Representation Imbalances in FOSS and the Tech Industry

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Meritocracy; it is relevant in all types of businesses, and promotes the practice of hard work and good ideas. Regarding software development, its definition differs between Free and Open Source (FOSS) projects and private companies in the tech industry. While the idea behind meritocracy rewards the successes of its contributors/employees, there’s a clear indication of lack of representation for women, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, and others in both fields.

Meritocracy in the Tech Industry

The tech industry shares the same problems other industries face, most notably, unequal wages for women. While it is easy to say “just work harder”, unequal wages produce unequal working conditions and inaccurate perceptions in a business’s community. Some include less access to paid childcare, inadequate access to medical resources, and lost work time due to longer commutes. Especially in the Computer Science community, the promotion for women in STEM is almost nonexistent or has recently become relevant. Whether a person can say they are “free from bias”, it is unethical to say that the industry is. As a volunteer high school teacher for Computer Science, it is difficult to tell students that when they go in for an interview, they may be the only representation of their ethnicity or race. While there’s a great push for equal working conditions, it is increasingly difficult to build a successful business on a weak foundation.

Meritocracy in FOSS

With the inclusion of anonymity, volunteer labor, and (relatively) easy onboarding in FOSS projects, there have been some exceptions to this representation imbalance. Because contributors are volunteers, everyone has the ability to pitch ideas to the core members leading the project. Even if the idea is a solution to an already-made decision, the best idea will come out on top. With the inclusion of anonymity, these contributors can provide a blank wall for others to judge them on. Ranking can be fairly scored based on contributions and community activity. As a note, remaining anonymous will only get you so far, and some freedoms must be given up in order to move up in the community (providing a username or real name, contact information, etc.). However, the amount of female contributors in FOSS projects is incredibly low despite the increased equality among contributors, with there being 1.5% contributors being female in FOSS projects and 28% in proprietary software. This could be because of the inclusion of pay and time availability. In addition, many women may be dismissed from contributing from FOSS communities for simply being women.




Software Engineer @ Google. Classroom/Edu📓

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Maximiliano Rios

Maximiliano Rios

Software Engineer @ Google. Classroom/Edu📓

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