On Wednesday April 21 at Drupalcon San Francisco, I convened a birds of a feather session that I called "(How) should we measure diversity in Drupal?" with the direct support of a handful of other active Drupal community members attending the conference. My intention here to summarize my observations, though I do share some of my opinions.
In my experience, the Drupal community tends to be a friendly and welcoming place. We stick together because we want to use this great piece of software, help others learn it and exchange improvements. This tool has been the foundation for many high-skilled jobs and profitable businesses as well as web content that spread innovative ideas and web applications that make people happier and their lives easier.
The community does not perfectly resemble the larger world. Access to technology is not evenly distributed. Social inequality influences the transient "digital divide."
Despite all the gushing earlier, we must be reminded that Drupal's failures in accessibility can exclude entire segments of the world. It's very easy for the community to fail on accessibility if we don't have people who insistently express their needs and teach others the techniques we can use to meet those needs. It was a bit funny, actually, because people kept entering the room during this BoF, sitting down, and after several minutes they realized that they were not in fact at the Accessibility BoF which was happening simultaneously in the next room.
Some notes were taken by Jack Aponte. Be sure to listen to Jack's Drupal Voices podcast on diversity, power and privilege in the open source community, too.
The title "(How) should we measure diversity in Drupal?" was an opening to talk about both the value and meaning of diversity as well as the ways we might measure it. We acknowledged that diversity in the Drupal community has many expressions. Drupal is international. Drupal draws people from many professions and vocations not just from web technology professions. The community includes every gender (see for example Angie Byron's discussion on the topic). Drupal has young students, retirees, adventurous newbies and seasoned professionals. Even though the Drupal community doesn't resemble the larger world in every way, it's just not possible to call it homogenous.
The session focused on two topics: growing Drupal and preventing incidents where people are excluded unjustly from the community because of who they are. (The latter may be dramatic and harsh diction, but just read it as blunt and simplified.)
Diversity is an indicator of the activities of the community. Many if not all of the participants had a view that the internet and web content (thus Drupal) was a decisive component of important educational, social, political and entrepreneurial missions. Diversity is evidence that Drupal enables. Open source promises certain freedoms and removes many barriers. Technology is tools for work, and with work we sustain ourselves, provide for others and make a livelihood. Drupal's growth proves an important point about its viability and versatility, and we have people in our Drupal community who want to push Drupal as they pursue missions beyond any one good web site.
Measuring diversity would tell us where there may be new opportunities, and everyone interested in measuring diversity talked about it in terms of scientific and statistical instruments and quantitative data. Pursuing this requires more understanding of what we want to learn about the community and what we can learn about the community. For the record, nobody regarded Drupal.org profiles as any kind of scientific instrument.
Shai Gluskin proposed that conflict is productive during his insightful presentation at the core developer summit. It's hard for me to separate "diversity" from specific conflicts in the community that are documented elsewhere. The Geek Feminism wiki lists some incidents, and there are others.
Here's a heavy-handed expression of my personal opinion: Diversity is a complex and vague common language way of discussing (and avoiding) issues of inequality, powerlessness, unjust privilege and exclusion. It's a narrow, culturally specific product of modern North American and European ideologies of multiculturalism and liberalism. Can the global Drupal community have a fair conversation about diversity? Does it need to? I feel a tension between the global nature of the Drupal community and drupal.org and the fact that interaction often happens in specific locales. (That's enough of my opinion.)
People in the session spoke about the definition of community, the boundaries of "do-ocracy," how to value contributions, the availability and accessibility of "on ramps" to the Drupal community.
We had consensus that "do-ocracy" is sensible and valuable when it comes to writing Drupal documentation, core, modules, and themes. It's really important to get things done--like finishing Drupal 7--and there's great respect for the people who actually do the work of making Drupal software. This must be balanced by a recognition that contributions come in many forms--not just from developers and coders--and growing the community is a very worthy deed.
People had little clarity on how the community handles conflicts that have the potential to exclude people or conflicts that arise from grievances about disrespect and discrimination on the basis of identity, especially gender, race and class. There was no consensus on whether we can or should rely on authorities to set and enforce standards. We are personally responsible for our own actions. We have confidence in our individual capacities to intervene, but the BoF revealed a desire to have a common understanding of how to intervene in conflicts and how to encourage and stand up for each other so that these conflicts are resolved intelligently and productively for the benefit of the community.
We're dissatisfied with the tight constraints on the community's ability to self-organize on groups.drupal.org. There's sense in the rules that groups must be related to Drupal and can't be political, but people in the room were adamant that "safe spaces" like Drupalchix, identity-based groups like LGBTIQ Drupal, and common interest groups about churches, Drupal-at-home parenthood, etc. can offer new ways for people to join and find a place in the Drupal community, which inevitably should lead to new contributors, happier contributors and a better piece of software.