Why aren't there more women on the Core Team?

With the announcement of the Redwood Startup Fund and its focus on increasing the diversity of Redwood Startup founders by creating more opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups, I started to become hyperaware of how few women we have in our community. There are only a couple of women on the Core Team, currently, and when you look through the list of over 250 contributors, well, that number isn’t much better.

dozens-of-us

I wanted to open up a discussion on how we can change this to create a more diverse community and have more women contributing to Redwood and (hopefully) joining the Core Team.

So… why aren’t more women involved with and contributing to Redwood?

Redwood is still fairly young so maybe we haven’t reached the right communities yet, or maybe those that have heard of Redwood aren’t interested in being more involved, but…

For those that have heard about Redwood and want to contribute to open source, what is holding them back? Is it that they…

  • don’t know where to start
  • don’t have the time
  • think they don’t have the skills
  • worry they will be dismissed, put down, etc…
  • had previous experience with other open source projects that did not go so well

For those that have contributed to Redwood in the past, why did they stop? Was it because they…

  • didn’t feel like they had enough support
  • didn’t know who to talk to
  • didn’t know what to do next
  • had a bad experience :grimacing:
  • didn’t have enough time
  • just wanted to try out contributing with no commitment

lets-talk

What can we do about this?

I remember being apprehensive about joining open source (for a lot of the reasons listed above :upside_down_face:) but Redwood changed my mind. This has been an incredible community to be part of. I have met so many amazing people and have learned and grown so much - I even did a career pivot because of Redwood. I want the same for others.

The goal of this post is to have an open discussion about this issue and generate ideas on how we can bring more women to the Redwood Community, get them started with contributing, and ultimately, have them join the Core Team as maintainers.

I’d love to hear experiences from women both in Redwood and the wider open source community. If you don’t want to share publicly, feel free to DM me here on Discourse, via Twitter or send an e-mail.

17 Likes

Thank you, Amanda, for asking these questions and initiating community discussion. Wherever this takes us, I’m all in.

I’m also available if anyone would like to connect with me directly. Email me here or follow up via Twitter DM.

3 Likes

Thanks for the thoughtful post @giannelli.tech!

Your insightful questions and genuine curiosity on expanding the diversity of the open source community is valuable. Like you, I’ve noticed that software engineering lacks diversity. And open source is even more limited.

It’s not an easy issue to tackle. Everyone has unique experiences and backgrounds and it’s difficult to have an easy panacea that will motivate everyone to join.

From my perspective:

Who am I:

  • Female
  • Early stage engineer (1 yr of experience)
  • Student
  • Early 30’s
  • No kids

Why I contribute to open source/ Redwood:

  • Helps me be a better engineer, working on large codebase and interesting tech stack
  • Helps me connect to other engineers so I can grow and learn
  • Opportunity to give back to the community

Barriers to me contributing more now:

  • Lack of time. (Currently finishing school, applying for jobs)
  • Personal accountability. (Easy to de-prioritize open source which is an important, non-urgent task and prioritize important/non-important urgent tasks)

Barriers to me getting started:

  • Technical skills. Coding for a framework is a lot harder than coding an app. Just getting dev env set up was difficult for me in the beginning.
  • Didn’t know where to get started. Open source requires self initiative and being a novice, was too afraid to comment or claim tickets.

I’m not sure I would have stayed in open source if I didn’t meet the Redwood community. The goal is not only to build an awesome framework but also to make every member feel welcomed.

Personally, I think to get more women involved:

Continue

  • Focus on community building (i.e contributors meetups, personal reach outs, newsletters, engagement in slack/discord)
  • Great documentation (Tutorials, Contributor READMEs)
  • Marking Github issues with tags that indicate it is friendly for first time contributors
  • Being flexible to evolving lives of contributors. Sometimes ppl have more time to contribute and others less.

Start

  • Target early engineers? I think more women are signing up for comp sci or career change like me. Bootcamps are a great way to find eager diverse engineers who want and need more experience so motivated to contribute. Plus Redwood is the perfect frameworks for Bootcampers to use and build their portfolios fast.
  • More Tech Talks/ mini- events that are educational. i.e How to use GraphQL to build your next startup. These events can attract ppl with growth mindset, a great quality of contributors
  • Like Github tickets for coding related issues, maybe a board for non-code issues like copywriting, newsletter, or doc changes that are easier to get started.

By starting this conversation, it shows that Redwood cares about community and diversity. We are doing the right things and moving the needle forward, one step at a time!

16 Likes

I’m not a target member but I think this is a great idea. The Redwood community seems WAY more friendly and supportive than many open-source projects, so it’s a great place to do it.

