The IT industry in general has traditionally been a space where women and minority groups were underrepresented. But the disparity has been even more pronounced within the open source world than the technology sector as a whole. (Here's one interesting, highly intellectualized take on part of the reason why, which focuses on design decisions that cut to the core of Unix itself.)
The Linux Foundation already announced one program earlier this year to increase access to open source by offering free Linux training to disadvantaged populations. On Tuesday, the organization opened additional opportunities by making available "diversity scholarships" to support attendance of a specific set of upcoming open source events, providing onsite childcare and mothers' rooms at the events and expressing a commitment to "enforcing a respectful code of conduct for attendees."
"Increasing diversity in technology takes more than one approach. From our partnership with Goodwill to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds to our work with Women Who Code and a variety of other organizations, we hope to have at least a small impact on this important issue," said Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation. "We’re looking forward to meeting and working with women from the program and helping them to advance their careers and contributions in the open source community."
Diversity initiatives tend to be a touchy subject, and it's a safe bet that the Linux Foundation -- along with Women Who Code, which is collaborating in this initiative -- will have its critics. It also seems unlikely that a lack of childcare support at open source events is the main reason why some women do not currently participate in open source. (Presumably not all would-be female contributors have children, and not all need free childcare.)
But the message seems more important than the material in this case. The Linux Foundation has signaled its commitment to encouraging broader participation in open source development, which is a good thing for everyone.