Too skinny and too fat: what happened to normal?

Photo by Camera baba' aka Udit Kulshrestha

You hear a lot about how the media potrays super-skinny models and they make poor role models for young women.

Today I turned on the TV and there was a cartoon with an obese girl in it. Interesting, I thought, they’re trying to portray reality. Then I noticed that every other character had a waist the size of their arm. (Literally, I paused and checked. The male characters had muscular arms and so had slightly bigger waists. The girls all had thin arms and ridiculously thin waists.) So there were a whole bunch of super skinny characters plus one obese girl and one obese boy.

What kind of body image message is that sending?

Should women stay on the technical track?

When my friends and I started in our careers as software programmers, we noticed a trend. All the women who were good in their programming jobs got promoted to management, either project management or program management. We wondered why women never seemed to become architects and CTOs or even stay programmers for very long.

When I was offered a promotion into management, I took it. However, one of my friends did not. She said their were no women role models on the technical track. If we all got promoted out, then how were young women supposed to know that women could succeed as programmers and architects? She stayed a programmer.

So I’ve been really excited this year to see several women I know personally, prominent women in the free and open source software world, get high level, very technical jobs.

Congratulations to Danese Cooper who is now CTO of the Wikimedia Foundation and Allison Randal who is now the Technical Architect of Ubuntu.

I’m sure they will be great role models and mentors for both genders, but I hope young girls in particular will be influenced by seeing women in successful technical leadership roles.

(And I do see my role as technical. I don’t think someone without a programming or technical background would do as well. But I haven’t written any code or made any technical decisions other than for my own home network in a very long time, so I don’t feel like I’m showing young women that women can succeed in technical jobs, rather that they can succeed in leadership roles in technology related organizations.)

Do men and women have different standards of success?

This quote has been haunting me because it rings so true:

men tended to stick with their studies as long as they completed the coursework, while women did so only if they earned high grades

I don’t see that in all fields but I definitely see it in computer science. I wonder if it’s because only really competitive women tend to stick it out in a field that’s often less than 20% women (and comes with all the problems that entails.) They are used to working hard, competing and doing well. And when they don’t, well they figure they should be doing something else. Something they excel at.

I’ve seen it happen. (And for the record the women I know went on to be really successful in other scientific fields. I think they would have excelled in computer science too.)

What do you think?

How does Malaysia encourage so many women in software?

 In 2003 I gave a talk in Malaysia. What I noticed immediately is that my audience was well over half women. This was really noticeable because they were all wearing brightly colored hijabs. Usually I scan the room and count how many women I can find – usually on my fingers even in a room of hundreds. Hijab-programmer-womanYet here were hundreds of women attending a talk about the economics of open source software!

I've wondered ever since what they do so differently in Malaysia that they get so many more women involved in software. Is it something we could do as well?

A recent study offers a theory:

in Malaysia jobs in technology
are seen as appropriate for women: Men do not perceive indoor work as
masculine and much of society stigmatizes women who work outdoors as
lower class. Computing and programming are seen as “women-friendly”
professions, with opportunities opening up since men are not
interested in competing for these types of jobs. “It’s a woman’s world
in that respect,” said Mellstrom.

So women that work in software are higher class. Where as in my experience it's often been insinuated in the US that if you are attractive or social, there are better careers for you. "You're a programmer?? You don't look like one!"

More Women in GNOME Now!

The GNOME community is extremely diverse when it comes to nationality. But we don't have many women working on GNOME.

We want to make sure that women interested in working on GNOME know they are welcome, so we have announced the

                GNOME Outreach Program for Women!

The goal is to encourage women to participate in GNOME and to provide internship opportunities in the summer.

IStock_000002762853XSmall We noticed a problem back in 2006. We had 181 submissions for Google’s Summer of Code – and not one was from a woman. So Hanna Wallach and Chris Ball launched the Women's Summer Outreach Program. We received a 100 applications from women that summer and were able to accept 6 – six women were paid to work on GNOME and mentored by GNOME developers. (Sponsored primarily with a grant from Google.) Recently Marina Zhurakhinskaya followed up with those women and decided we should do it again and expand on the program.

