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Finding #8: Maintainers believe open source would benefit from increased contributor diversity

Chris Grams
by Chris Grams
on August 5, 2021

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In early 2021, Tidelift fielded its first-ever comprehensive survey of open source maintainers. Nearly 400 maintainers responded with thoughts about how they fund their work, what they enjoy about being a maintainer, what they don’t like so much, along with a host of other interesting insights. In this post, we share the eighth of nine key findings. If you missed some of the earlier results, you can download the full survey report right now.

Another topic that we were interested in understanding better through this survey—and that is an important issue for the technology industry as a whole—is how to increase the diversity of contributors. We specifically wanted to understand whether maintainers view diversity as an important issue, and if so, get some ideas from them on how it could be improved.

Sixty-nine percent of maintainers agree that “open source suffers from a lack of diversity and would benefit if contributors represent a wider set of backgrounds and experiences.” Only 9% disagreed with that statement.

Tidelift_051321_SurveyMaintainerReport_09_Figure 8.1

We were curious to hear ideas from maintainers about how diversity could be improved.


Creating a welcoming atmosphere was cited by 72% as a way to improve the contributor diversity of the projects they are involved with. Sixty percent believe that making efforts in the areas of community onboarding and outreach could have an impact, while 56% thought additional mentorship opportunities would help. 

Next up, improving tools for non-developer contributions was selected by 42% of respondents. As we discussed in the previous finding, projects need help with marketing, documentation, and in many other areas, which might help attract more diverse contributors. Encouraging contributions beyond code can provide less intimidating entry points and create a bridge into the community for newcomers.

Here are a few specific comments and ideas from maintainers regarding maintainer diversity:

  • “Paying maintainers. Volunteered contributions introduce bias towards those without other obligations, which trends towards white male contributors.” 
  • “Solving the systemic problems in the world that lead to the likelihood that people with the free time and money to contribute to FOSS largely come from the same background.” 
  • “Building core developers in emerging markets. Having non-coding contributors in emerging markets is fine, but if core developers are only in Europe/US only, the imbalance will continue.”

Maintainer diversity is clearly an issue that is important to address, and we look forward to working with the maintainer community to put some of these ideas into practice in the coming months and years.

What is it like to be an open source maintainer in 2021