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Creating Safe Spaces for Underrepresented Individuals in Open Source Communities

May 31, 2023ByBrittney Ball

Open source communities thrive on diverse perspectives and contributions from their members. However, underrepresented individuals often face unique challenges that make it difficult for them to authentically participate in these communities. In this article, we will explore the importance of creating safe spaces for underrepresented individuals in open source communities. We will also share best practices for ensuring their inclusion, innovation and collaboration.

Understanding Underrepresented Individuals

Who are Underrepresented Individuals?

Underrepresented individuals belong to groups that have been historically underrepresented, excluded and/or discriminated against. The open source community has a significant lack of representation for various Underrepresented groups. According to a 2020 Open Source Survey by GitHub, people of color made up only 3–5% of respondents, while women were only 5%. LGBTQ+ individuals and people with disabilities were also underrepresented in the survey. Additionally, there is a lack of specific data for individuals from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These statistics suggest a significant lack of diversity, and therefore innovation, in the open source community.

Challenges Faced by Underrepresented Individuals

Often, Underrepresented individuals confront systemic obstacles and multiple forms of biases, including: unconscious bias, confirmation bias and affinity bias. These barriers and biases canlimit diverse perspectives and contributions, affecting the overall growth and innovation within the community as well as impeding on individuals’ ability to fully engage. Sometimes these adversities manifest as microaggressions, lack of representation and limited access to resources and opportunities

The Importance of Safe Spaces in Open Source Communities

Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion

Creating safe spaces for Underrepresented individuals is essential for fostering diversity and inclusion in open source communities. Studies have shown that diverse teams are more likely to produce innovative ideas and solutions. For example, a 2018 study by Boston Consulting Group discovered that companies with more diverse management teams had higher levels of innovation revenue than those with less diverse teams. Additionally, a study by the University of Michigan reported that diverse teams are more effective at problem-solving and decision-making, due to the variety of perspectives and experiences that team members contribute. These data points support the idea that diverse teams are more innovative, effective and resilient, making them a valuable asset in any field, including open source. Furthermore, inclusive communities attract a wider range of talent, which then leads to all the benefits of having more diverse teams.

Fostering Innovation and Collaboration

A safe and inclusive environment encourages individuals from different backgrounds to share and contribute their unique perspectives and skills. This leads to more innovative solutions and promotes collaboration across the community.

Creating Safe Spaces: Best Practices

Code of Conduct and Enforcement

Establishing a clear code of conduct that outlines community values, expectations and consequences for inappropriate behavior is crucial. A code of conduct should also be enforced consistently to ensure that everyone feels respected and safe. Meta’s Code of Conduct is one example.

Inclusive Language

Inclusive language is vital for creating a welcoming environment because it shows respect for individuals from all backgrounds and identities. By using language that is free of derogatory or exclusionary terms, and by using gender-neutral language when appropriate, we can create an atmosphere of inclusivity where everyone feels valued and respected. Inclusive language also promotes diversity and reduces the likelihood of discrimination or bias, which is important for creating a safe and comfortable environment for all.

Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs can be incredibly helpful for Underrepresented individuals navigating the open source community, building their skills and expanding their networks. With the guidance and support of experienced mentors, participants can gain the confidence and knowledge they need to succeed. These programs offer a sense of belonging and can help individuals feel more included and valued in the open source community.

Here are a few mentorship programs with high rates of job placement upon completion:

Google Summer of Code: Google Summer of Code is a global program that offers stipends to university students for contributing to open source projects. Students work with a mentor from the open source community to complete a project over the course of the summer. Google Summer of Code has a high success rate and has helped many students gain valuable experience and make meaningful contributions to open source projects.

Outreachy: Outreachy is a program that provides internships for underrepresented groups in the tech industry, including women, people of color and people with disabilities. Outreachy partners with various open source organizations to offer three-month internships that are paid and mentored. This program has helped many participants launch their careers in tech.

Overall, there are plenty of programs available and it's important to research and find the program that best fits your interests and goals.

Diverse Recruitment Strategies

To engage and encourage Underrepresented individuals to join the community, it's important to actively seek out diverse talent. Demonstrating a commitment to increasing diversity in open source communities requires both transparency and action. One way to show this commitment is to conduct research on the current demographics of the community and be transparent about the findings. For example, this can include publishing data on the representation of different Underrepresented groups within the community, as well as outlining the steps that are being taken to improve low representation.

Targeted outreach and partnerships with underrepresented groups are also effective ways to increase diversity in open source communities. This can involve collaborating with organizations or groups that represent Underrepresented communities, such as women in tech groups or LGBTQ+ organizations, to promote the community and create opportunities for engagement. By actively seeking out and building relationships with these groups, open source communities can increase their visibility and accessibility to individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Another effective strategy for increasing diversity is promoting the community in diverse forums and events. For example, participating in conferences or hackathons that focus on diversity and inclusion in technology, as well as engaging with individuals from underrepresented communities on social media or other platforms.

Ultimately, demonstrating a commitment to increasing diversity requires on-going effort and a willingness to listen and learn from Underrepresented individuals and communities. By taking concrete actions to improve representation, engage with underrepresented groups and promote diversity and inclusion, open source communities can create safe and welcoming spaces that are truly open to all. Whether this is achieved through targeted outreach, partnerships with underrepresented groups or promoting the community in diverse forums, all of these initiatives make a positive impact for increasing diversity.

Accessible Communication Channels

When it comes to creating safe and welcoming communication channels in open source communities, there are several approaches that can be effective.

Check out some of these examples and resources for guidance:

Closed captioning: Closed captioning for videos or live events can make them more accessible to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Services such as or Amara can be used as tools to create captions for videos.

Transcripts: Written transcripts of videos or audio content can be helpful for individuals who have difficulty accessing or understanding spoken content. Tools such as Descript or can be used to generate transcripts automatically.

Translations: Translations for content in multiple languages can help ensure that individuals who speak different languages feel included and valued. Services such as Transifex or Crowdin can be used to manage translations for open source projects.

Moderation: A respectful and inclusive environment requires active moderation of discussions and interactions within the community. This can include setting clear guidelines for acceptable behavior, addressing instances of bias or discrimination and creating a reporting system for members to submit any issues. The Open Source Guide provides a helpful guide on how to create and enforce a code of conduct for open source communities.

By implementing these approaches, open source communities can create communication channels that are more accessible and welcoming to all members. This helps increase the sense of belonging and inclusion for Underrepresented individuals, and improves collaboration and innovation within the community.

Measuring Success: Key Metrics

When creating safe spaces for Underrepresented individuals in open source communities, it's important to monitor progress and ensure that the community is making meaningful strides towards greater diversity, equity and inclusion.

Here are some metrics you can measure to track the health and growth of your community:

  • User Engagement
  • Contributor Growth
  • Code Contributions
  • Community Interactions

To measure progress a combination of quantitative and qualitative metrics is highly recommended. Quantitative metrics may include tracking the number of Underrepresented individuals who participate in the community or analyzing the impact of specific initiatives or programs. Qualitative metrics might include gathering feedback from participants through surveys or interviews, sharing success stories from Underrepresented individuals or assessing the overall sense of inclusion and belonging within the community.

Other best practices for monitoring progress include:

  • Establishing a system for regular feedback and evaluation, such as an annual survey or focus groups.
  • Tracking metrics over time to identify trends and patterns.
  • Engaging with community members to understand their experiences and perspectives.
  • Regularly assessing and adjusting strategies and initiatives as needed.