Supporting diversity with a new approach to software

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Background and references for the 2016 session Supporting diversity with a new approach to software.

Session overview

From the description:

It’s time for a new approach to software, one that embraces differences (not just tolerates them), and sees diversity as a strength. The industry is ready for a change, and there are huge opportunities to do better by valuing emotion, intuition, compassion, purpose, empowerment, sustainability, and social justice. This highly-interactive session includes discussions of current “best practices” and emerging ideas from projects that have focused heavily on diversity, issues and problems in today’s environment, imagining how things could be different, and figuring out concrete steps to make it happen.

See the full description here.


The slides are available on slideshare or on Google Docs (with speaker notes)


Recommendations for best practices, and links to find out more.

Or, check out the single-page view

Results from the session

During the session, we asked people to role-play being part of a team that's come together to create software to connect people who are interested in supporting diversity in technology. Here's what we came up with.

What software do you love?

This was a warmup exercise as people came into the room. The software didn't have to be open source, although almost all of it was.

  • Drupal: it's open source, has a diverse community
  • Wikipedia: brings people together, a diverse community, "it just works"
  • Dreamwidth: diversity statement, no advertising, strong stance on content
  • Thunderbird: philosophy (although often frustrating practically)
  • Firefox: ditto
  • Airtable (a could-based database with an easy UI): fits in well with what I want
  • Markdown: doesn't get int he way

What are the first steps when a team comes together?

  • Community
  • Communication
  • Shared vision
  • A way of expressing differences and resolving conflicts
  • Decision-making progress
  • Getting to know people
  • Understanding individual goals
  • Creating a safe space
  • Clarity on roles
  • Mentorship

How can software to keep people connected be better for people who are risk-averse and aren't confident in their abilities?

  • Control over distribution - sharing with a subset of people
  • Documentation for people who aren't confident in their tech skills
  • Privacy controls for people who aren't' confident in their social skills
  • Active and responsive moderators
    • Caveat: need to be careful about moderator selection, because they have a lot of power and shape the power structures
  • Helping people move forward from old technologies to new ones - applying their known techniques to new techniques
  • Helping people find with they need using their language and terminology, because they may not be familiar with our language and terminology
  • Creating safe space

What are potential next steps for a project

  • Frequent checkins
  • Break it down to small and manageable pieces
    • Also helps with diverse participation - people without a lot of time can still contribute
  • Research what we can leverage
    • Dreamwidth?
    • Reddit for link sharing?
  • Empower community involvement
  • Create social space, along with tech discussions
  • Lots of entry points for a lot of different skillets
  • How will this add value to the community?
  • Fund other programs to improve reach
  • Make your team look like your target audience

What does it look like?

During the session, we asked people to shift to a different mindset and visualize what it looked like. Some of the descriptions of what people saw:

  • A team of people rowing together
  • A very diverse large group of people
  • Colorful lights with energy waves connecting them

A picture is worth a thousand words, so please share your images via the site! We'll update the wiki with the images people share.


We had some great questions during the session (and some earlier run-throughs)

  • How can open-source software that supports diversity compete with huge, well-funded efforts from companies like Google, Facebook, et. al.?
  • The broader open-source community is not very diverse. How can we make progress?
  • How to make progress with an existing team that is not yet committed to diversity as a priority?
  • How to make the benefits available to people who aren't techies?
  • How can somebody possibly become an expert in all these different techniques?
  • Can we ship software in finite time that pays attention to all these techniques?

We'll kick off discussions on all of these, and update with links as they become available.

Also see the follow-on unconference session on Diversity-friendly online spaces