Towards the end of 2015, I became aware of a concern that the SUMO Support Forum had a significant gender imbalance. Up until that point, my experience of Mozilla had been of broadly mixed communities and teams, but this issue bugged me a little. I have worked with mixed teams and teams that are 100% male and in my experience, the former beats the latter every time for the sense of teamwork and community.
But do we really have a problem…? I set out to look at the top 100 contributors to the Support Forum in 2015. I found that:
- Of the top 10, 80% were male.
- Of the top 25, 3 were of unknown gender. Of the remaining 22 that were left, 86% were male.
- Of the 100 people, 33 were of unknown gender. Of the remaining 67, 91% were male.
So, as rumoured, the majority of the Support Forum contributors are male. This is not something that has happened deliberately. Indeed, SUMO is one of the, if not the, best examples of a community within Mozilla that uses open recruitment. We do not need to provide real names, ages, genders, locations, occupations, height, favourite vegetable (etc etc) to contribute and help users.
But that does not mean that this situation is good. In looking to address the gender balance, we have an opportunity to make sure that we give ourselves a “health check” to make sure that SUMO is a community where all people feel welcome and are able to contribute. Further to consulting people across Mozilla, I think there are a number of areas that we can look into where we can change:
- Highlight IRC as an anonymous real time area where contributors can “pop in” and ask for help from other members of the community.
- Ask top contributors to leave the questions until they are a day old (with the exception of urgent malware issues) to free up “easier” questions for new contributors. Top contributor help could be more useful looking at more difficult questions.
- Offer and provide mentoring assistance for those that may find it useful.
- Raise awareness of SUMO as a contribution area for those that may wish to build skills.
- Promote SUMO to diversity groups – this is a great way for them to get involved in Mozilla.
- Have a SUMO Forum badge that is based on votes from fellow contributors for non technical attributes such as helping other contributors and mentoring. *
- To “tone down” the competitive feel of SUMO, replace the “top 10” and “top 25” categories with a “top 50”. *
(*= these will probably involve some development work that would need to be left until after the SUMO platform migration.)
This is not an exhaustive list. We have a history of innovation at Mozilla – what other ideas do people have?
Once thing that I have found about Mozilla is that people can do small things and it will build into visible change and progress. Whether it be providing telemetry or just using open source software, it builds incrementally into positive outcomes. Improving the diversity of the SUMO community is very much the same – let’s think about the small changes we can make that can build into making good even better.
(Thank you to the many Mozillians (both staff and contributors from several teams) that helped with insights and guidance to this article - it simply would not have been possible without your help and guidance.)