Monday, October 23, 2017

Participation of Women in Free/Libre/Open Source Software. What is the current status and how much has changed in the last 10 years?

Participation of Women in Free/Libre/Open Source Software. What is the current status and how much has changed in the last 10 years?

by Gregorio Robles, Laura Arjona Reina, Jesús M. González-Barahona and Santiago Dueñas Domı́nguez.
Associate editor: Stefano Zacchiroli (@zacchiro)

It is well known that women are generally underrepresented in the IT sector. However, in FLOSS (free, libre, and open source) projects the number of women reported is even lower (from 2% to 5% according to several surveys, such as FLOSS 2002 [1] or FLOSSPols [2]). The FLOSS community is aware of this situation, and some projects, such as GNOME and Debian, have promoted the attraction of female participants.

As the previous surveys date back from the early 2000s, we designed a new web survey in 2013 which was answered by more than 2,000 FLOSS contributors, of which more than 200 were women. From the analysis of the answers provided by men and women, mainly those ones that are on their involvement with FLOSS, their educational level and background and personal status, we wanted to shed some light on how the status of female participation in FLOSS is. This blog post shows a glimpse of this. The survey responses are publicly available and documented for further analysis by third parties [3].

We have found that women begin to collaborate at a later age than men. Interestingly enough, as can be seen from Figure 1, while both peak at the age of 21, the tail for women is not that abrupt than the one for men. So, women that start in their thirties are 70% of the ones in the 20s, while for men this number decreases to 30%.
Figure 1 - Age of first contribution to FLOSS. Source [4].
Women perform more diverse tasks than men. While the latter are mostly concentrated on coding tasks (only slightly above 20% of men perform other tasks), with almost 45% "other type of contributions" is the main task chosen by women. The percentage of women who mainly code is 31%, as can be seen from Figure 2.
Figure 2 - Type of contributions to FLOSS projects. Source [4]
Figure 3 shows that while a majority of FLOSS participants does not have children, the number of those who have varies largely depending on their gender. So, the number of women with children (19%) is almost half the number of men with children (34%) as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3 - Answers to the question Do you have children?.
Graphs have different scales. Source [4]
If we have a look at how much time FLOSS contributors devote to FLOSS, we obtain Figure 4. At first sight the distribution might seem very similar, but a closer look shows that the share of men devoting less than 5 hours/week (50%) is lower than for women (54%), as is the the amount of men working 40 or more hours per week (12% for men and 15% for women). So, contributions to FLOSS projects by women are over-represented among the less active and the full-time professional contributors, in the latter case being probably hired by an industrial software company.

Figure 4 - Number of hours per week devoted to contributing to FLOSS projects. 
Graphs have different scales. Source [4]
All in all, our study confirms (and extends) the results from FLOSS [1] and FLOSSPols [2], even if almost 10 years have passed between both. Even if it is possible that the amount of women is now slightly higher, many contextual patterns have remained the same. So, a study of GitHub developers from 2015 found that only around 6% were women [5], but this increase could be due to the major involvement of the software industry in FLOSS. The current situation is far from what ten years ago was set as a goal, so we may speak of a "lost decade" in the inclusion of women in FLOSS.

A pre-print copy of the full paper "Women in Free/Libre/Open Source Software: The situation in the 2010s" [4] can be found at


[1] Rishab A Ghosh, Ruediger Glott, Bernhard Krieger, and Gregorio Robles. Free/libre and open source software: Survey and study, 2002.
[2] Dawn Nafus, James Leach, and Bernhard Krieger. Gender: Integrated report of findings. FLOSSPOLS, Deliverable D, 16, 2006.
[3] Gregorio Robles, Laura Arjona Reina, Alexander Serebrenik, Bogdan Vasilescu, and Jesús M González-Barahona. FLOSS 2013: A survey dataset about free software contributors: Challenges for curating, sharing, and combining. In MSR, pages 396-399, 2014. DOI:
[4] Gregorio Robles, Laura Arjona Reina, Jesús M. González-Barahona, and Santiago Dueñas Domı́nguez. Women in Free/Libre/Open Source Software: The situation in the 2010s. In OSS 2016, IFIP AICT 472, pp. 163–173, 2016. DOI:

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