Worldwide FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) community LinuxChix, last week announced its latest Australian chapter aimed to encourage women in computing, AussieChix.
The new chapter, which was aptly launched on International Women's Day on March 8, has formed from the amalgamation of the Sydney and Melbourne chapters of LinuxChix and now welcomes FOSS enthusiasts from all across the nation.
It has traditionally been the case that LinuxChix chapters form in cities, such as LinuxChix Los Angeles. However, as the long-established Melbourne and Sydney chapters have remained quite small over the past few years, the merger is expected to benefit community members by providing a larger space for technical and social interactions.
AussieChix will also encourage the participation of women in other Australian cities and towns, who had previously been unable to gather enough members to form their own chapters.
Response to the merger has so far been very positive, according to AussieChix spokeswoman Donna Benjamin.
"We're actually already beginning to see the network effect of joining together," she said. "There's a growing feeling that now we've got this far in connecting women in Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth with the established Sydney and Melbourne groups, there must be more of us out there."
"We're still sorting through all the ideas that have been raised about how working together at a national level will build LinuxChix in Australia."
First on the agenda, Benjamin said, is to establish AussieChix in the local FOSS community to build its membership. Initial plans are to profile women in the local open source community to highlight positive role-models for young women making choices about their futures.
Numbers published in 2001 by the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that just less than one quarter of people employed in IT are women. A separate survey conducted by APESMA (Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia) has more recently revealed a continued disparity in the salaries paid to men and women.
While it is true that women remain a minority in the FOSS community and IT in general, Benjamin was reluctant to acknowledge FOSS women as a minority group.
"There are a lot of women involved in the FOSS community and I suspect their visibility is an issue," she said. "I guess this is partly why LinuxChix and other [such] groups exist at all."
"There is an increasing realisation that the Open Source community would be better off if more women were involved," she said, citing groups like Debian Women, Fedora Women, and Ubuntu-women as evidence of the participation of women in the FOSS community.
Another significant testament to Australian women in FOSS is next year's linux.conf.au, which follows in the footsteps of a remarkably female-friendly 2007 event and will be organised by a team led by Benjamin.
"This year we had the first woman keynote, and the most women attendees," she said. "Next year the conference organising team will, for the first time be led by a woman. Perhaps we can take this as evidence that we're making progress?"