Removing Barriers to Contribution with Inclusive Language

By January 26, 2021 Blog, Working Group

Hyperledger created a Code of Conduct to help make sure that there are clear expectations about how to treat others when you are part of the community. The guidelines in the document are taken seriously, and people in the community are held responsible for their actions.

People are asked to communicate constructively and avoid demeaning or insulting behavior or language. If someone were to use insensitive comments on a mailing list or on a phone call, that would be a clear violation. But what if someone wrote code that included insensitive and hurtful language that followed programming conventions that have been followed for decades? And how would you feel as a programmer to come across insulting terms when trying to contribute?

The industry overall is changing how it views established programming conventions; wording that was once common is understood today to be a barrier for engagement. Take, for example, this story published in the article “Tech Confronts Its Use of the Labels ‘Master’ and ‘Slave’” in Wired

‘A FEW YEARS ago, Karla Monterroso was at an airport when she noticed a glitch in a computer monitor that would normally display flight information. Instead, the screen showed the text “Master/Slave,” repeated at least 10 times from top to bottom.

“I remember freaking out about it and going to [people working in] the terminal and letting them know that I thought that’s really inappropriate,” says Monterroso, CEO of Code 2040, a nonprofit dedicated to racial equality and inclusion in tech. “And they’re like, ‘No, that’s just the technology. That’s what the technology says.’”’

Terminology that is charged is being reconsidered and replaced across a range of open source projects — GitHub has moved to the default branch being main instead of master, the Linux kernel has moved from blacklist and whitelist to blocklist and allowlist and in November of 2020, CNCF began working on replacing biased language with inclusive language. From Wikipedia:

“Inclusive language aims to avoid offense and fulfill the ideals of egalitarianism by avoiding expressions that express or imply ideas that are sexist, racist, or otherwise biased, prejudiced, or denigrating to any particular group of people (and sometimes animals as well).” 

Last year the Hyperledger Diversity, Civility, and Inclusion Working Group highlighted a need for our community to use more inclusive language in the source code that it creates. In response, Hyperledger has been looking into how to move away from language that raises barriers to contribution. While these language changes are small in size, they are outsized in terms of impact. Each use of a non-inclusive term is a papercut – a daily insult to endure while you use a project. Enough of those, and a person will no longer contribute.

Finding Problematic Terms with DCI-Lint

To make it easier for the people to address this problem, Peter Somogyvari, a community member and a maintainer for Hyperledger Cactus, wrote dci-lint — a tool to help find non-inclusive language in any git repository based on terms you choose to look for.

This change is overdue on the part of open source in general, and Hyperledger specifically. At the time of writing, for instance, Hyperledger has 94 repos on GitHub that use master as the default branch, compared to 34 that use something else.

If you would like try DCI-lint, navigate to the webpage:

Put in a repo to check, as well as the terms to check for:

Click “lint it”:

Using tools such as dci-lint, we’re working with the community to find and remove these terms.

If you’re interested in learning more about how other open source projects and companies are creating resources and taking steps to remove harmful language from source code, check out the Inclusive Naming Initiative.

How you can help make the community more welcoming

This change alone won’t make Hyperledger a community where everyone feels included, although it is one example of how to remove barriers to contribution. There are certainly other things that can be done to make Hyperledger more inclusive and diverse and we welcome your input on what else we should be doing. Please feel free to post to the Diversity Civility and Inclusion mailing list, or join our regular DCI calls with your suggestions and ideas.