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Let's grow the Symfony community

I love working in IT. I love the challenges and I love the life it allows me live. One might argue it is a question of justice to enable everyone to enjoy this lifestyle equally if they choose IT as their path to happiness. But this angle sometimes makes people defensive, as in: "Wait a moment, I never did anything to stop anyone from choosing this career path! How is it my problem if people don’t succeed in IT?"

This is a common reflex and at least from talking to people within the Symfony community, many contributors think the community doesn’t show bias against women or people of non white ethnic backgrounds. Infact, I get the sense that people wished for a more diverse community. But we are left puzzled as to why our community practices, which are allowing a constant stream of new developers to gain sufficient trust and become part of the core team, is not producing a more diverse community.

There are of course many dimensions to look at on this topic. Let us briefly look for example at the topic of gender diversity. I choose this dimension mainly because the numbers are quite well documented, but I invite and support anyone to look at those other dimensions. In the proprietary software world almost one third are women compared to 2% to 10% in open source. In the United States 43% of math graduates are women, but only 18% of computer science graduates are women.

Looking at the same numbers about gender diversity in the Symfony community: we have zero women in the core team. Among the code and doc contributors I see Sarah making the top 100 list for code and docs and Andréia for doc from a quick skim among the "female looking" names (let me know if I overlooked someone). Every Symfony conference has a low rate of female participants and an even lower relative number of talk submissions and speakers. Our numbers are even lower than the low number of women in open source! It is quite clear our approach of “meritocratic” contributions is failing to provide diversity, but this isn’t really news. All the while, studies show that diverse groups are more efficient and innovative. So we are losing out both in quantity and quality!

Again I do not think that there is anyone actively working on keeping women or anyone else out of the Symfony community. Instead the root cause could be inaction: a combination of people being unaware of their unconscious bias, not knowing how to seek out diverse people and perspectives and a lack of inclusive community practices. Whatever we have done in the past seems to not be working. We are also not the only one to recognize this issue. The good news however is that it is possible to make significant steps forward if there is a sufficient commitment. We’ve already started taking steps towards that goal, but we need to take the next step.

We launched a DX initiative because we understood we were making it hard for people to join our community and we wanted to grow our user and developer base. We ended up fixing many things that might confuse less experienced developers and we added simpler layers or more opinionated defaults. Obviously, some of the DX work were things even experienced developers could appreciate, but much of the work didn’t make Symfony better for them specifically. But through the DX initiative, we managed to grow our community and this was a worthy enough reason and big enough benefit for all.

Now just to clarify, I am not saying that women need the DX initiative because they are not sufficiently experienced enough. But a recent Github survey showed that minorities value clear documentation in open source projects and that’s something our DX initiative tried to improve. By learning what minorities in tech need to be successful, we can improve our community and attract diverse contributors.

We need a concerted effort to help grow community and the diversity initiative aims to bring about exactly that. And yes, for the parts of the community that identify as male, this might lead to some things that feel like favoritism but are actually leveling the playing field (like giving additional visibility to contributions done by minorities) and some things which you even might find annoying (like using other words like "folks" or "everyone" in place of "guys" to address a mixed gender group). Change is uncomfortable, but I think we can all agree that a bigger community which is more welcoming is a worthy goal to achieve together! What is important noting however is that if we want to grow our community by becoming more diverse, then the biggest effort must come from the current majority to earn the trust so that new members in our community feel safe and welcome.

But how do we get there? We have done the obvious things like a code of conduct for Symfony conferences. We’ve launched the DX initiative and tried to get more diverse speakers, but little progress has been made towards diversity. The Symfony core team shares my concerns. I have therefore decided to hire a professional adviser, Sage Sharp from Otter Technology, with experience on the diversity topic especially within open source communities. So far I have funded the initiative out of my own pocket. Liip has stepped up so that we can continue to benefit from expert consulting by providing funding for monthly check points. This will also establish some degree of accountability that we continue to work on improving diversity. As previously announced a scholarship program was offered for SymfonyCon in Cluj with funding from SensioLabs. At SymfonyCon we highlighted the need to work on our diversity during the community sessions and followed up with an unconference session. But these are just the first of many steps we need to take.

In parallel a discussion has already been started to introduce a code of conduct for the entire Symfony community. Among the open questions is who should be the group of people handling reports on code of conduct violations and how to potentially grow this to cover the Symfony eco-system and not just Symfony core. There is now also an #diversity slack channel to help coordinate efforts since I hope that this blog post will help gather all the people interested in the topic. Maybe some of you have already started initiatives of your own or have experience about what worked or what didn’t work in other communities? Please contact me so that I can see about how to connect all the interested people. I will follow up this post with another one where I will outline various ideas that I have collected based on discussions I had with various people on this topic.

Finally, I know this topic makes many people uneasy, especially white males like myself. I certainly am much more worried I will say something stupid about diversity than about coding. Obviously many of us are programmers, a lot of us have spent most of our time in this industry with mostly white males. It is quite easy to become defensive, it is quite easy to feel like you’re getting your head ripped off, even when you do not have any ill intentions. And then all this talk about privilege, yet we obviously still have challenges in our lives to overcome. But do not let this stop you from moving out of your comfort zone, again if not for justice, then for the opportunity to help grow the community that is a key part of our professional lives.

Help the Symfony project!

As with any Open-Source project, contributing code or documentation is the most common way to help, but we also have a wide range of sponsoring opportunities.


"(...) I know this topic makes many people uneasy, especially white males (...)"

I'm not sure, but I tend to be the optimistic one who thinks the Symfony community is smart enough to say a big "YES" to anything that can improve the community :)

I think these diversity thoughts are absolutely awesome, and become mandatory in a world where IT is too much equivalent with "white male"...
Thanks Lukas! I think this is really important. Do I wish the Symfony community was filled with people of every type? Heck yea! That would be amazing for so many reasons. So, I'm excited to play an active role in this, whatever that means (and to listen and learn). I'm already in the #diversity Slack channel and look forward to the next steps.
I don't like identity politics, in fact its makes me extremely uneasy because it always makes assumptions about a group. The skin color or gender tells you exactly NOTHING about the persons abilities or needs. To say that a certain group needs support to contribute to this community is belittling in my opinion. Maybe the reason why the majority of contributers are white males is because this project originated in france and more men work in IT then women. Does the DeDe CMS community (DeDe orginates in china) think they need diversity because the majority are chinese males? Is it a problem that the DeDe community is mostly asian male? If the answer to this question is no, then this applies here too.
What also bothers me is that all white males are apparently lumped together in a group, when in fact they are many different people of different backgrounds.
As for belitteling: They don’t need our support, we just need to show them that we are worth their time.

As for lumping together white males: We will just try to work on addressing more people now. But definitely: some white males are religious, some are not, some are heterosexual, some are not, some drink alcohol, some don’t. What this initiative tries to achieve is that of course also white males can feel more comfortable in our community so that they might not feel pressured to hide aspects of themselves that might not fit the current norm. And even if a technology was started by one group of people, I feel strongly that a community is enriched when it encompasses people of greater and greater types of backgrounds.
@Cornelius maybe the post was too focused on gender diversity because there are more public stats available about that. But you can rest assured that we don't understand diversity just as a female/male issue.

There are a lot of diversity dimensions: gender, race, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, religion, cultural background, socio-economic status, ability/disability (mental and physical), etc.
For the record I'm absolutely for inclusiveness and I think neutral gender language in the docs is a fantastic idea. But I'm absolutely against forcing a specific idea of diversity that targets specific groups. To me there is no value in having a specific group under or overrepresented. Its always what the individual brings to the table and this cannot be judged by appearance or gender or other superficial things (hence focusing on having XY amount of people that fit a certain criteria is useless).
Hola, saludos a todos, me encanta este tema porque creo que todo aquel que ame esto puede aportar a la comunidad, y pienso que deberíamos darle la importancia también a diversidad de idiomas,... estoy seguro que la comunidad crecerá!
I see this as a pattern in many companies nowadays. Sexual minorities are pushed in front of others. Why do i care you are straight or gay when you can do a good work? Why do i need to see separate Christmas parties for straight people and gay people in a company? Why is not everybody equal? You get a job because you are straight/gay or because you are good at what you are doing? Aren't we generating the opposite here?
On a second note I would love to see more women active in this male dominated world of computers in general. I am sure at one point they can be if not equal but better than man because of their way of thinking and making things.
The intention is not to separate minorities but the intention is to make women as well as people with different sexual orientations (and all the other dimensions which Javier listed and more) feel safe in our community. As such I find your statement singling out some people problematic. I hope as a community we can together overcome such concerns.
@Cornelius, @Puscasu I share part of your concerns, but the way we want to promote diversity in Symfony will never involve attacking some people (e.g. white men).

Let me explain what we want to do with a practical example: "age diversity". Most Symfony users I know belong to a narrow age range: not too young, not too old (late 20s, early 30s). That's not good or bad on itself, but what would happen if we improve age diversity?

First, we wouldn't create "age quotas" or ban any community member because their age is too common and we want different people. What we'd do is to actively seek younger and older people (maybe organizing events at universities to attract more students, maybe creating more "easy pick" issues and better contributing guides for them, etc.)

If we fail at this, nothing wrong would have happened to Symfony. If we succeed, Symfony community would be more "age diverse". Why is that good? Because younger people can give us a fresh look at how apps are developed today and they can help us bridge Symfony with other modern tools (e.g. Symfony's Webpack Encore and JavaScript's Webpack) and older people can give us their experience and vast knowledge to solve some problems we are not aware of or to find better solutions to well-known problems.

