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BY jim curry ON Sep 07, 2017

Open Source Hacks: One Question Interviews with Open Source Experts: Fostering diversity & inclusion

This blog series aims to share simple philosophies, insights, tips, and tricks that can positively impact your open source adventures. Each blog will feature a guest expert providing their thoughts on one open source question.  Today’s expert, Nicole Huesman, will answer the question below;

How do you foster diverse, inclusive open source communities?

Technology is designed for diverse individuals with unique needs—it only makes sense that it is best built by diverse communities. Having worked in the tech industry for nearly two decades—and in the open source world for the last six—I’m passionate about bringing individuals with diverse perspectives, experiences, and skillsets together to build a better world. I feel fortunate to work with accomplished colleagues through my participation in the Women of OpenStack and Women in Open Source groups. I’ve learned so much from them to supplement my own experiences and knowledge. Here are a few insights that I’ve gleaned from our collaboration.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

It’s scary to step forward and get involved, but don’t let that stop you! With the encouragement of my mentors Carol Barrett, Malini Bhandaru, and Nithya Ruff, I began participating in the Women of OpenStack, initially helping to showcase the amazing individuals within the community, and later, participating in panel discussions. The lesson—don’t be afraid to raise your hand and contribute. You will be rewarded with additional opportunities and advocates who will support you on your journey. I’ve found the more I’ve put myself out there, the more doors that have opened for me.

Not just for engineers.

During an open source conference in Toronto last year, I caught up with a few friends over dinner. When I realized I was the least technical one at the table, I apologized, which prompted a conversation about the importance of both technical and non-technical contributions within communities. My friends reminded me that what I brought to the table—my talent for storytelling, for connecting lines of code to their importance in a broader context—was equally important. Don’t apologize for not being as technical as someone else—there are other ways that you can contribute and make a difference.

Find mentors that challenge and inspire you.

My father was my first advocate, spurring me to pursue my passions, and I have been blessed with great mentors across the breadth of my career. My foray into open source was no exception. Pete Kronowitt and Vin Sharma were instrumental in my early education, providing me with air cover and making sure that I had a voice at the table. Mentoring helps us cross bridges and tackle obstacles, clearing a path to success. I have appreciated the opportunity to pay it forward, as I help highlight the importance of mentoring through panel discussions and co-organize mentoring activities for others.

Better together.

While the mission of open source communities to invite more diverse, inclusive participants has gathered momentum, obstacles such as bullying and online harassment persist. We cannot tackle these issues without the collective strength of our community members, men and women alike. Together, we can increase awareness, and subsequently address the challenges that women and underrepresented minorities face, with support from those who have the influence to move the needle further, faster. By sharing our experiences in advocating for others—what has worked, and likewise, what hasn’t—we can create real, sustainable change.

Be empathetic.

Earlier this year, I participated in a panel discussion with a number of accomplished leaders in the community, including Allison Randal, President of the Open Source Initiative and Distinguished Engineer at SUSE. As Allison stated, “Empathy—the ability to imagine yourself in another’s shoes—is key in being able to understand what others may be dealing with that hinders their activity.” Whether that’s language, which might require time to learn and understand before someone can contribute, or culture, which gives us a set of assumptions that may not match that of a given community, some people face huge barriers. Through empathy, we can foster more diverse, inclusive teams that can go further and do more.

By coming together to cultivate an environment that welcomes diverse perspectives and provides a haven for intelligent, thoughtful debate, we can truly make a difference. Don’t be afraid to dive in, ask questions, roll up your sleeves, and contribute. Communities are made stronger by individuals with varying perspectives and skillsets, technical and non-technical—no apologies needed. Build a broad base of support—mentors, advocates and allies are invaluable in pushing you beyond your comfort zone, spurring you on to accomplish things you may never have thought were possible. And continually encourage others on their own journeys—a little empathy goes a long way.

If you liked this blog, checkout some of the others in the series;

Naming your open source project

Building community

Organizing meet-ups

Open source licenses

About the Author

For over 17 years, Nicole has applied her aptitude in storytelling to the technology industry—helping shine a light on the importance and impact of the incredible feats of her engineering colleagues. She dove into the world of open source six years ago, and quickly became a strong advocate—from the embedded market to the cloud. She is particularly passionate about cultivating inclusive communities that welcome diverse perspectives and invite intelligent, thoughtful debate to create the foundation for a better world for all of us. She has been an active member of the Women of OpenStack and Women in Open Source groups.