Thursday, June 10, 2010

Diversity in IRC

Confession: I was a closet female for a long time. My nick is purposefully ambiguous and when people assumed I was 'Eric' I never corrected them. I never signed my full name, not because I was afraid or insecure in my answer, but because I was afraid I would get treated differently for it. None of my profiles had my picture until just a few months ago, when I "came out" at the Plone Budapest conference.

I usually feel bad about it. For 7 years I could have been supporting women in technology. It seemed the easiest way to get by at the time. Was I being a coward? Maybe I was making it all up?

Then there are days like today, where a I get a gentle reminder as to where it all started. To the left is a screenshot of an #plone IRC chat with someone who was just completely lost in their task (probably still is). Many of us were helping out this person and at some point they moved it to a private conversation. Fine - that happens a lot. 

Click the image to get a "x-large" more readable version. I'll wait...

I'm not posting this to complain* - in fact I see it as a victory. I have no hard feelings and a simple correction not only took us back to business but raised the standard for getting help from that point forward.

Rather, I want people to understand why it's important for groups like PloneChix to exist. Diversity is scarce in the community and dealing with it is still new to many people. And guess what? The only way to make things better is to be more visible and pull through awkward moments like this. 

It's easy to dismiss this as "not a Plone problem" when it's plone "users" that are the offenders but that is a cop out. If someone is new to helping out on IRC and is treated like this, we risk permanently losing their help and expertise. If it's normal to have women in IRC, at conferences, etc... then the standard for behavior will be higher to begin with.

So ladies, help me out - I'm tired of dealing with this alone. Take a moment to be seen: get in IRC, go to a conference, talk at a local meetup and invite your friends. One at a time, we can make Plone a stress free place for everyone.

*I spend way too much time arguing with people about whether or not this stuff still exists. Many think that it's a problem of the past because it doesn't happen in public forums or chats anymore. My response is usually "Duh! Of course it doesn't." Most incidents DO go unreported for that exact reason.


  1. Well Done! Thank you so much for the way you handled this on IRC and in this blog post. A large part of Plone is the community, but communities do need to be grown, nurtured and held accountable.

  2. I've had exactly the same thing happen to me, though it was doubly awkward (or at least differently-so) since I'm a guy.

  3. Indeed.

    One important thing to keep in mind is that there's a big difference between people that we perceive as being part of the community, and random people that drop by the chat with a question or just to see what's going on.

    There's always going to be rude, obnoxious and inappropriate people as long as we allow people not to reveal their identity and there are no repercussions for behaving that way — see the average YouTube comment exchange. ;)

    I do feel quite strongly that people should be allowed to be anonymous if they need to, but these people are also unlikely to become part of the Plone community.

    Where I *do* think the Plone community does well, is that you won't be disrespected based on race or gender when it comes to skill. If you know your stuff, you get the respect you deserve among the community — and Elizabeth is a great example of that. I don't think I have ever heard anything but high praise about your talks and participation in Plone.

    While random drive-by comments and discrimination will always exist, the people of the Plone community that are at it's core — developers, writers, designers — are very fair and respectful. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't school people on what's appropriate behavior — we absolutely need to call them out on bullshit like this — but there are communities that have this in their core membership, which I'm pretty confident to say that is less of an issue in the core of the Plone community.

    As you know, I fully support this crusade and the things you're doing for the community on every level. Rudeness and discrimination on *any* basis is unacceptable. And we need to fight it, at all times.

    We have done so in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. That's why Plone has always been considered one of the best communities on the planet. :)

  4. Great, OpenID support is totally broken on Blogger.

    The above comment titled "openid" was me. :)

    — Alexander Limi