Open Source: Where are the Women?

Katie Levy
Intuit Engineering
Published in
3 min readApr 3, 2020

By Katie Levy and Samantha Monteiro

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Open source is essential to developers. It gives them the opportunity to build a community and be part of existing ones; to innovate through new challenges; to invest in their own skills. Moreover, developers can create something that brings value to their own community as well as the world at large.

As an example, the Internet was built on top of the Linux operating system and the Apache web server application, both open source softwares. On top of that, TCP/IP was created through open source, proving that the Internet not only adopted open source technology but was largely successful because it was built on an open source protocol. The wisdom of the crowd came together in the ’80s to iterate and improve upon a technology to make it best in class. Thanks to open source back then, the Internet supports incredibly sophisticated applications that we see today, which no team or company could have created alone. As new challenges arise, the open source community comes together to advance the world to a new standard.

Currently, open source is dominated by men, as only 6% of open contributors are women — a number that is small even when compared to the total percentage of women in the tech industry (25%)¹. With that said, why do we lack female developers contributing to such an important context? According to Open Source Survey, women are more likely than men to encounter language or content that makes them feel unwelcome (25% vs 15%) as well as stereotyping (12% vs 2%) and unsolicited sexual advances (6% vs 3%). Unsurprisingly, women are also more likely than men to seek out help directly (29% vs 13%) from people they already know well (22% vs 6%), rather than ask for help from strangers in a public forum or channel. Collaboration between strangers is one of open source’s most remarkable aspects: strive to build a community where everyone feels welcome to participate.

Women at the Table

Women made up 49.6% of the total global population in 2017. A Wall Street Journal article posits that, by 2022, women will control over 60% of the wealth in the United States.

Given the stats above, women do need to be at the table to represent all customers and their needs. Women do need to be at the table when decisions are made on products that all of us use. It’s odd that women represent only 18% of leadership roles in the fashion and beauty industry… it means that 82% of decisions on the products we put on our face and the clothes we wear are made by men. The same scenario applies to the software industry where only 5% of leadership positions are held by women.

There is significant evidence that “diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth⁵.” The open source community is currently limited until increased diversity unlocks new innovation.

Investing In Your Craft

Women are missing opportunities to invest in their own craft by trying out new technologies with other engineers around the world. Working on open source projects allows a new medium of mentorship and technical growth as people work in new spaces and with new people.

Overall, open source allows people to “find community, take on new challenges, and create something that is valuable for our fellow developers⁴.”

The open source community craves fresh, diverse perspectives and contributions. It’s time for women to jump in!