What we learned about gender identity in Open Source

Emma Irwin
Mar 16, 2018 · 2 min read

In research the Open Innovation team ran in 2017 we learned that often ‘Women’ was being used as a catch all for non-male, non-binary people; and that this often results in people feeling excluded or invisible inside open source communities.

“This goes into the gender thing — a lot of the time I see non-binary people get lumped in with “women” in diversity things — which is very dysphoria-inducing, as someone who was assigned female but is definitely *not*.” — community interview

To learn more, we launched a Diversity & Inclusion in Open Source survey earlier this year, which sought to better understand how people identify, including gender-identity.

Our gender spectrum question, was purposely long — to experiment with the value people found in seeing their identity represented in a question. People from over 200 open projects participated. Amazingly, of 17 choices, each was uniquely selected, by a survey participant at least once.

7.9% ** of all respondents, selected something other than male or female; for those under the age of 40 that number was higher at 9.1% .a

In some regions, many of the gender choices felt unfamiliar or confusing — but the idea that there be more than two options was not. For example, we know that India already recognizes a ‘third gender’.

Through this experience, and other feedback we settled on a 1.0 standard for gender questions and gender pronouns for surveys, and systems.

One way your community can act on these findings, is to ensure that people can express their pronouns on profile pages, and communication channels. After our given names, pronouns are the most frequently used way of referring to each other and when we get people’s pronouns wrong, it’s no different than calling someone by the wrong name.

It’s also super-important for binary folks to take this step , by creating norms of sharing pronouns, we make it easier and safer for others.

One other way to act on this research, to ensure that if you create identity groups for women, but you mean women and non-binary — say so; invite people in by through their expressed identity.

** Responses that were deemed not to be sincere were filtered out

Join our next Diversity & Inclusion in Open Source Call — April 4th. Details in our wiki.

Emma Irwin

Written by

Open Innovation Team, Open Project & Communities Specialist @Mozilla , Prev Participation Architect @Benetech Engineer in #FOSS #OpenEd Mom above all else