YouTube, Drupal Association

“Where Inclusion Is No Exception but the Norm,” into That Heaven of Freedom, St. IGNUcius, Let My Community Awake!

The Foobar Mitzvah, as performed by Richard Stallman, might be different. GPL or not, the Open-Source world is nothing without its ideals. Inclusivity is the centre of discussion now. 

When Demetrius discussed cultural barriers during her Fireside chat at DrupalCon Portland 2022, she went almost poetic, resonating with the Nobel Laureate for Literature, Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali in essence. Through her talk, she talked about how people are left out and what we can do to ensure our community is more inclusive. 

“We have to get to the point where inclusion is not an exception; It’s the norm,” 

she pronounced. Demetrius added that we have to set up a community hospitality and triage process as a community.

Ron Northcutt, the director of Developer Advocacy at Aquia, began the Fireside Chat ‘Let’s Open-Source Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,’ by saying that what makes the Drupal community so great is that everyone is so special and inclusive. The community has people from all over the world from different backgrounds with different skill sets, but they are together in one single community. Even though they do well at being inclusive, there’s still a long way to go, not just in Drupal but also in open source and technology in general.

Demetrius Cheatham, the Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion Strategy at GitHub, then took the stage to talk more about Diversity Inclusion and Open source. She began by sharing an anecdote of the time when she was interviewed for her job at GitHub. When the then COO Erica Brescia asked her why she wanted to join GitHub, she answered by saying she wanted to open-source diversity and inclusion.

Demetrius started talking to people in the open-source ecosystem to understand what open-sourcing diversity and inclusion mean, and she realized a few things. The first one is that inclusion happens at the community level. When someone first comes into an open-source community, the first one or two interactions that they have within a community set the stage for whether they’re going to stay or whether they’re going to leave. A simple explanation means the first impression is the last. 

She reminisced that maintainers or community leaders set the tone for an inclusive culture within their community. When she asked these maintainers or community leaders if they had the resources they needed, they responded that they had all the resources like podcasts, articles, training, and more. But, when discussing the problems, she got different answers from small and large community maintainers.

The small community maintainers said they have resources and can touch most of their contributors daily. Still, they don’t have the bandwidth or the time as their focus is to try and get as many people to contribute to their community as possible.

While large community maintainers and well-resourced communities have the time, bandwidth, and resources, they don’t have the influence. The community is becoming so large that they no longer can influence the culture.

When there is a natural tension, the time that one needs to focus on becoming a more inclusive community is when they don’t have the time or the bandwidth to do it. 

The constant reply was that there are still significant barriers to access to open-source, especially for people from under-represented backgrounds and marginalized communities. Demetrius said,

“So, what was happening is we were working on creating these inclusive communities, but if that gate is still so high that people can’t get to these welcoming communities, what are we really doing? We can’t fall into the myth that they will come if we build it; we have to do a little more work there. That’s why we have created an open-source community called ‘All-In’.

She then explained the mission of All-in, which is to increase and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in open source through access, community, equity, and data. 

All-In was launched with three goals in mind: 

  1. Data to understand where the community is from a diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective, understand the progress over the years and hold themselves accountable. 
  2. To launch and complete a maintainers’ listening tour, which they could do. 
  3. To kick off an All-In pilot specifically for students and one coming up for maintainers.

Demetrius went on to talk about the open-source diversity equity and inclusion survey. They partnered with the Linux Foundation because they wanted to survey all of the open-source, not just the GitHub platform. Last December, they released a 64 pages report with insight and specific calls for action. Sharing surprising statistics from the survey, she says,

“82% of Survey Respondents said that they feel welcome in open source, they agreed strongly with this statement.”

But that is not how it works as it is not the work of diversity, equity and inclusion. The idea is to give voice to those not included in that 82%. What is going on with that 18%—the one in almost five people—that do not agree with that statement? That was what they wanted to hear. According to Demetrius, the stories and experiences of this 18% are probably keeping millions of others from even attempting to join open source.

She asked, 

“What are the thoughts and feelings of the 25% of persons with disability who disagree with that statement that they feel welcome in open source? What about the 26% of women or the 29 of persons of color here in North America and the staggering 38% of non-binary or third gender contributors who said they do not feel welcome at open source?”

