Supporting Diversity on the SUMO Support Forum


#1

Hi

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:

  1. Highlight IRC as an anonymous real time area where contributors can “pop in” and ask for help from other members of the community.
  2. 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.
  3. Offer and provide mentoring assistance for those that may find it useful.
  4. Raise awareness of SUMO as a contribution area for those that may wish to build skills.
  5. Promote SUMO to diversity groups – this is a great way for them to get involved in Mozilla.
  6. Have a SUMO Forum badge that is based on votes from fellow contributors for non technical attributes such as helping other contributors and mentoring. *
  7. 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.)


(Roland Tanglao) #2

thanks for your persistence and this post! great work Seburo! I can definitely help with the “top 50” thing post migration!
…Roland


(Yousef Alam) #3

My first contribution to Mozilla was the SUMO buddy program, and we learned that at SUMOs scale mentoring doesn’t really work. Instead I’d push for number 1 heavily.


(Janet Swisher) #4

+1 to Idea #2. Leaving some “easy” questions for new contributors is very important for growing the base of contributors.

The “top 10”, “top 25” and even “top 50” categories emphasize quantity of contributions above other aspects (quality, longevity). The peer-vote badges you mention in #6 are a step towards highlighting some of these other aspects. But make sure that votes are for behavior, not for people, so it doesn’t become just a popularity contest.

A way to encourage consistent, repeated contributions would be to highlight “streaks”, to show how many days, weeks, or months in a row someone contributed, regardless of the total quantity of contributions. This might require some post-migration programming.


#5

Hi

Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to provide feedback on this, I really appreciate it.

Looking at the comments received here and on the SUMO contributor forum, there have emerged some clear areas that could be taken forwards:

  1. Using the SUMO IRC channel to help support contributors in real time. This could be something that could be emphasised in the new contributor materials so that people know what it is, and how to access it. Whilst I appreciate that some may experience IRC as a technical barrier, it is much more open and easier to access that some of its equivalents, with the added benefit of being able to use it in a dedicated client outside of the browser - comes in handy when replicating a user issue. The SUMO IRC community is an active one, and something that we should make more of.

  2. Non technical forum “mentoring” badge. This is going to need some work post-migration. I think it would be a great idea, we just need to makes sure the criteria make sense.

  3. Remove some the quantity benchmarks. Again, this is a post-migration item and will need some further work. It will help to broaden (or remove?) the “elite” boundary and make achievement more accessible.

This is not a finished topic and I hope we can bring some of this to the fore in the new year. I do not believe that we are doing already is “wrong” in any way, but this work has identified areas that we can work on to be even better.

In the meantime, all comments and feedback are welcome.


#6

I have been having a think about the mentoring aspect and how we have not really been able to make it work.

For mentoring to work, you need to have people wanting to mentor and are able to mentor. SUMO is a community, but is very dispersed globally. To try to find someone that wants to help build your skills in vaguely the same timezone is going to be a challenge.

Also the speed at which we work may make matters more difficult. By the time you have identified something you would like some help with, someone else may have already answered it (on the Support Forum, on Social Support things move even quicker).

That said, I still think that we have a responsibility to support those who are new and/or want to learn. I am certainly keen to learn more so that I am more able to help and I also want to help others get started and help develop their skills.