Data Suggests CoC + Outreachy Hasn't Helped Increase Female Participation In Debian

Written by Michael Larabel in Debian on 13 February 2021 at 06:15 AM EST. 200 Comments
An informal case study suggests that since Debian enacted its Code of Conduct and began participating in the Outreachy internship program hasn't helped in increasing female participation within the open-source project but is actually trending lower compared to the early years of this original GNU/Linux distribution.

Daniel Pocock who is a former Debian Developer, O'Reilly author, and Fedora/EPEL packager, carried out a "case study" to see if embracing the Code of Conduct (CoC) and participation in the Outreachy internship program has helped increase female involvement with the Debian GNU/Linux project.

Surprisingly, the data from Pocock points to there actually being less women (including trans) involved in Debian in the more recent years since the Code of Conduct was enacted and Debian's ongoing participation in Outreachy. Pocock looked at the women participation rate (including trans developers) from 2004 through 2013 against that of 2014 through 2020. It was in 2013 that Debian started Outreachy/OPW for the first time and has continued since while their CoC was formalized in 2014.

The data is looking at the number of Debian developers with upload rights to the archive as the basis for evaluating the Debian developers. He found that for 2014 through 2020 there was roughly 86% the "women per year" participating compared to 2004 through 2013.

Pocock noted, "What this suggests is that the number of women granted upload access each year appears to have fallen by fourteen percent after Debian joined Outreachy and adopted a Code of Conduct. This is not a rigorous study and I make no claim that these figures are statistically significant. It is just a quick summary of the available data to get discussion started about an important issue."

Those interested in the Debian developer's informal case study can find his comments and data via Pocock's blog.

Pocock has been accused of infighting in the past among Debian developers and causing other friction. But the numbers at least from a cursory examination do appear to be legitimate, which does raise questions over the effectiveness of the efforts. There is ultimately little harm in having a CoC and can help in ways that can be quantitatively measured. However, for efforts like Outreachy the Debian project is reportedly spending about $24k USD per year - a sizable chunk of its budget - on an initiative that may not be providing measurable increases in diversity for the Debian camp. It would be interesting to see such analysis conducted for other open-source projects to see their impact... Is it just Debian that is the outlier or are there perhaps other more effective ways to increase participation in these open-source projects?
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