That is where the focus needs to be. Though we can celebrate the 82%, we need to make sure that we’re giving voice to those who do not feel welcome at open source. 

On further going into the number, other things came out. The first is that if someone lacked the technical skills and knowledge to contribute to the community, they were made to feel inferior. The other thing was the lack of response and rejections to contributions. It is an essential concern as 80% of the respondents said they have experienced this occasionally, and 40% said it happens regularly.

The third was that their voice wasn’t heard, and their contribution wasn’t valued. She quoted a specific quote from the comment section: 

“If I am not white, if I am not male, if I am not well educated, if I am not wealthy, no one cares about me in open source.” 

It isn’t true. So, it is vital to set up community hospitality and documentation so that when people come into your community, they know that no matter who they are, where they are, no matter what their education or experience level is, they are valued. There’s a place for them in the community and within open source.

The next thing she talked about was microaggressions and stereotypes, especially in written and spoken language. She said that there are a lot of cultural barriers. A 50% of Portuguese speakers noted that they did not feel welcome in open source. It is not just an international issue as from 36% of North American respondents, 53% said they do not feel welcome at open source. 

Demetrius reiterated:

“We have to get to the point where inclusion is not exception it’s the norm.”

She also added that we could do that by setting up a community hospitality and triage process. For example, she talked about sending an automated email that says or notifies, “Welcome to our community. Here’s how you can join. Here’s how you can contribute based on your experience level. Your contributions are valued, and your voice is heard. This is how long it will take us to respond to you” to anyone who joins your community.

She then gave an example of Sean Goggins in the Chaoss community, where any maintainer can run a real-time report to scan all of the language and conversations across their community. It checks for voice, tone, and non-inclusive language. You can get that report instantly and then decide where you need to intervene. For those that do interfere, it is essential to ensure that you have escalation techniques training so that you don’t create more exclusion or inflame the situation even more.

It is crucial to have consistent inclusive language scans, accessibility audits, and compliance enforced code of conduct. It is not just about having a code of conduct but also about implementing it the right way. 

Talking about the Maintainers Listening tour, Demetrius said,

“We wanted to make sure that whatever we were doing for maintainers, we were creating it with maintainers and not for maintainers. So we launched a series of individual interviews in in-person and virtual focus groups. And there was an online asynchronous form where we could hear from maintainers, ...on what are some of the challenges you are facing, what’s working, what’s not working. What would you need in a program that’s dedicated for you so that, you can have what you need to create more inclusive communities?”

They received a loud and clear response asking them for technical assistance, not just more resources.

She then talked about the 12-month pilot they had created. She said that the All-In for maintainers pilot would be built based on their Maintainer’s listening tour findings. But, for now, they have kicked off an All-In pilot for students.

The idea was to provide access and exposure for students from historically black colleges and universities in North America and a school founded for the education of Native Americans. They wanted to give them a direct pathway to success which ultimately was a summer internship experience in open source.

The first thing they did in the fall semester was to provide the students with open-source education and professional development. The Linux Foundation provided an online course for the students. A professor was available to them pretty much 24x7 for any support they needed. It helped them with career development.

Demetrius said, 

“We wanted them to know everything that all of us wish we had known when we first started in tech. 

  • What does it mean? 
  • What does it look like? 
  • What do you do when you are the only one on a team? 
  • What do you do when you are faced with microaggressions? 
  • Not if you are faced with microaggressions? 
  • How do you leverage employee resource groups? 
  • How do you ensure that you are getting great feedback necessary for your growth and development during performance evaluations? 

We went over all of these things with them, and that’s what they went through during the first half of this program.”

During the second half of the program, the students completed a 12-week fellowship with major league hacking, where they got direct programming experience within open source. They were preparing the students for the summer internship opportunities. For this reason, they intentionally chose schools that corporates don’t usually go to. They choose students that life happened to without focusing on the GPA, which is often a barrier during the internship phase. All In with the corporate partners and the school offered support to these students who were part of the program, helped 90% get internships. They are planning to get 100% by the time the program ends.

During her talk, she clearly said,

“All-In is not a program; it’s a community, and again a community is made up of people; it’s made up of all of you, and if we’re really going to move the needle, if we’re really going to advance diversity equity and inclusion in open source it’s going to take each and every one of us.”

View the entire session here: