IRC Behaviour on #debian-women


We are currently experiencing an increasing problem with people who join the #debian-women channel and become very talkative, but who do not actively contribute to our aim of getting more women to contribute more to Debian. This is an issue because some of the people we are specifically aiming to help are being squeezed out of the discussion, especially newcomers who are more likely to be hesitant to join the conversations. The problem is complicated by the fact that appropriate content for channel discussion varies depending on the context.

Ideally the following needs should be met by the channel, but the relative importance of them depends on the particular context:

  • All people will be comfortable and feel able to ask questions or comment at any time. People will feel that the channel is a sociable and friendly place.

  • The channel will be a place where women are obviously present at all times. Nobody will enter and feel like it's yet another dramatically male dominated Linux/tech channel.

  • The channel will be a place where discussions centre, whenever possible (i.e. frequently) on things that actively contribute to getting more women more involved in Debian. This includes people learning technical skills. It also includes people learning about Debian culture, history and politics. It includes people getting practice at dealing with some common modes of interaction within Debian. It includes Debian people getting practice at interacting with women in a Debian context. It includes a lot of different things and I have problably missed some :)

Given this, we have a clear problem at present with an increasing incidence of people who drop into the channel out of curiosity, find it is friendly and stay, but end up being very talkative in ways that do not actually contribute to the aims of the Debian Women project. Statistically, it is likely that the majority of these people will be male. This is a problem, because it means that both the signal:noise and the female:male ratios in the channel decrease, which is counter-productive. We do not want to bar such people from the channel and we do not want to behave in an unfriendly way to anyone. However we need to explain clearly that if a particular person's behaviour is not helping, they should change it or leave.

Statement of Policy

(The following statement is a draft and will be refined as and when need arises.)

The Debian Women group hopes that the actions of everyone involved in the #debian-women channel will help us to achieve the goals of the project.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand this is to see #debian-women as a tightly focussed group, where the idea isn't as general as "help women in technology" or "support more geek women" or "help people in general with their Debian problems". The aim of this group is quite specific: we help interested women to contribute to Debian.

The most valuable resource we have to achieve that goal is the people involved. Naturally, the women who are interested in contributing more to Debian and who are willing to put some effort into that are crucial to the Debian Women project. Other people who are particularily valuable to us include those who already contribute to Debian in significant ways, and who are experienced in the processes and formalities behind becoming involved.

One issue that can arise is when the channel becomes somewhat "drowned" in socialising. Now, we are all human, and it is natural to want to be sociable. However, it is all too easy to have people arrive in the channel to see what's happening, who end up staying and chatting because it's a comfortable atmosphere. This can end up upsetting the balance of women to men and Debian to other topics. In that situation, the channel may no longer be working to achieve the goal of increasing the involvement of women in Debian.

Unfortunately there is no obvious like we can draw and say "let's not cross over there". Obviously a channel that is dominated by men and is also off topic most of the time isn't helpful. (There are many existing places to find that atmosphere if you want it!) Similarly, an all female channel doesn't benefit from the help of the men already involved in Debian, who can offer the benefit of their experiences. The balance is somewhere in between. The best we can do is watch carefully, and avoid situations that move us further away from our main goal.

There are many places online to chat about technology in general, but only one place for helping women get involved in Debian. That priority and focus should be kept in mind always, and reflected in our actions and behaviour in the channel.