My suggestion is it could be great to have some structure and mentorship, to support newbies through their first few contributions.

That could mean some or all of:

  • recruit women SW engineers to contribute for learning, community, boosting their resume, etc.
  • help them pick a few small tasks, especially making sure the first few commits are easy so they start off feeling successful.
  • hold office-hours or other interactive forum (via voice) where they can get quick help and feedback
  • similarly, have a discord channel for them for async chat (could be invite-only if needed)

Hope you don’t mind me sharing those ideas. I believe if there are a few role models like yourself @giannelli.tech , along with a little structure, this could have a big impact!

6 Likes

All input is appreciated and these are excellent ideas. Thank you for sharing!

2 Likes

Thanks so much for this write up @giannelli.tech and for broaching the topic at all! Here’s a couple other initiatives from open source projects that have also attempted to tackle this that could be worth looking at for inspiration:

I know Guido back in the day also made himself available to any women interested in learning about Python or wanting to get on the core team. Will say that I am absolutely available if anyone of any identification wants to chat about getting more involved in Redwood and is looking for mentorship.

4 Likes

I wrote a comment without seeing other people posts, which made my comments unnecessary

2 Likes

After our contributors meeting today, i want to publicly congratulate to @giannelli.tech for being a terrific and very upbeat host - properties that are the key in any good evangelism. Similarly thumbs up to Kirby (not sure what is his name in this forum tool) because of his ability to explain his “weakness” (ADHD - Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in the light that makes him a terrific resource for RedwoodJS.

As a person who started hiring software developers as early as 1992, I am aware of the range of sensitive issues present specifically in US society (my then CEO nearly fired me for seeing a women in my office and the door was closed (on her asking btw)). I am also a father of two extremely successful daughters (children’s surgeon and marine mammal radiologist, both of which shared untold stories about their encounters with male colleagues, with me).

Amanda, I am available to you for any discussions or other help, at all times

4 Likes

Thanks @giannelli.tech for this post and helming this - I’ve got 4 sisters, I can value how much better a place is with more women.

@alicelovescake thank you for taking the time to share your perspective, it’s great to hear about it.
Did you know that getting involved in RedwoodJS doesn’t necessarily mean coding on the framework itself? Of course, we need everyone we can get there, but there are other projects and ways one can support Redwood.
One for instance is to setup and curate your own example app, some of which can be found in the organisation’s profile: RedwoodJS · GitHub
Another one is to help on the website ( project lead is @KrisCoulson ), or simply make yourself and your interests known to the core team because some of us may have to recruit community squads sooner or later.

Jumping on the satellite projects using Redwood is a great way to hone your skills, meet people and get more acquainted with the framework - and confident you could do more ( no pressure :smiley: ).

2 Likes

@giannelli.tech, I think it is great that you are raising an issue you are concerned about to the community, and I love how positive and collaborative the responses in this thread have been. That being said, I feel obligated to share my views on this topic because I know that were I not a woman, these views would be beyond the Overton Window. Even with this protection provided by my sex, I feel somewhat anxious about the type of responses I may get. But here goes.

Too often, we humans identify a problem by choosing a “Success Metric” and observing that the chosen metric has not been satisfied. Our solution to the problem thus discovered is to do what is necessary to satisfy our chosen metric. I’ll call this Reverse-Solutioning, because a solution is identified before a problem. Although the judgmental heuristics we use to select a Success Metric appear reasonable, this form of problem-solving often results in erroneous conclusions. “Salary should go up” seems like a reasonable Success Metric. However, if “salary should go up” is my Success Metric, then its lack of fulfillment must mean there is a problem, which is not necessarily the case. Naturally, there are many ways one can be successful in one’s career, and salary is only a part of it. “Mile time should go down” also seems like a reasonable Success Metric for a runner, but the conclusion that there must be a problem if my mile time is not going down is erroneous. If, after training diligently for years, I find that my mile time is no longer decreasing each week, I am not suddenly unsuccessful at running.

To return to the topic at hand, the chosen Success Metric and the problem it derives are implicitly stated, by means of the question: “Why aren’t there more women on the Core Team?”. From this question I surmise that a Success Metric has been identified, such as “an equal number of men and women on the RedwoodJS Core Team” (or perhaps just “more women on the RedwoodJS Core Team”). We observe that this metric is not satisfied, therefore a problem exists. I believe that this Success Metric is wrongly chosen and leads us to erroneous conclusions, such as “RedwoodJS will be more successful when the Core Team has more women”. What does success look like in this case? What is “more” women? What problem is being solved?

