A proposal to solve gender imbalance in Debian

We've done all we can so far: Debian Women, the Diversity Statement, the anti-harassment contact, gender neutral language, lots of education all round, but we still suffer from a strong gender imbalance in Debian.

I think that the reason is that the majority group of cisgender men in the project, although they don't actively work /against/ the rest, still have /no incentive/ to be inclusive, and generally do not understand what bearing a female name online is like.

I think it is about time we addressed that, and after a lot of thinking and discussing with many other concerned debianers, I think I have just the right proposal, which is twofold.

The first part is this: since the goal is to have an equal gender perception in Debian, we can just decide to only approve one obviously-male-named DD for every obviously-female-named one. That's right: no new obviously-male-named DD unless an obviously-female-named DD has just been approved.

It may sound like affirmative action gone wild, but please stop a moment to think about it: this would create precisely the right incentive for the currently dominant group of developers to be inclusive! People shouldn't just assume they can get a Debian account regardless of what happens around them. We already ask NM candidates to fix RC bugs and, well, gender imbalance should be treated as an RC bug, and everyone should feel compelled to join the effort to fix it!

Now, of course since there currently are many male names in NM but not a single female name, it would not be reasonable to just stop the flow of new developers into the project: that would just have the effect to make us starve on personpower.

So here is the second part of the proposal: the one-female-name-one-male-name policy will not be enforced for, say, a year. But during this year, everyone currently in NM or joining NM will be asked to adopt a female identity.

Crazy? No, genius! It's about time people understood what it means to get advances in private every time they make a public contribution! What better way than just trying it out for themselves?

On top of that, as more and more female names appear in Debian changelogs, fake or not, people will finally start to understand that it does not matter what name is used to sign the contribution, but the contribution itself.

I don't know if this will give us a community where people realise female or male contributions are equally valuable, which is what I hope, or a community where people will think that everyone is a cisgender man even if they have female names. In the end, really, it does not matter. Either way, we finally get to have a community where everyone is /guaranteed/ to be treated the same.

But gender imbalance isn't the only imbalance we have in Debian. People accrue a reputation over time, good or bad, and this reputation tends to stick on you for years, regardless of how you may change, for better or for worse. When we evaluate the merit a contribution, we should not be biased by the reputation of the contributor! How can new contributors be taken seriously otherwise? I believe we are loosing lots of fresh, good ideas this way. And how much damage could be wrecked on the project by a well-respected contributor, like a Debian Account Manager, who is having a funny day?

I think we can address this just as I propose to address gender imbalance: let's swap identities from time to time, like it usually happens with nametags at the end of Debconfs. Let's see gregoa upload a patched versions of python3.2, and enrico upload a new upstream version of eglibc! See if we won't finally have some peer review at last!

Reputation and real identities have many merits, but we have come to rely too much on them, and it is hurting us. It is time we did something about it, before it is too late!