[Linux-aus] The Ada Initiative - Should Linux Aus etc

Kathy Reid kathy at kathyreid.id.au
Thu Feb 24 14:37:57 EST 2011

A very interesting discussion indeed. I'd like to address a number of 
the points that have been raised.


1. Should Linux Aus Council have consulted before granting the Ada 
Initiative $AUD 5k of funds?

No.  The Council, who stand for election every year, have executive 
authority over how funds of Linux Australia are dispersed. We expect 
them to undertake appropriate due diligence, as is evident in the grants 
application process. A donation is a slightly different affair, however 
I am confident members of Council, either through personal association 
with Mary and Valerie, or having the professional networks to vet both, 
have been able to make a professional assessment of their credentials, 
track record and demonstrated commitment to  both the F/LOSS community 
and the participation of women within it.

As members of Linux Australia, if we believe Council has erred in 
judgement, we can always vote them out at the next election. I also note 
from the minutes of the Council meeting that during voting on the grant, 
there was one abstention - I am assuming this was Mary abstaining on the 
basis of perceived conflict of interest in the outcome. If so, this is 
honourable behaviour.

If Council consulted on *every* grant or donation, it would simply be 
unworkable. The only gap I see is that guidelines don't exist for 
donations, which has been duly acknowledged, and something which I'm 
sure Council will remedy in time.


2. Is the Ada Initiative a worthwhile organisation to grant $AUD5k to?

We have no way of knowing for certain in advance. We must therefore 
examine the evidence to determine the likelihood of an investment such 
as this yielding an outcome in line with Linux Australia's stated goals, 
mission (and values statement - different discussion!). Ada Initiative 
has a stated, public commitment to improving the participation of women 
in free and open culture and in assisting organisations to also achieve 
this goal. It is clearly distinguished from other women in computing 
groups and has a unique mission.

The listed projects, while not defined in detail, provide enough 
information as to the focus and priorities of Ada Initiative - all of 
which are in line with Linux Australia's goals of promoting Linux, and 
other F/LOSS.

Essentially, the answer here, on the balance of probabilities, is yes.


3. Last, but not least, what problem are we trying to solve and what 
references are available?

There are a number of problems centred around the participation of women 
in ICT roles which the Ada Initiative will help to address - most of 
which have been the subject of at least some empirical research. These 

- the lack of transition from studying computing and maths in primary 
school to secondary and tertiary, and postgraduate education. Women 
'give up' on computing and maths
- the lack of positive female role models that girls and young women can 
aspire to in computing and mathematics
- negative associations held by women and girls about computing and 
mathematics careers
- barriers to succeeding and progressing if an ICT career is adopted, 
such as more difficulty building peer networks due to male-dominated 
cultures, feelings of 'unbelonging' and difficulty identifying with mentors

A request for references was made, but I think it would be rather sly of 
me to simply dump Endnote's contents into this forum. A few noted 
selections are below;

"Athena Unbound: The advancement of women in science and technology"
Etzkowitz, Kemelbor and Uzzi
This is an excellent tome on the topic, and shows how there is a funnel 
effect - women 'drop out' of science, tech, engineering and maths 
careers at different points, for different reasons - which all need to 
be addressed. For instance, a woman is less likely to make tenure track 
if she has children, and is more likely to drop out of university if she 
feels isolated in her computer science classes.

"Women and information technology : research on underrepresentation"

This edited book contains many chapters, each addressing a particular issue;

Lecia J. Barker and William Aspray show how many stereotypes from 
computing professions send very strong gendered messages. Computer 
'geeks' are also unpopular - therefore studying computing makes you 
socially unpopular and is therefore a detractor.

Barker and Snow go on to question why computing is not mandatory in 
middle school years, and also question why IT is not promoted in a way 
that shows consistency with the belief set and values of girls - which 
may entice more women into IT.

Cohoon and Aspray state that "Almost 30 years of efforts have failed to 
produce a sustained increase in women's participation in computing" (p. 
140) - due to a lack of understanding of the causes, and where known, 
lack of intervention to remedy them. This is the standout chapter of the 
book and outlines a number of reasons why women are not queuing up for 
IT jobs;

- Culture of computing - is very masculine, and can be foreign and 
daunting for women. The authors question whether this is a cause of 
fewer women in IT, or simply an effect of having fewer women in IT in 
the first place. They note that sub-fields of IT - such as information 
systems or media - have more women - *and* a different culture.

- Experience - Experience with computers prior to entry to university is 
correlated both with higher confidence and success. Men and women appear 
to have smilar exposure to basic IT functions, but women has less 
exposure to programming and advanced graphics (p.151)

- Entry barriers - The authors show how certain admissions tests or 
entry requirements can implicitly favour men, and how changing bridging 
or entry pathways to ICT could be beneficial for women.

- Curricula - There are two schools of thought here - that the content 
of computer science courses needs to change to appeal more to women, or 
that the perceptions of ICT as a profession need to change so that it 
fits more closely with womens' values - such as showing how ICT can play 
a role in social progress (I can hear Pia's speech on 'This is how I 
change the world - wanna join me?' echoing as I write this).

- Role models - If teachers and faculty are female, retention of female 
students is more likely (p.159)

- Confidence - Women more consistently rate their abilities more 
negatively than equally competent male counterparts (p. 167). women are 
also generally less socialised to compete - but are more fairly 
represented in other competitive fields such as medicine - so this 
cannot be the only factor for under-representation.

- Pedagogy - the jury is still out on this one, but there is *some* 
evidence to show that women have different learning styles, in general, 
to men, and may prefer methods such as pair programming.

I could go on. Suffice to say - there is not one problem of 
representation of women in computing and F/LOSS - but many  - and the 
Ada Initiative is helping to solve, rather than widen, these problems.

Congratulations Mary and Valerie on a great initiative.

Kind regards,

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