So we are once again doing a GNOME Outreach Program for Women.

How can you help?

  • Encourage women to apply to the program!
  • Mentor a woman in the program.
  • Contribute financially to help pay the stipends.
  • Convince a company to sponsor the program.
  • Encourage your company to hire a female intern to work on GNOME.

Please help! Spread the word! Encourage women to join GNOME!

Exciting times at Grace Hopper!

I’m at the Grace Hopper Women in Computing conference this week. I’ve been looking forward to it for months. However in the past couple of weeks I’ve had so many “women in open source software” or “women in free software” conversations – some good and some very draining – that I was half way dreading coming to a conference where the whole focus would be women in computing for days. Turns out I was worried for nothing.

The energy at Grace Hopper is awesome! Everyone is excited, people go out of their way to introduce themselves when they sit next to you and everyone is talking about real and exciting challenges. And there’s plenty of people to meet – there are 1600 people here, most of them technical women! About half are students and about a quarter of the attendees are presenters too.

Last year while I was here I met the HFOSS folks and the conversation led to three interns working on GNOME projects last summer. Who knows where this year will lead? So far I’ve had interesting conversations. For example, I spoke to the woman who works at iRobot on reaching out to kids to encourage kids to get involved in robotics. (You know, the folks that make the Roomba.) Anybody do robotics programming using GNOME?

I’ve also spoken to other women about how to get more women developers on a project, how to cultivate more positive energy on a project or serve productively on a board. I’ve also had some interesting conversations about careers. One woman I talked to wondered if she should switch careers because she’s not passionate about coding and everyone keeps talking about how passionate they are about their jobs. Turns out she really likes user interfaces.

Thanks again to the Grace Hopper folks for sponsoring my travel to this event! It’s a great event celebrating and encouraging technical women. Next year I’d like to see more presence from free and open source software projects. (I am on an open source community panel this afternoon.)

There’s a very active conversation about the Grace Hopper conference on twitter.

Who do you represent?

Chris pointed me at this cartoon as a comment to my It's not about not offending post and I keep finding myself looking at it. 


I almost always feel like I'm representing a group – if not more than one group. When we lived in Alaska, I represented Caucasians. When we lived in Spain, I represented all Americans. When I go to software conferences, I represent all women. When I go to software conferences in Europe, I represent women and Americans. Talk about pressure to do a good job! It's probably not true that I'm always representing all those groups, but I really feel the responsibility to do a good job for everyone I represent, not just myself.

I have a friend who turned down a promotion to management partially because she realized that all women were being promoted out of technical positions and she was worried there would be no technical female role models left. (Which as a manager who'd been promoted out of a technical position, immediately made me feel guilty!)

It's good to know I'm not alone in feeling that I represent my cohorts. For my part, I'm going to try to think of people more as individuals and less as representatives of their various groups.

Related posts:

It’s not about not offending

When talking about women in free software or political correctness in general, we seem to focus on saying things that "don't offend" the minority group. But that's not what it's about. It's about saying things that encourage people to join your group, that send the right message and represent our values. While not saying things that send them away. The focus should be on making the message welcoming, not on making the message "not offending."

Showing a woman in a bikini in your ad may not offend any women, but will it encourage them to join your project? If you are looking to bring women to your project, not showing the woman in a bikini is the first step. The next step – and the much harder one – is figuring out what to do to show them they are welcome.

It's not about not offending, it's about understanding, encouraging, relating, being welcoming.

There are a lot of groups that I'm not part of. Most of them have not offended me. I just don't feel any pull to join them.

An example of this would be Amazon and the Kindle. One of the Kindle's biggest customer groups is women. And Amazon shows lots of women in its Kindle ads. They are all lying on the beach or by the pool relaxing. The women I know that use Kindles use them after their kids go to bed or in doctors' offices or while waiting at their kid's soccer practice. Amazon is missing a chance to connect to those women.

Where are we missing the chance to connect and encourage groups to participate?

