GNOME’s Outreach to Women

Slashdot recently had an interesting thread about GNOME’s decision to launch a Women’s Summer Outreach Program after they received 181 applications for Google’s Summer of Code program, but none from women. To encourage more women to join their development community, GNOME sponsored six projects for women only.
The original Slashdot post posed the thorny question of whether allocating spots for women was sexist, and, as expected, there was a waterfall of comments. I bristled at some comments, pondered and twirled my hair over others. I thought through both sides of the debate, and it’s taken me several days of mulling over the different angles to come to a conclusion in my own mind.
Slashdotter Vellmont argued persuasively against the Outreach Program, saying that “diversity based upon sex is garbage…diversity of ideas and thinking is what is really important…who cares who is doing the work?”
Is that true? Can diverse ideas still grow in male-skewed or male-only environments?
While I think that Vellmont has an interesting point of view, I think it doesn’t take into account that some ideas, feelings, observations, desires have their genesis in gender. Ideas aren’t hatched in vacuums – they grow out of personal history. Biologically and culturally, women are different, and I think whatever women create will have that difference built into its DNA, whether overtly or subtly.
Curious how a student in the Women’s Outreach Program would respond to the sexism debate, I e-mailed Fernanda Foertter, who will be working on gJournaler, a PDF library tool, for GNOME this summer. She had this to say:
“Perhaps it is sexist. But I would say to [critics] – look, you’re missing good input from over 50% of the population…imagine what advances could come out if more women joined the open source wave, sciences and math! Only good can come from encouraging more women to participate.”

Ginger Makela is an advertising Account Strategist at Google, Inc.

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