Proponents of free, libre and open source software (FLOSS) often describe their campaign as a struggle for civil rights. They portray FLOSS as a great equalizer: Not only is it freely available to everyone, but anyone who wants to help shape it can do so, regardless of race, nationality, faith, politics or sexual preference.
But for a movement that claims to be open to all, very few women are involved. Take a look at the roster of speakers at O'Reilly's annual Open Source Conference, or at the names of core developers on any of the thousands of successful FLOSS projects. While the gender ratio in the industry as a whole is roughly five to one, the ratio in FLOSS appears to be several hundred to one.
Our aim is not to complain yet again about gender imbalance in computing. Instead, we believe that the gender skew in FLOSS is the most visible symptom of a fundamental unfriendliness in that community. We also believe that if this unfriendliness is not addressed, it will limit FLOSS's growth and success more than misconceived lawsuits or FUD from would-be monopolists.
Things have improved a little since then: by my count, 32 of the 327 people listed as speakers at this year's OSCON are women (i.e., just a hair under 10%), and female participation in open source seems to have risen to roughly 2% (which is still 7-8 times worse than the gender ratio in computing as a whole). The biggest change, though, is the number of people who acknowledge that this is a problem, and are trying to do something about it, despite the sneers or embarrassed silence of their peers. I'd therefore like to salute my personal OSCON'11 hall of famers—those speakers who have made a point of stepping up where O'Reilly has once again chosen not to: