PORTLAND, Ore.-Don’t complain about your situation; do something about it.
That’s the gist of what Danese Cooper, senior director of open-source strategies at Intel, said in her keynote at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention here. Cooper said her talk, titled “Why Whinging Doesn’t Work,” was initially written for women, and she gave a version of it at a women’s conference recently. Cooper said she came up with the idea for the talk after receiving an e-mail from Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, saying, “Can you girls please stop whinging about this?'”
Cooper said to “whinge” is basically to whine-it is a Briticism or term defining the concept of complaining in an annoying, persistent way, she said. Essentially, Cooper said women should stop complaining about the way things are for women in the tech world and act to be agents of change. She cited a Free/Libre/Open/Source Software: Policy Support survey that said only 2 percent of open-source developers at the time of the survey were women.
“If you have daughters, teach them to code,” said Cooper, who has long been known as the Open-Source Diva.
She later asked, rhetorically: “Do geek girls have to be feminazis?”
For her part, Cooper said, “Get over the complaining and start doing.” In some of the women-in-technology groups she had been in, “whenever we started to talk about this in a panel, we had to spend 45 minutes listening to women’s stories” before anything got done, she said.
That’s bound to happen when you get a bunch of like people with similar issues in the same room. I’ve been in many a black student union, blacks-in-this or blacks-in-that meeting where a large part of the event was taken up talking about the struggles of being a minority on a campus or in a business. But you have to get beyond that and just start doing, as Cooper said. My parents never allowed us to whine or blame anything on “the man” or anybody else. They just didn’t want to hear it; in fact, they wouldn’t hear it. If I or any of my siblings were having problems and felt like race was an issue, we had to figure a way around that problem, or at least not whinge about it.
Cooper cited former tennis great Billie Jean King as a personal hero for helping to see that women earned the same pay as men in professional tennis. She said the open-source world is just such an inflection point.
As much as her initial talk was tailored to women, Cooper’s OSCON talk was meant for all open sourcers, and she gave a list of suggestions or tips for the community to follow.
“We need to recalibrate our language,” she said, noting that she has been adopting the language of the nonviolence movement. Other Cooper suggestions included: radiate gratitude, acknowledge others, be the world you want to live in and be the change.
Gender Gap Is Not What You Think
Meanwhile, Nathan Torkington, a consultant and O’Reilly Media blogger, said that from his experience teaching kids to program, “the gender gap is not what you think. I tech kids ages eight to 10, and the girls have better math skills and focus.”
Also, in an OSCON session titled “Heroes: Women in FOSS,” Pia Waugh, a consultant at Waugh Partners in Sydney, Australia, said: “My mom was a techie, so I grew up with computers. So I never even thought of gender issues.” Waugh said when she first noticed the disparity in numbers between men and women in the technology industry, she thought to herself: “All these women don’t know what they’re missing out on.”
Yet, she said she began to witness and experiences gender issues and later determined that it was more of a cultural issue than a gender issue. “This has nothing to do with the different body parts we have. … Every community has morons,” she said.
Waugh then listed a series of women heroes of the open-source world, including Cooper, Stormy Peters of OpenLogic and Mitchell Baker of Mozilla.
Waugh then delivered a list of suggestions for women to improve the plight of women as a whole in the technology business.
Under the heading of “We need,” Waugh listed: “To know the facts; to connect with each other; to try to assume stupidity over malice; to fulfill our dreams; education about pay and how to negotiate; just a little empathy; not let issues get in the way of our goals; to represent; not hide; and encourage others.”
Waugh also said what several other speakers at the event mentioned-that free and open-source software “is the world’s most powerful platform for social change.” That may or may not be true. I tend to believe that it is likely not. It’s just too sweeping a statement for me.
In any event, Waugh added, “We succeed in spite of politics, social agenda, economics, the Digital Divide and ourselves.”
Right on, sister. That’s no whinge. That’s just telling it like it is.