Wikimedia Diversity Conference 2013/Documentation/Valerie aurora

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Session: Valerie Aurora // Diversity initiatives that worked in other open communities[edit]


Other open culture and technology communities have similar diversity problems to Wikimedia communities, and some have made significant progress through specific diversity initiatives. This presentation will outline diversity initiatives from similar world-wide online open "stuff" communities, analyse why they succeeded or failed, and conduct a round-table discussion on whether they might work for Wikimedia communities. These include: internships, travel scholarships, event anti-harassment policies, codes of conduct for online behaviour, unstructured appeals for civility, pledges, petitions, leadership from event organisers, leadership from project leaders, keynotes, editorials, various forms of awareness-raising, and HOWTO.

Starting point / Insights[edit]

  • Executive director of the Ada Initiative, supports women in open technology and culture [1]
  • Suported by individual donations and conference sponsorships
  • Mary Gardiner co-founder: lots of open project edits. Valerie started editing more recently. Mostly working on women's topics.


  • What can WM communities learn from succesful diversity projects?
  • OSS - explanation of what it is. Valerie was a professional OSS developer for 10+ years.
  • OSS data is hard and expensive to collect. Things are getting better. 2006: 1.5% women in conferences, now about 15-30%
  • * there is progress in gender diversity in open source
  • OPW has 7 Linux kernel dev internships, which could double the number of female Linux Kernel hackers!


OSS is similar to WM because it's a worldwide peer-to-peer community. Also shareable, modifiable. Used everywhere. Often motivated by social justice goals. Mostly created by english-speaking white men. Barriers to participation. OSS was for a time developed by folks in their spare time. Now at least 75% paid work. Less diverse than WM community. Conference culture is very powerful in OSS. Lots of discussions and decisions are made in person in a room. On mailing list, only reply if you disagree. Many non-profits involved in OSS. Patchwork of similarly-sized non=profits unlike WMF. When you contribute to OSS, the default is not the acceptance of your change, whereas WM changes are by default accepted.

Q: Conferences not important in WM? A: Stronger in OSS projects.

What worked in OSS?

  • Building affinity groups (shared characteristic)
  • e.g. LinuxChix (name is a bit crap, but it was a start.) Not strongly activist, just hanging out. Make a safe, private online space. Public, open spaces, you get people who come in either with bad intentions or good intentions but unhelpful.
  • These groups met in person repeatedly over many years. This builds community.
  • Talk about the problems! e.g. drop-off of editors and gender gap.
  • avoid "don´t mention the war-attitude" --> not helpful

Geek feminism timeline of incidents is extremely useful! Conference organisers who think there isn't a problem get shown this, and change immediately. Need a permanent documentation of harrassment: things disappear off the wiki for various reasons.

  • Some people have a personal sense of shame being associated with a community that doesn't match their ideals.
  • Others have a "not my job" attitude. They lose out to pro-diversity leaders because they're just better leaders.
  • Also a level of leadership from people who just care. They often burn out, but can be supported by existing leaders.

Controversial to suggest paid editing. Paying people to do diversity work reduces amount of privilege required to do it: it requires free time. Paid internships are fantastic. When V. meets a woman in OSS, she's almost always had an internship. Usually requires a patch before you get the internship, so you get more people in than you have internships for. Great recruiting activity.

Paid diversity activist (mentions CoI here - V. is a paid diversity activist). Ada initiative was an inflection point [Q: what exaclty does this mean? I missed it...]

Outreach Program for women - paid.

Google Summer of Code includes paid diversity aspect.

Q: Contrasting WMF with OSS - A: [Sumana] WMF engineering has had internships. Pepole can make various types of contributions (design, etc.) but [crap, missed most of this - please fix.]

Conferences Leadership Paying people

Things that didn't work:

  • Just volunteers.
  • One-off meetings at events.
  • Keeping problems secret / being nice to power - Sufrragists had fistfights with police - do we need this? No, but we can send direct tweets to people who are offensive.
  • Preventing safe private spaces
  • Adopting vague and/or unenforceable codes of conduct.
  • Flame-style discussions

Things that work:

  • Existing community leaders took responsibiity based on personal values of social justice. New community leaders developed based on that.
  • Public accountability. Actions like petitions boycotts, pledges to do things. There are reasons not to do "mob" style things, but coherent activity works. [please fix this]
  • Express your anger publicly. People don't want to give up privilege. If you're not upsetting people sometimes, you're not doing it right.
  • Humour within the affinity group works, but if it come outside the affinity group, it can be misinterpreted. [not preaching to the choir, but amusing the choir: echo of Tom Lehrer: not preaching to the converted, but titillating the converted.]

