women's participation in open technology.

The one-day 'unconference' will be an unstructured event with a program largely developed by the participants, Ada Initiative director of operations and research, Mary Gardiner, told Techworld Australia. The organisers aim to have up to 40 women participating in the event, says Gardiner, the founder of Oceania Women of Open Tech (formerly AussieChix).

The event has two aims. Firstly, to broaden networks of women participating in open technology initiatives in Australia. "There are existing networks between, for example, women in open source through Oceania Women in Open Tech and the Haecksen mini-conference," Gardiner says, "but we'd like to form stronger relationships between women across open source, open education, free culture and similar fields."

The second aim is to develop project ideas for the Ada Initiative: "To find out what resources women need to be more supported in their open tech and culture communities, so that we can work on those resources with them."

Women interested in participating in the event can apply to attend. "The invitation part of the arrangement is because we'd like to have a focussed group who are committed to our aims, so we want them to demonstrate existing involvement in related communities," Gardiner explains.

"The application part is so that we can find the right attendees: A purely closed invitation-only event wouldn't have a diverse group of communities represented."

Gardiner and executive director, Valerie Aurora, a Linux kernel developer, formed Ada Initiative in February, but the project "grew out of over 10 years of work that each of us has done advocating for women in open technology and culture, particularly open source," Gardiner says.

"Valerie had a lot of success last year in helping conferences adopt anti-harassment policies," Gardiner says.

"Following on from that, both Valerie and I were at career crossroads, with me being close to the end of a PhD program and Valerie deciding to leave her Red Hat kernel development position and change careers. So it was a good time to consider creating a way for ourselves to do the work we've been doing as volunteers for years, but as our jobs.

"The Ada Initiative followed pretty quickly from that: It was three months from the beginning of discussions about creating something like this to incorporating a non-profit."

The organisation aims "to do intensive advocacy of the kind that is difficult for members of the technical community to do as a 'second shift'," Gardiner explains.

"This includes research into women's participation, conference talks about women's participation, providing advice to events and groups and providing public generalised resources into increasing women's participation.

"In the open technology and culture space, this has largely been done by volunteers to date, and usually volunteers who have unrelated full-time jobs. By doing this as a full-time job, the Ada Initiative hopes to have a large impact in a relatively short amount of time, relative to the rate of progress so far."

Gardiner says that there are several factors that can affect women's participation in open source/open culture: "The need to acquire skills and community contacts in one's spare time"; the "vicious cycle" in which a lack of women's participation deters other women getting involved; and "the social norms and beliefs of a minority of contributors who are not interested in women as colleagues or who do not believe women have the capability to successfully contribute".

Current projects of the organisation include producing conference and event organiser guidelines, holding workshops to teach men and women practical skills for encouraging women's participation in their communities, and completing analysis of the Ada Initiative Census of perceptions of open technology and culture's friendliness towards women.

"Now that we've completed a lot of the foundational requirements of starting a non-profit, we're shortly looking to expand our program including projects like AdaCamps and resources for employers in the area to use to make their workplaces more women-friendly," Gardiner says.

Follow Rohan Pearce on Twitter: @rohan_p


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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