Re: Call for OPW project ideas

I do not think Jan is thinking coherently on this (and likewise I absolutely empathise with your concerns Benjamin) Civil law is not black and white and it is totally by landmark cases of which there are none to refer to in this case that we know of. Ultimately, none of us know if the wording on that contract would mean anything unless a mentor or an intern takes GNOME to court over some row or another, then we'd find out.

Obviously, I cannot speak for the OPW organisers but as I understand it they are literally just seeking to cover GNOME in the unlikely scenario that a student sues them because of a mentor's poor conduct. If I am right in that then it is entirely reasonable for the OPW organisers to seek to do that. Vetting mentors on a project of OPW's scale and size is simply not something GNOME has the resources for. They are being asked to put a lot of faith into projects to put forward mentors who the projects believe know how to behave themselves, but projects (and people) can and do get things wrong. Especially when it comes to projects with lots of men who and very few women. The chance of a project picking the wrong person to be an OPW mentor actually seems to be pretty high in FLOSS. Not only do we have a huge imbalance in the male/female ratio, we [FLOSS] have developed itself around a meritocratic culture which has a tendency to ignore the consequences of  what happens when one exceptional coder/contributor is a completely toxic human being in all other respects.

The challenges the OPW organisers face is in figuring out how to encourage projects and mentors to sign up and yet also protect GNOME from a potential lawsuit in the event that things go horribly wrong as a result of something that may not be GNOME's fault. This contract seems to be sort of like a disclaimer yet there is a concerning subtext in the documents because the role of the mentor organisations involved do not seem to be being addressed. As we are aware, OPW's goal is to support communities from projects who are keen on actively taking concious steps to actively invite women to participate and then encourage those women to continue on and progress as contributors. That goal seems to have been motivated by the reality which is supported by concrete figures ( ~1-2% of the community are made up of women) i.e. that there is glaring gender inequality in FLOSS. With that core mission in mind, it is my view, the mentor/intern missing project contract loses sight of OPW's aims on a fairly fundamental level because it fails to concede that the mentor organisation has a role to play in helping women starting out overcome the barriers they are statistically likely face. In my view emphasising a project's responsibility for the conduct of its mentors rather than placing individual responsibility on mentors like this would serve to avoid the following potential barriers to progress:
  • As already been suggested by Benjamin: The mentor contract might potentially put mentors off of participating. I would go further and say it could put off the sensible ones, actually. From the mentors perspective that contract essentially seems to infer that if things go wrong that it is not just GNOME who takes no responsibility for that. Unlike Jan, I can absolutely concede that if a mentor did sign this document that this mentor would not have a leg to stand on in a civil court whether or not they were defending themselves against their project or the intern or whether they were suing GNOME. To my mind, it follows that anyone signing that mentor contract is not likely to be risk-averse, at best.
  • Perhaps a less obvious consideration but possibly even more important is that the absence of a project contract means projects are not given an opportunity to pause for thought when they are selecting their members to put forward for mentor roles. As things are, what's to stop a project going for the money and just putting any old numpty in for the role, to the probable detriment of the intern and the aim of their project to go ahead score "diversity points", for themselves on paper?. Neither the mentor nor intern documents send out any kind of message to the projects themselves about their responsibility in OPW, as far as I can tell. Maybe there is another document we have not seen between projects and GNOME, in that case it would be good for mentors and interns to know about that.
We all live in a world where the vast majority of people just don't tend to go around filing lawsuits unless they have exhausted all other options especially not people who have yet to establish themselves in their chosen field. So the thing to recognise is that the law serves not simply to deal with problems once they have arisen, but to prevent issues from arising in the first place. I have to wonder what issues are these documents practically likely to prevent from happening?

Forgetting GNOME for a minute to look at the following three parties the mentor organisation, their mentor and their intern. We have to ask:
  • Whose interests are most being protected by these contracts whose are least protected?
  • We have to ask who is most vulnerable party and who is least vulnerable party?
We have to ask those things because the aim is to tackle discrimination of under-represented minorities and yet when we have asked those questions, It does unfortunately become quite clear that the most protected and least vulnerable in all of this is the mentor organisation project and that the least protected and most vulnerable in all of this is actually likely to be the intern. That is not what OPW is supposed to be about. So whilst I do appreciate the rationale behind these documents I do feel that the contents do seriously need a rethink if they are to stay true to what OPW really means for the sake of everyone concerned.


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