In summary: there's nothing wrong with the age of our community ... but making it more "age diverse" will probably make Symfony better. That's what all this diversity initiative is about.
I agree about diversity. And especially in the age dimension, I believe there is much to be revealed there. Mostly in the ways that Symfony can be intimidating for newbies or people that are not into deep or geeky or recreational programming, and just need a tool to build things fast.
That is probably why Laravel got so much traction so quickly.

Now about the post itself, it does a bit of jumping to conclusions.
Rather than accusing people without specific evidence, It's an easier and safer conclusion to assume that you are missing something when you use generalized and simplistic percentages for a complex and unbalanced population to derive evidence about a very small sample.
Understanding the law of big numbers and how the law of averages can lead to misleading results and expectations will help a lot to reduce the amount of "feeling puzzled".
As would analyzing why Symfony in its current presentation might not be appealing to certain groups in the first place.

And yes accusing someone of "unconscious bias" without specific evidence is insulting. No matter the number of patronizing paragraphs.
People might not say that they are insulted because their morals make them doubt themselves, but that does not make your argument correct.

To be honest I do not see the parts about "white men" adding anything to the post. They are insulting towards the core and managing teams and do not really do anything to convince anyone about the value of diversity.
They can, however, disorient people from seeing the value in diversity and the entire initiative
@Dimitris Unconcious bias is a totally normal thing. We all have it, white men also everyone else, including minorities. As such I didn’t intend to insult anyone.

It is of course people to become aware of the unconcious bias to make part of them concious. I applaud anyone that invest this effort. I try to do it to some degree myself but I admit to fully “uncover” all of them (if that is even possible) would require more effort.

You asked for evidence and let me give you one small example. The first badge we grant in our community reads “Hey dude” ( Its been like this for years. Pretty much all of us have seen it. Yet I only recently noticed it when I actively was looking over and related resources to see where we were not communicating in a welcoming way to a diverse audience.

At any rate, I sure hope that my post hasn’t diminished your motivation to help us improve diversity and grow our community.
BTW I noticed a few such things and reported them to Sensio, who are looking making adjustments.
"How to write an article without bringing any points bashing people by their color on the way 101"

But if serious, why is there less women in OSS? What if because they just less interested in this?
Of course it's impossible, but what is possible is that Straight White Male keeps yelling at them on Github so making hostile environment and all women are scared of it. Yeah seems more likely.

It's open source. who care about your gender or even sexuality? I cannot imagine such a dispute, who gives a damn?
Thanks for this article, Lukas!

To be honest: When I started at university I struggled with all those diversity campaigns - at least in the beginning. Women were welcome and I can not remember any male fellow student complaining about. Most of the male's were not the typical "macho" guys.

BUT this is not so much about guys who do not like women or who want to reclaim old role models - it is more about (self-)confidence. Those guys have been told they are good in computer science from their childhood on. My female fellows have to prove their abilities even after graduating, over and over again. A good friend of mine, a woman who graduated with summa cum laude, and now is participating in kernel code for distributed linux file systems, is still facing guys who are astonished she can handle a linux shell.

I know that the most male computer scientists do not mean harm to women. But we all have to reflect our prejudices about women. And last but not least: Treat any person as a individual. Those diversity initiatives are important, because many people do not do this. And - if they are done in the right way - they help women to gain more self-confidence and not to waste their great talent.
First of all, I apologize if I sounded harsh or too critical of your efforts. Not my intention.
Your example is exactly what I mean. This is not bias. Bias suggests intention. Without further evidence, your example is about an oversight at worst. Unless you have evidence that the managing team did this on purpose on some level to push away or insult women. If you do not have such evidence, this is bias from the other side (hence the insult).
And to be honest, you really need to be trigger-happy to be offended by something like that.
I understand how fixing that stuff would shield the project in terms of political correctness and protect it from uncalled-for publicity stunts.
But I would not expect it to create a real measurable change in the overall composition of the community. At least at a level of simple percentages.
The number of members and the ratio of the minorities are too small in the first place.
And the number of people that actually select to use something so complex and advanced as Symphony is even smaller.
Your expectations for a simple measurable result should really be moderated, otherwise you will end up with a witch hunt .
I think we are working with different definitions of “unconcious bias”.
Unconcious bias is specifically about all the things we do not do on purpose but that we do based on how we were conditioned from outside influences. See here for a definition and how its different from concious bias:

In my example its not about being offended or not (there are plenty of things minorites could be offended about in IT) but more about sending signals that people who are not included in “dude” to feel like they are not expected to be hear. Such things add up and produce emotional stress. We all sometmes doubt ourselves but if the outside constantly communicates that we are not expected to be in IT, then it makes it even harder to persevere.

Finally, no I don’t expect our community to magically become more diverse by getting rid of the “Hey dude” welcome badge. What I do hope for is that when we work on all this “small stuff” and show to the people not yet part of our community that we want them in our community and that all the people that have managed to join our community to stay, then yes I do hope to make a measurable improvement. But I expect this to take years.

The more people that help by educating themselves on the topic, the better are our chances at success.
Please add TLDR section

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