Recruiting for diversity

Continuing the discussion from Takeaways from the first Snowdrift.coop retreat:

This is something I’ve been thinking about all along but have not made top priority. I wanted to post more in reflection from the posting of a photo of our first “retreat” online.

I don’t like that we are almost all tech-oriented white men. I know many talented people with other backgrounds whose perspectives I have tried to recruit to our project. Many have been interested and supportive, but few have become core team members. The reasons probably vary from case to case, but the biggest pattern is that we engage largely within the FLO software world which is overly white and male to start with. Still, we can and should do much better to actively live up to our explicit values.

I’m hesitant to do the superficial check-list to mention what identities we have or lack in our community. The point is more to make sure that we are actively engaging with diverse people more and also to understanding whether and how we might be inadvertently failing to recruit a greater mix of people. But to be blunt on our status:

Despite a decent list of important contributions from many women over the history of the project (the first steering committee member, a few designers, several advisors), we have had only two women be significant long-term (but not overlapping) team members (one of whom was at the retreat but not in the photo). We have two women on our Board of Directors currently, and one is non-white. We have some diversity in age, geographic location, languages, and a few other areas. We should do much better on all measures though. I’m concerned that the appearance of lacking diversity is itself a deterrent to some potential volunteers.

There’s a huge amount to say about all this, and it’s a massive topic in society now (and as is probably the case for all popular topics, we see everything from the deepest wisdom to misguided applications of the concern). I have no qualms or fears around the value and importance of addressing the topic. I do have concerns about the pitfalls and misunderstandings that have led the topic to be a source of tension and division. But the problem doesn’t get solved by ignoring or avoiding it.

Not to be an excuse, but one factor is that white men on average have more of the privileges that enable us to both have the skills and the potential volunteer time. One of the whole goals of addressing the public goods funding problems is to make sure less privileged people still can access resources fully. For that to be realized, we can’t just presume it will happen just because of the licensing and such. We also need underprivileged people involved in the development. When the technology is all made by privileged people, it tends to be oblivious to the needs and concerns of others.

I could write a lot more, but I’ll start with this to open the conversation.

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Worth mentioning: while males are quite over-represented in tech. We won’t be able to fix on our own, nor overnight. So it’s understandable that our demographics skew that way.[1]

At the same time, our vision is NOT solely tech-focused. So we have a much larger and more diverse pool of potential volunteers than most FLOSS projects; we can and should do outreach in those areas.


  1. We do have pretty good diversity of thought within that sphere, though. E.g. @mray will avoid using the command line at all costs; @adroit doesn't despise web 2.0 tech; etc. ↩︎

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Yes, I said as much:

There’s a known issue where volunteers in FLO software are further more white and male overall than even various segments of people-in-tech. The reasons are complex. But yes indeed, this is not something we can change on our own, but we can acknowledge it and actively push against the trend to our best ability.

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