The best Success Metrics - those least likely to result in erroneous conclusions - are driven by the problem, which means a problem needs to be identified first. I believe (and here’s where we say goodbye to the Overton Window) that “not enough women in tech” or, in this case, “not enough women on the Core Team”, is not a problem. It may be a symptom of a problem but it on its own is not a problem. If a problem exists, it will not be solved by addressing the symptom, and often treating the symptom has its own unintended side effects. The unintended side effects of a Reverse-Solutioned problem deserves its own post, so I’ll leave it for now.

So what is the problem that RedwoodJS is trying to solve?

  • Is the Core Team missing certain communication styles or methods of creative thinking common among women? How do you know?
  • Is the Core Team’s effectiveness sub-optimal due to its small size? What does “optimal” look like?
  • Are there not enough contributors to RedwoodJS in general? What is enough?

If we don’t begin with a problem, we will never know when we arrive at the solution.

I don’t know enough about the Core Team to comment on either of the first two potential problems, but these are good questions to ask yourselves. I do think I can delve into the third potential problem a bit.

There are too few contributors in general

As a still-growing initiative, I am sure Redwood could use more contributors in general - be it in code or design or copywriting or event-planning or project management. I would bet that acquiring commitment from individuals eager to contribute in these ways is challenging for any open source project, and Redwood is no exception.

This sounds like a problem, but not the root of the problem. We need to dig deeper. Why might there be too few contributors?

The culture of Redwood is demoralizing and unkind

Although my interactions with the Redwood community have been limited, I can say with a great degree of confidence that the problem does not seem to be a toxic, demoralizing, or unkind culture. Every person in this thread has exemplified how welcoming, how eager to help, and how kind this community is. In fact, when I began writing this post a helpful message was displayed reminding me to be kind. However, this is just my personal experience and I cannot speak for everyone. There can always be pockets of toxicity even in the best cultures.

If this is the problem, then rooting out any such toxicity should be a keystone value of the community. If people are being mean then it is your responsibility to speak up. Social pressure is a powerful tool, and it can be used for good.

A good Success Metric for this problem would be “When demoralizing or unkind behavior is displayed, community members call it out”. This can be refined further, for example calling someone names for calling someone names is not a good approach.

A possible solution to this problem could be including language like this in the community guidelines and advocating for it. Lead by example.

People are too intimidated to contribute

Many people feel intimated by the idea of contributing to open-source; they worry their ideas are dumb and the community will be mean; they worry they don’t have the skills needed to accomplish a task. Humanity’s best efforts involve a little risk and a lot of collaboration, and it is difficult to feel comfortable taking risks if you don’t know the people with whom you’re collaborating. At the beginning, contributing to an open-source initiative can feel like working on the Manhattan Project with an unknown number of people you’ve never met and about whom you know nothing. In that context, it might be difficult to feel comfortable suggesting an idea or believing your thoughts have value. It is hard to work on a group project with people you don’t know.

This sounds like a genuine problem, although not one unique to Redwood.

Because the level of intimidation a would-be contributor experiences is likely to decrease as they contribute, a good Success Metric for this problem might be “more new contributors”.

@alicelovescake has already explored several possible solutions to this problem, for example increasing Redwood’s presence at Bootcamps, giving tech-talks, and providing tutorials to the community. Targeting people who want to “build their first ____” (insert: to-do app, online store, blog, tic-tac-toe game) sounds especially valuable to me. Encouraging people to join the meetups is also an excellent way to give faces and personalities to the names we’ve seen on GitHub. Starting location-based threads in Discord for people to meet IRL is another way to connect and humanize each other.

Contributing to open source lacks sufficient reward

Contributing to open-source is unrewarding in the same way that volunteering is unrewarding. Your compensation is the thanks of the community, the heartwarming feeling of a job well done, the knowledge that you helped build something, and whatever you learned along the way. Many people never volunteer because they are too busy trading their time for money. Pitching contributing to RedwoodJS as an alternative to volunteering at a homeless shelter or visiting a children’s hospital or knitting scarves for orphans can be a hard sell for a lot of people. Of course, no open-source project would frame itself in that way, but time is finite, and this is the implicit decision being made by any person looking to do something with the precious time they have outside of work.

A good Success Metric for this problem could be “incorporating more ways for contributors to feel rewarded and appreciated”.

I believe the Redwood community already does a wonderful job at making people feel valued for even the tiniest contribution, so that should definitely keep happening. Other possible solutions are a “contributor of the month” award, or a spotlight post on a particular contributor in the community, or more badges you can add to your GitHub page (I heard someone mention this on the Contributors’ Meetup call, and I think it’s a great idea), or taking the time to endorse someone on LinkedIn for their efforts, or prizes (money, stickers, coupons for gum) for merging a certain number of PRs or answering a certain number of questions or just randomly on a lottery basis for being part of the community. The other thing people love about volunteer work is the sense of satisfaction we feel from altruistic deeds. Perhaps the Redwood community could collaborate on projects that scratch that altruism itch, like making over outdated websites for small businesses and NGOs.

