Diversity in Free Software requires work

July 2, 2021

Early 2021 two friends, Pierre-Louis and Loïc, had an idea to foster Free Software and decided to make it happen. Many projects are born out of ideas every year in the Free Software community and they inherit the unfortunate lack of diversity that still prevails. They need to improve from the very beginning and need resources to get inspiration and guidance. But organizations advocating for diversity in tech or in the Free Software community are mostly focused on large established projects and big corporations, not tiny Free Software projects that are a few months old. Which does not mean there is no solution, only that it has to be invented using common sense and learning from more experienced people willing to discuss and share.

The first opportunity to do something concrete regarding diversity in the fedeproxy project presented itself when organizing a workshop on User Research. The goal was to recruit six participants who were (i) speaking French, (ii) Free Software developers, (iii) in Paris, France. That’s a lot of constraints already and adding a requirement for diversity was taking the risk of making it impossible. But this is precisely in situations where it is tempting to give up because it would be convenient that the commitment to diversity is put to the test. A call for participation was published on Mastodon and Loïc, who lives in Paris, started to ask around if people knew developers from under represented groups who would be interested. And he deliberately did not reach out to anyone else. Not surprisingly it took significantly more time because, by definition, there are a lot less people in under represented groups. But it succeeded and it was a defining experience: legwork yields good results.

It led to a simple and effective realization: diversity is not just a state of mind, it requires work. Since Pierre-Louis and Loïc are funded to work on the project they decided to permanently allocate 5% of their paid time to diversity and the organization in charge of the grant made it official.

This is very little money (3K€) on a tiny Free Software project but it effectively improves diversity. Maybe it will inspire other modest projects to work on diversity in proportion of their resources. There are so many out there, it could make a difference on a global scale.