Sometimes the claim is heard open source projects are especially unfriendly to women. Sometimes the claim is heard, that open-source projects are especially inclusive. It probably is impossible to answer which is more true, but we could get a hint by looking at real participation from females.

Are there studies comparing similar projects in open source and in proprietary projects that analyze the numbers and perhaps roles of male and female contributors?

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    I'd be interested to hear any reasons for downvoting. Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 22:52
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    Although it may be (perhaps counter-intuitively) easier to measure this for closed source projects (by looking at employment figures) whereas open source projects may have anonymous contributors with unspecified gender, I would expect there to be ways of estimating this. There are many companies that pay developers to contribute to open source projects, and many open source contributors who are known by name. Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 22:55
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    Demographic inclusion is important to measure for any project, to ensure it is getting the best developers from a large group (everyone) rather than from a smaller group (a specific gender). For an open source project where there generally no salary to partially counteract disincentives for contributing, it is even more important to be able to measure any exclusion, whether real or perceived. Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 23:01
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    Related meta post: meta.opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/190/…
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 23:30
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is not about OS specifically, see meta post: meta.opensource.stackexchange.com/a/192/111
    – 7ochem
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 9:12

1 Answer 1


Significantly less female participation. It is estimated that female participation on open source projects is at about 2%, compared to 10-30% overall in computing or proprietary projects.

For overall female participation, NSF keeps employment statistics for women, which has hovered around 20-30% for the "computer and math scientists" category.

There are a number of reference to the low participation of women in open source projects; one commonly referenced is Free/Libre and Open Source Software: Policy Support (2006), which lists a number of 1.5% - it's a while ago, but I'd be surprised if the number is much different today. To compare, an earlier study (2002) listed 1.1%.

There are other numbers which suggest that tech companies' employees are about 12% of women.

Now per-project numbers vary a lot and I'm not sure how useful individual comparisons will be, but here are some numbers:

  • The same source that lists 12% for a group of tech companies shows Mozilla at about 8%. By comparison, Google reports 17% of women in their "tech" category.
  • This blog post mentions 5% of Ubuntu Members as women. From the horse's mouth, "Official Ubuntu Membership means recognition of significant and sustained contribution to Ubuntu or the Ubuntu community." There are over 500 of these. By comparison, Microsoft reports 28% female employment.

If you know of better comparisons please edit them in, but again I want to emphasise that individual comparisons are no replacement for the overall statistics, which show significantly less female participation in open source projects.

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    It seems to me that there is potential for confounding variables here. For example, Microsoft (or any commercial organisation) will be including in their workforce breakdown not just the coders, but sales, marketing, HR, and a whole variety of other business areas that free software projects generally don't have, and that might (I do not say will) have a higher female representation than the developers. Comparisons of just the developer force might help to remove that particular confounding variable.
    – MadHatter
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 7:25
  • Go to the sources again. For the Microsoft link I gave, you can choose to break the numbers down further. For the "tech" category, females are 19%. True this does lump developers with other tech roles, but why the focus on developers? Are there numbers for developers for open source projects that you would like to compare to? Commented May 22, 2018 at 12:16
  • Thanks, that's useful data, and I apologise for not spotting it myself. The focus on developers is because the OS projects I've been involved with don't have anyone else - no project managers and so on - who is not also directly involved in producing or improving code. So to best compare apples to apples, which is what I'm interested in, I'm focussing on the people in tech companies who write code, as that's the corpus of people I think is most likely to be directly comparable to free software people. But I'm open to anything that's a better apple than "everyone who works for Microsoft".
    – MadHatter
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 6:40

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