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The GNOME Foundation Is All About People

One of the most common questions I get asked, right after “What do you do?”, is “What does the GNOME Foundation do?” I wrote an article explaining what the GNOME Foundation does in the current issue of OSBR, Women in Open Source, guest edited by Rikki Kite. (And there are some really good articles by some amazing women like Cathy Malmrose, Angela Byron, Cat Allman, Selena Deckelman, Amanda McPherson, Emma Jane Hogbin, Audrey Eschright and Melanie Groves VonFange.)

Open Source Business Review (OSBR) itself is edited by another amazing woman, Dru Lavigne. All of their articles are published under the CC-SA, so you can republish and use them to educate people on open source software as long as you give attribution.

Credit goes to Rikki and Dru for helping me write a much better article than I could have written on my own.

The GNOME Foundation Is All About People
by Stormy Peters originally published in OSBR

“Foundations offer a way to make open-source development more corporate (organized in such a way that commercial vendors can participate with fewer reservations) without becoming commercial, a turn-off for many would-be code contributors.” Matt

As open source projects mature, they tend to join or create a foundation to manage the project’s financial and software assets, provide a marketing and legal entity, and help to set the direction of the project. As non-profit organizations, foundations have a specific structure defined by the jurisdiction in which they were formed. This structure typically includes a volunteer board of directors and sometimes paid staff such as a secretary or executive director.

As Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation, I am often asked “what do you do?”. This article will introduce the structure of the GNOME project and its Foundation, describe how the Foundation works to support the GNOME project, and discuss the roles of the people within the GNOME Foundation.

GNOME Structure

The GNOME project started out as an open source desktop. It has evolved into a complete, free and easy-to-use desktop environment which includes software for tasks like playing music, editing images, and working with documents. GNOME also provides a powerful application development framework for both desktop and mobile application developers. As part of the GNU Project, GNOME is free to use, modify, and distribute.

The GNOME Foundation exists to support the GNOME project’s mission of creating a free and open source desktop accessible to all people regardless of their ability to pay, physical ability, or the language they speak. The Foundation acts as the official voice of the GNOME project, communicating with press and other other organizations, coordinating releases of GNOME, determining which projects are part of GNOME, and planning events that support GNOME and its developers.

The GNOME Foundation is a US-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with an elected Board of Directors, an appointed Board of Advisors, approximately 400 members, and two paid staff. The 400 members are all contributors to GNOME. A contributor is anyone who has made a significant contribution such as code, organizing a conference, writing documentation, or translating GNOME into other languages. GNOME contributors must renew their membership every two years.

The GNOME Foundation

The GNOME project is mostly self-managed by informally structured teams. The GNOME Foundation serves as the support or steward of the project. Any GNOME contributor can apply to the Foundation for membership. All members, 370 at current count, can vote. Typically there is one vote per year by the membership to see who serves on the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is then authorized to make decisions on behalf of the entire body of GNOME Foundation members. The Board runs the Foundation’s day-to-day business, voting internally on financial decisions, legal issues and general policy. The Board of Directors is also authorized to hire staff that reports to them.

In addition to the membership, the Board of Directors and the Foundation staff, the GNOME Foundation also has a Board of Advisors. The Board of Advisors is a group of representatives from companies and non-profit organizations that work closely with GNOME. Many donate annually to the GNOME project and provide sponsorship for hiring staff, hackfests, events, and outreach programs.


While the GNOME project doesn’t provide an organizational chart, the project is definitely well organized. The project is run by contributors, loosely coupled into teams. Teams are rather informal and tend to be grouped around either projects, such as GTK+ or GStreamer, or around tasks like marketing, maintaining the website or providing system administration support. Teams meet in IRC and hold discussions on mailing lists. Each team often has its own wiki and web pages to use for collaboration.

There are teams that write code for each of the technologies in GNOME. Translation team members ensure that GNOME is available to people around the world in their native language from Tamil to Vietnamese to Finnish.

