Tuesday, August 5, 2014

In praise of GUADEC

Lipton poster as an unfortunate example of casual sexism
In writing my reflections from GUADEC, the GNOME Users And Developers European Conference, I was excited to review several key presentations that caught my attention. GNOME is a great example of free software, demonstrating how many contributors can come together in a "great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches … out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles" (to quote Eric S. Raymond's description of open source software).

On another note, I was also pleased to see GUADEC has a very clear non-harassment policy, which says, in part:
GUADEC is dedicated to providing a safe and friendly conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age or religion. We do not tolerate harassment of conference participants in any form. Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to any of the above qualities, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.
GUADEC established several members as go-to people for harassment incidents (both women and men) and identified them to us during the welcome session. Everyone at the conference was provided the phone numbers and email addresses of the code of conduct support team. GNOME actively encourages women and minorities to get into coding, so a clear non-harassment policy is a must-have.

And it's not just lip service; GNOME's non-harassment policy got mentioned during my first night in Strasbourg, when several of us went to dinner. I connected with a group of other men after the pre-registration event, and we found a small restaurant a short distance from the city centre that was happy to seat all 11 of us. We had a great time until our drinks arrived. When the waiter engaged in casual sexism (he spoke almost no English, but the gestures were clear) one of our members spoke up and reminded the group about GNOME's non-harassment policy. I'm glad to say the reminder wasn't necessary; I don't recall that anyone in our group thought it was funny. A great example that even though it was before the conference, the non-harassment policy still applied and we shouldn't encourage the waiter's behavior.

On the first day of GUADEC, Marina Zhurakhinskaya shared a presentation about How to be an ally to women in tech. Marina's talk was a refreshing reminder on how to support everyone in free software. Marina talked about how women in technology often face the "unicorn syndrome"—if you are a woman working in technology, you will eventually be asked to give a talk about being a woman working in technology. Marina also discussed words to avoid when talking about people and technology, something I realized I fumbled when I gave my keynote. Notably: you can find examples everywhere of people who can't use technology; be careful of saying "the interface needs to be so simple that your mother could use it." (Oops. In my keynote, I said that I wanted GNOME to be something that my mom could use. That's something to work on.)

I am so glad to see these examples! Technology must be open to everyone. This is especially true of free software, where there should be no barriers to contribute. GNOME and GUADEC clearly have set expectations about appropriate behavior, and the GNOME community has achieved not only "buy-in" but ownership.
photo: mine (poster found in Strasbourg, an unfortunate example of casual sexism)

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