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This page contains the original proposal for the LinuxChix miniconference as submitted to the lca 2007 organisation team. It is here for interests' sake only.
The LinuxChix miniconf would be a 1 day miniconf with a series of women speakers presenting to a mixed audience. A small number of talks would be on the general issue of women's participation in Free Software development and the different organisations and efforts springing up to improve their participation rates in and enjoyment of Free Software communities and development, but the majority of the talks would be women talking about their technical and community projects.
Women are under-represented as both speakers and attendees at technical conferences even relative to their level of participation in technical fields. They are also especially under-represented in Free Software development. This is a vicious cycle: when women attempt to join these communities they often feel themselves surrounded by people who seem to have been born hacking. They also sometimes simply feel isolated. The aim of a miniconf with technical talks by women is threefold: giving women, including women who are not yet ready to submit talks to the main section of conferences like linux.conf.au, additional conference speaking experience; giving women the opportunity to get down and technical with other women; and to lure more women to attend the main conference afterwards.
I initially proposed this miniconf to the LinuxChix community in July, and if it goes ahead there are some quite interesting potential speakers lined up. Val Henson, American Linux chick and Linux kernel hacker, is hoping to make the trip, as is Sulamita Garcia from LinuxChix's most active regional chapter, LinuxChix Brazil. Australian women who would speak at the miniconf include myself, Jacinta Richardson of Perl Training Australia and Kelly Daly of IBM Australia. The LinuxChix community in Australia is generally enthusiastic: other interested potential attendees are Donna Benjamin from Melbourne and most members of the Sydney LinuxChix chapter.
The original inspiration for this idea was Anthony Towns' 2005 proposal for a "women's linux.conf.au". Despite considerable enthusiasm and the potential involvement of international women superstars like Val Henson and Erinn Clark of Debian Women, the organisation of the event never took off. I came up with this mini-conference idea as a smaller scale and easier to organise version of essentially the same event. In some ways the miniconf idea is an experiment: there is recognition of the desirability of having women meet other women participants socially in order to feel more at home in Free Software communities, but there is also increasing recognition among technical women themselves that finding out about cool things that other women are doing, and then hacking with them, is good fun. This event, if accepted, would be one of the largest tests of this idea in the Free Software community yet.
LinuxChix itself is essentially a large (1000 members) online women's LUG with a very heavy social aspect. It's been running continuously since 1999 under the care of a slowly changing array of volunteers. It was founded in explicit reaction to the hostile "locker room" style online environments that many women report finding in their LUGs and development communities. One day we hope that rationale for its existence will go away, but it doesn't seem to have gone yet. I want the event to be under the LinuxChix banner for a couple of reasons: firstly, it's an organisation I'm really heavily involved in and have some influence in, so it is an obvious place to promote the event, but more importantly, as a large community of women who are users of Free Software, but seldom developers of it and only somewhat involved in the communities, it's a potentially enormous source of fresh blood for Free Software development that is only being tapped to a limited degree. So far!
I expect that the number of women attendees would be up to 20. I'd really like it to be much higher than that, but that will require significant publicity groundwork among women in IT groups in Australia. From what I hear, if I could get 20 women to lca 2007 I'd be doing well compared to past lca numbers. I honestly have no idea of the number of men who could be expected to attend, perhaps as many again as the female attendees, depending on the talks arranged. The miniconf would not need resources from the conference committee other than the use of the allocated room and presentation equipment, but given that this miniconf targets a group which is really badly represented at lca, I'd appreciate advice on how to best publicise it.