Many contributors begin their involvement by participating in the bug squad team, which tracks incoming bugs and ensures that major bugs get addressed quickly. Some dedicated hackers work on the release team, which makes sure a new release of GNOME goes out every six months. The release team decides which features will be included in the next release, works carefully with all of the projects to ensure their product is ready and tested, writes release notes, and keeps everyone moving towards the mutual goal of an on-time six month release cycle.

The accessibility team is one of GNOME’s core strengths. This team makes sure that GNOME is easy to use by people with accessibility needs while supporting GNOME’s core value to be accessible to all, regardless of physical ability or ability to pay. GNOME’s accessibility solutions cost a fraction of the cost of its non-open source competitors. When speaking of cost, GNOME software is free, but hardware sometimes needs to be purchased.

While we usually focus on people working on the project directly, the community also includes the companies and developers using GNOME technologies in their product solutions. GNOME technologies can be found in traditional desktops, mobile phones, breast cancer scanners, and GPS devices. Some of these companies sponsor the GNOME Foundation. Others participate in GNOME Mobile and still others sponsor GNOME events.

A small group of GNOME contributors run the membership committee, verifying that all members are GNOME contributors. On the infrastructure team, people with system administration skills keep the GNOME infrastructure running, fixing all sorts of issues in their spare time. Most of the hosting and infrastructure is donated to the GNOME Foundation by supporting companies such as Red Hat.

There are others who spend evenings and weekends discussing how the website could best be redesigned to recruit more developers and enable more people to begin using GNOME. Others volunteer to set up and staff the GNOME booth at a conference. Those with artistic talent create artwork including logos, brochures, and tshirts. Some contributors, both those with marketing talent and those with a strong desire to learn more about marketing, write and design brochures for potential sponsors. Some volunteers organize major GNOME events like GUADEC or GNOME.Asia. Many users are happy to answer questions for the person sitting next to them at the coffee shop.

Role of Board and Executive Director

In addition to all of the people working directly on GNOME, seven contributors each year are elected to serve on the Board of Directors. The Board itself does not make technical decisions, although many of the Directors also hold technical leadership roles. Rather, the Board is responsible for the stewardship of GNOME’s finances, trademark, press relations, staff, and legal issues. Board members ensure that the GNOME project is successful by organizing annual get-togethers from GUADEC to hackfests. They maintain relationships with corporate partners through the advisory board. The Board solicits corporate sponsorship and individual support, and prepares and manages the budget.

While the Board of Directors doesn’t make technical decisions, the Board is elected by the community to represent the project and Board members often get asked by members of the GNOME community for advice and direction.

The Board of Directors in turn hires the staff they see as necessary to run the GNOME Foundation effectively and in a way that supports all of GNOME. We’ve had an administrative assistant, Rosanna Yuen, for several years. She maintains the financial books, invoices corporate sponsors, reimburses community members for sponsored travel, sends out Friends of GNOME gifts and generally keeps things running day-to-day.

Last year the board hired an Executive Director to help grow the Foundation. The Executive Director is expected to be the “eyes and ears of the GNOME Foundation.” Many people approach me and say they are so glad there is an Executive Director as now they know who to ask a particular question about GNOME. I respond by connecting them to the right person in the project. It still surprises me when companies that use GNOME technologies have no idea when they do or do not understand what GNOME actually is. I assume it’s because open source tends to be introduced into corporations from the bottom up. In these cases, I educate management and help them understand how working more closely with the GNOME community can help them.

As Executive Director, I assist in marketing by making sure the project is reaching out to the right people. Other job duties include:

  • fundraising: for staff salaries, specific outreach projects, travel costs to bring developers together at conferences and hackfests, and a future paid system administrator

  • business development: finding new ways to make money as well as bringing in companies that aren’t traditionally seen as being part of the GNOME community

  • general housekeeping: ensure projects are carried through to completion, potential business deals are followed up, and meeting companies interested in working with GNOME

One of the vital things I do that doesn’t cost anything is saying “that’s a good idea”. GNOME has a great community of talented and motivated individuals. Often they bring an idea to me or to the Board and they just need confirmation or an introduction to the right person to start their plans.

How does GNOME Make Money?

