TL;DR version: please go to http://is.gd/adaseed100 and donate $512 (or more) to fund vital work supporting women in open technology and culture.
In May 2009 I was invited to keynote the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) speaking about two open source projects that had large numbers of female contributors. I was asked to make the talk “positive” and offer constructive suggestions other projects could follow, rather than focusing on the problems women face in open source, so that’s what I did. But I knew that no matter how positive my spin, people would take issue with what I said, and that I could expect negativity, trolls, and harassment for my pains. I knew, too, that I would undoubtedly burn out, but that I could probably manage a year of being the go-to woman on the subject before I had to withdraw for my own sanity.
The person who taught me most about burnout, back in 2009, was Valerie Aurora. Valerie is a Linux kernel hacker who, in 2002, wrote “HOWTO Encourage Women in Linux“. When I met her — at the same OSCON where I gave that keynote — she was burnt out on “women in open source” activism and had decided that the best way for her to encourage women was simply to be an awesome kernel hacker and a good technical role model.
Then in late 2010, a mutual friend of ours was sexually assaulted at an open source conference, spoke up about it online, and received further abuse for doing so. After that, Valerie decided that simply being a role model wasn’t enough, and that she needed to wade back into the “women in open source” fray. Only, this time, she was going to be smart: instead of trying to fit a second shift of activism around an already busy software development workload, she quit her job at Red Hat and, together with Mary Gardiner, founded The Ada Initiative, a non-profit focused on helping women in open technology and culture.
One of the Ada Initiative’s most successful initiatives to date is their work on conference anti-harassment policies, which Valerie started even before the Ada Initiative had officially been launched. Their anti-harassment work isn’t just about empty words, but about helping event organisers develop and communicate policies that actually make conferences safer and more welcoming for women and others. So far conferences including linux.conf.au, Ubuntu Developer Summits, and all Linux Foundation events including LinuxCon, Linux Plumbers, etc, have adopted policies based on the Ada Initiative’s work, and at least one conference this year has managed to respond effectively to an incident because they had the policy in place. There’s more information about anti-harassment policies on the GF wiki.
The Ada Initiative do not charge for consulting on these issues. However, they’re not a volunteer organisation. They know, as I do, that volunteer activists burn out quickly, as they try to balance activism (and dealing with the harassment and abuse the receive for that activism) with their jobs as software engineers, sysadmins, etc. Instead, the Ada Initiative employs full time staff (read their bios) who can devote themselves to projects that require more time and energy than busy volunteers usually have available.
To support this work, and other projects they have planned, they need funding. They already have a number of corporate sponsorships, are planning a general fundraising drive for smaller donors, but right now they’re reaching out to those people who’ve said “I really want to help, what can I do?” and asking them — especially those who are well-paid tech industry people themselves — to contribute $512 or more to their work. 100 “seed” funders at this level will help the Ada Initiative through their startup phase and support the next phase of their work.
I don’t know what each of you is paid, but based on the after-tax pay I get from my tech industry job, $512 is about 2 days’ work. I’ve put in at least 3 months’ solid work on this issue since 2009, so when I think about that, 2 days doesn’t seem like much.
Lots of people — equally senior people in the tech industry — have said to me, over the past couple of years, “I’d love to help but I don’t know where to start or where my contribution would be most useful.” To those people, I say, please donate to the Ada Initiative.