Too few people know about RedwoodJS

Honestly, this could be a major factor. I found out about Redwood because I was trying to figure out how to build a full-stack website without needing to teach myself everything about building the backend, and I stumbled upon this framework. At the time I believe there was some disclaimer about it still being in development and that it could change in any number of ways at any time with no notice, so I decided not to risk it, but when I encountered it I thought it was just the coolest thing in web development I had seen. I still think that, and I know a lot of people would feel this way once they find out about it.

A good Success Metric for this problem might be “increasing visitors to the GitHub page” or “increasing downloads of RedwoodJS” or even “increasing contributors to RedwoodJS” (see: “recursion” :wink: ).

A lot of the possible solutions that come to mind for this one are similar to the previous section. Sponsor hackathons, create a hackathon just for projects built with RedwoodJS, sponsor other cool open-source initiatives you like, produce tutorial content, ask Josh Comeau to spend some time looking into Redwood and blog about it, set up a table at university career fairs, attend UX and web development conferences, bring speakers to those same conferences. There are lots of ways to get involved in the broader community.


Here I have explored just four of the possible reasons more people are not contributing to RedwoodJS. I am sure there are others. What will make RedwoodJS successful is not Reverse-Solutioning a way to "more women” on the Core Team. For Redwood to be successful, it needs to continue fostering a kind and caring community whose goal is building exciting new technology for the web. Many people will be attracted to this goal, and some of those people will be women.

9 Likes

These are such fantastic and pragmatic suggestions! Thanks for taking the time to share them, @alicelovescake!

1 Like

Thanks @mk.ultra , that’s a strong argument.

Although there’s a lot to consider and a lot of truth here I beg to slightly differ.

This only applies to my personal point of view, but I differentiate the mission of the organization - building a framework dedicated to startups & new entrepreneurs, and the goal of building a community.
In that regard, yes the organization needs more contributors to solve the problem of delivering more in less time, but it doesn’t specifically need more women to do so, it wants more of them.

Why?

Because this is the manifestation of some of the core values of the organization, openness, kindness. Our challenge is in implementing efficiently those values while scaling up as a community. As you and many other members of the community (and outside!) have stated, we have a strong core in doing so. But we also are aware of our limits and believe that we could do much more - evidence lies in the imbalance of women & men contributions we’ve all observed.

Hence why detailed feedback such as yours and @alicelovescake are valuable to us, it is helping us growing to the community we want to become.

It’s a slight difference in mindset maybe but I feel like it matters as it keeps us aligned with the kindness. When we see people as needed resources to solve problems, we’re taking one step back on empathy.


This being said, there are teams & incubators dedicated to women in tech, could be worth a try to get in touch :thinking:

1 Like

@mk.ultra Thank you for your response and I agree with your perspective. This question has come up within the Core Team and I thought it warranted community discussion. I think the main issue is not enough consistent contributors in general, so, naturally, there will be a more noticeable disparity. As much as I hate to admit it, even I struggle with maintaining consistency in my own contributions as a Core Team member due to familial & professional obligations. (This response is a prime example as it took me way longer to get out than I intended!)

So for a multitude of reasons, many of which you outlined, it can be very easy to put open source on the back burner. Finding the right audience at this stage is important. I think we all have come to the same conclusion that targeting the undergrad / bootcamp communities is a great idea, so that seems like a logical next step. I would like to look into setting up a talk with members of other communities like the ones @ajcwebdev mentioned as well.

I’ve also been contemplating if the Startup focus may be turning some users away and I’m curious to hear what others think about this. I remember when I first encountered Redwood, the catchphrase was “full-stack for the Jamstack”. Coming from a back-end-focused, .NET background, Redwood made Javascript development more accessible to me. I have heard similar experiences from front-end devs, designers, etc, within our community as well.

The focus on startups makes a lot of sense. Redwood is a fully loaded framework that makes it easy to, very quickly, build and ship, however, I think there is a market for learning full-stack development with it as well. (I believe @selfteachme has some positive stories around this!) The startup-focused message may potentially be intimidating to some users. Making Redwood more accessible with a broader message of “learn, build & ship”, and curating various tutorials and other learning materials could go far. This is one of the other areas I know we need help in. :wink:

I want to thank everyone for their contributions to this conversation so far. I look forward to continuing to build the best community.

2 Likes