A commonly asked question is “how does the GNOME project make money?”. The GNOME Foundation is supported financially by donations. Donations come in several forms which include:

  • regular donations from individuals who pledge $10/month to the GNOME Foundation through Friends of GNOME

  • one time donations from individuals or companies through Friends of GNOME

  • companies who pledge to support the GNOME Foundation with $10,000/year

  • companies that hire people to work on GNOME projects

  • companies that sponsor events like GUADEC, GNOME.Asia and hackfests

This financial support has given GNOME the ability to grow as a project. Being able to get most of the community together at our annual GUADEC conference as well as holding smaller local events and hackfests has enabled the community to work closely together, creating desktop technologies that adhere to strong values like freedom, internationalization, usability and accessibility.

What Will GNOME do Next?

GNOME 3.0 discussions are well under way with a preliminary roadmap outlining new technologies and user interfaces. GNOME’s challenge for the next couple of years will be figuring out what the “desktop” means to users who have a traditional computer, a netbook or a smartphone. GNOME is actively working on the best technologies and user interfaces to help users navigate these technologies.

The GNOME Foundation will support GNOME 3.0’s evolution by getting feedback from the community and sponsor companies, continuing to release GNOME every six months, and working out a plan to deprecate old code and provide an appropriate migration path for partners and users.

In addition to working with our existing community and partners, the Foundation will continue to grow. We’ll add new corporate sponsors, perhaps companies focused on mobile technology, chip design, netbook manufacture, and telecommunications carriers. We’ll add new community members, including developers and volunteers that work on planning new events and growing existing ones. We’ll see new teams in countries like Nigeria that are busy translating GNOME into local languages.

The desktop will continue to evolve as people work and interact with technology. We’ll see more devices from desktops to smartphones, more people in developing countries beginning to use technology and technology adapting to meet their needs. The GNOME project will continue to work to make a free desktop available to everyone regardless of their physical ability, financial status or the language they speak. Come join us!

5+ ways to make women feel welcome at technical events

Someone approached me recently and said their female friend had a bad experience at a technical conference and was never going back. He wanted to make sure that her experience didn't happen to anyone else. So I've been thinking about it.

Women at technical conferences. There's not too many of us. But every year I see more. I'd like to see even more. I think we're missing out on a lot of great people.

So here's my advice. Take it or leave it. Or leave your own advice.

To women:

  • You'll feel awkward sometimes. Don't worry. Believe me, most of the guys are feeling awkward too. Just ask them. It's awkward to be in a room with several hundred other people who you think you may know from online but you don't know what they look like … or maybe you met them last year or the year before and you can't remember their name. Or they're all talking about this cool project that you never heard of …
  • Talk to the person next to you. I've met lots of interesting people this way. Only about 1% look at me like I'm crazy.
  • If you feel like you're being hit on, just make it clear you're not on the market. Talk about your boyfriend or your kids. But don't run away. They'll still be friendly. (I've actually had this happen in reverse! Someone very specifically mentioned his wife in a way that made me wonder if he thought I was hitting on him! I filed it away as a useful technique.)
  • If someone invites you to a party, they probably aren't explicitly hitting on you. There are lots of parties at technical conferences and they are a great place to meet other people and talk about those cool ideas … go!

To men and women who already go to technical conferences:

  • Make women feel welcome. (Make all newbies feel welcome.) Talk to them.
  • Introduce them to other women. (Don't go around looking for women and say, "here, I'll introduce you to other women.") But if you see the opportunity, go for it. Introduce the other woman and tell them what she works on. I think 90% of all women not returning to a technical event because of some awkward situation could have been avoided if they'd just had other women to sit with, chat with, etc.
  • Don't hit on them at first. Become their friends first. Get to know them. Make sure they have other friends at the conference. Then if you hit on them, there's a chance you can still be friends if they say no. There's a chance they'll come back next year too.
  • Talk about your project. Introduce them to others and talk about what they do. Not only is it interesting and gives them a sense of the community but it also gives them something to ask questions about.
  • Tell newbies about where people are going for dinner or what parties are happening. Invite them to dinner and make it clear it's a group thing.

Anything else?

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