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Culture / Open Source / Software Development

A Reusable Code of Conduct for Companies Building Open Source Projects

Jul 21st, 2015 11:57am by
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The open source group TODO — which includes membership from GitHub, WalmartLabs, Google, Stripe, Facebook, and Twitter amongst others — has released a reusable code of conduct that they hope companies building open source projects will adopt.

The Open Code of Conduct was released yesterday and is intended as a basic set of ground-rules for anyone contributing code to open source projects. The goal of releasing a standard set of guidelines is part of an ongoing effort to address the disparity and lack of diversity within the tech workforce. For example, last year, The New Stack reported on a data science study by O’Reilly that showed that all other characteristics being equal — education, choice of programming language, time in the field — women will still earn $13,000 less than their male counterparts. Other research has also shown a great lack of cultural and racial diversity amongst employees and decision-makers across the tech industry, mimicking long-held inequalities embedded in more traditional industry sectors.

The Code has so far been adopted by Box, Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook and GitHub and has been specifically designed as a “customizable by default” template for organizations running large open source projects.

The code aims to promote respect and to remind contributors to be welcoming to anyone who wants to participate. It is suggested that contributors think carefully about the words they use to avoid insults, threats, unwelcome sexual advances and discriminatory jokes. Contributors are encouraged to do some introspective thinking when disagreements occur in order to resolve differences constructively and unearth when reactions are culturally biased rather than technically-focused.

The code template also includes a section to inform all contributors how complaints can be made, which means that any organization that is implementing the template will need to consider the support processes they have in place if conflict does occur. The code of condut is inspired by DjangoPythonUbuntuContributor CovenantGeek Feminism and Stumptown Syndicate.

On the GitHub page for the open source version of the Open Code of Conduct, the authors spell out the difference between rights to free speech and rights to ensure everyone can participate equally by linking to the following xkcd comic:


XKCD image source:

Differences between men and women and between white people and people from other ethnic and racial backgrounds is seen in unequal levels of employment, payment and participation across most industry sectors, but since the technology industry is fairly newly emergent, it is particularly worrying that the same social power imbalances have been replicated so quickly. This is in a field where the majority of computer programmers were once women.

The enduring nature of these inequalities across the industry is a sign of systemic policy problems in how gender, race and sexual orientation are being managed within all tech companies. So back-to-basics foundational policies that aim to re-set the playing field are an important building block in reversing the inequality that impacts on the industry today. A study released just a couple of weeks ago found that amongst almost 4,000 Swedish firms, those with a diverse workforce saw a higher level of revenue being generated from their innovation. So with innovation being fueled by diversity, the members of the TODO Group are seeing the open source code of conduct as an essential business strategy as much as being the right thing to do.

Feature image: “food for thought” by Steve Jurvetson is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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