Lining up funding is hard. ADA expected to be funded by Google etc, and this was shortsighted: hard to get corporations to support you if it's not about money.

Paid Internships are a giant welcome sign.

Questions / Next steps recommendations[edit]

Structured input.

Building affinity groups

What we tried so far: WikiProjects, edit-a-thons, one-off workshops&events, WikiWomens Collaborative, annual Wikimania, personalized on-wiki communication, Wikimedia Chapters

What we could try: Creating new private gender_gap mailing list, special events for women. Right now there's a WikiWomen's Lunch at Wikimania.

Many of the things that are done in WM space happen in the big language space, don't affect the smaller languages. Make sure that the data has the biggest possible impact, for example by using wikidata.

Community leadership: Board of Trustees has had women on the board. A: Just people being women doesn't make them community activists, and just being a community activist doesn't mean you're good at it. The board is important as well.

Q: Vague unenforceable codes of conduct don't work. Is it better to have leaders who enforce diversity. A: A good code of conduct is useful, but a bad one is harmful.

Affinity group suggestions:

Q: Lots of lessons here, but could a specific resource share these across OSS communities? Maybe patterns of learning? A: Geek feminism wiki is good for this.

Leveraging conferences: What we could try: Build a stronger conference culture? Diversity keynotes? Friendly Space policy [strong enforceable code of conduct] More female speakers at conferences, travel scholarships

Things are happening around the world, and we have to find a way to benefit from it. Wiki-academy was focused on women's initiatives this year, but not well publicised.

Can work with Google SoC by inviting them to Wikimania, so having an in-person meeting can help.

Have smaller conferences based on specific themes.

It can sometimes seem like an echo chamber to have people only within the community. Invite outsiders.

At many coferences we get people who are in the know. So how do we communicate to the broader community.

Community leadership:

WMF encourages stuff but tries not to lead things. Jimmy making decisions spectacularly doesn't work. ArbCom doesn't work so well.

Create modules about gender gap etc. Leaders on-wiki could be trained with videos etc.

There's a strong cultural bias against doing anything non-neutral, but things like the Chelsea Manning show strong bias. SHould we piss a lot of people off so that they leave and we get new people?

Comment: admins aren't leaders.

Goals for conference: have people take leadership positions, like going for adminship or taking over a wikiproject.

Admin is a position of power, but not supposed to have a role of changing policy (for example)

In reality, admins do provide leadership. In theory, conference organisers are supposed to organise venues and catering, but in reality they provide leadership on diversity.

enwiki: place where decisions are made. Removing ULS from enwiki, for example, would make enwiki an only-English project. [I'm not clued into this, who can fix?]

Keep track of women in leadership positions on WMF organs.

Make it clear that you can get involved in shaping policiy if you're not an admin.

It's easy to reduce this to M/F, but in some communities, getting people to step up and be a leader is hard.

Paid diversity work.

What we could try:

Enforce movement goal of being diverse: hold chapters accountable. Has to be in plan, for example. In many languages, there is nothing so improving on nothing doesn't happen. Better to have something and improve than insist on conditions. [clarification pls] Amount of admin required to get scale can keep anything to happen.

Are there ways to measure the cost of not addressing diversity? Put a business value on it.

Arbitrary metrics are not helpful, but helpful to have culture of diversity.

Expand engineering community, and have a full-time diversity person. Pay for media about diversity initiatives.

Some ideas:

Don't use Mediawiki on non-wiki stuff [clarification?] Set up monthly meetups in high-membership areas [just fund the food and people will show up]

  • creating invite-only, safe spaces (open is not always good)
  • financial support for specific WikiProjects
  • Paid wikiproject coordinator fellowships [not WP admins, not in sense of paid editing] - this reduces bias from outside sources.
  • Evaluate against non-supported.

Document discrimination in a permanent way. Don't use MediaWiki, it will go down and no-one will fix it. Buy something that someone is paid to fix. [srsly?]

  • developing funding stream to pay people for working on diversity, needs multi-year continuity
  • fund research into paid work already done (uncompensated work is discriminatory)

Culture of social justice: value of participants.

[see the slides for the whole picture]

Successful diversity initiatives in open tech and culture