WordPress 5.6 Development Kicks Off with All-Women Release Squad

photo credit: Brodie Vissers

WordPress 5.5 has already been downloaded more than 4 million times after its release earlier this week, and it’s time to kick off work on 5.6. Josepha Haden will be leading the release alongside coordinator Dee Teal, with additional leads for Triage (Tonya Mork), Core Tech (Helen Hou-Sandì), Editor Tech (Isabel Brison), Design (Ellen Bauer and Tammie Lister), and several more women managing documentation, accessibility, marketing, testing, and other important aspects of the release. The full squad includes 46 women so far with a couple of roles left to be decided.

When Josepha Haden officially proposed the idea of having an all-women release squad, she emphasized that this doesn’t mean the release can only include contributions from women. In addition to the general objective of shipping a stable and enhanced version of the WordPress, Haden outlined a few more goals for this historic release:

My hope is that with a release squad comprised entirely of people who identify as women, we’ll be able to increase the number women who have that experience and (hopefully) become returning contributors to Core and elsewhere. This doesn’t mean the release will only contain contributions from women. And if our current squad training process is any indication, it also doesn’t mean that we’re asking a squad to show up and do this without support.

Francesca Marano, who worked as release co-lead for WordPress 5.3, published a post announcing the squad as well as the scope of the release. Two major items are already complete: conversion of the widget-editing areas and removal of support for PHP 5.6.x. The squad plans to deliver an impressive array of new features that are still in development:

  • Navigation menus block in Core
  • Automatic updates for major WordPress Core releases (opt-in)
  • New features from the block editor upgrades.
  • Widgets-editing and Customizer support in Core
  • Default theme, including an FSE compatible version
  • PHP 8 support
  • Public beta of Full Site Editing

A recent tweet from a woman who works as an iOS developer at Quicken Loans, asked if there have ever been women in software development working in leadership roles. Although many projects and organizations have women in such roles for many years (as seen in the replies to the tweet), the question demonstrates why representation still matters. WordPress 5.6 is an opportunity to make many more women leaders visible for people who need to see others like themselves in leadership roles.

So far the community has been very supportive of the plan for an all-women release squad and is rallying around the idea. WordPress 5.6 is the last release planned for the year and is expected to land on December 8, 2020.


29 responses to “WordPress 5.6 Development Kicks Off with All-Women Release Squad”

    • There was a list of 75 women who approached to take part. Out of all those there will certainly be candidates who are perfect for the job. It is not woke tokenism. I understand it can be difficult to empathise with people who suffer unfair biases when you’re a person who is not repressed due to your gender. The point is to address systemic gender imbalances in the tech industry and in the world in general. To suggest otherwise is unhelpful and indeed feeds into the toxic patriarchy that creates this systemic imbalance in the first place.

        • What about women? What about little girls and little boys who are told that they can and cannot do or be who they want to be due to social coding and lack of representation across every industry. What about the ‘best people for the job’ not even being able to get into the room due to their gender, race or sexuality?

          Don’t worry about WordPress. WordPress is being maintained by excellent developers. One important inclusionary gesture to have one update lead by a team of women will not be the downfall of WordPress. WordPress will be absolutely fine. This is a much more important issue than who is assigned to manage an update.

        • Well, you have a valid point: this is one of the 0,1% times in tech history in which a team is entirely led by women.

          What a good thing!

          Strange it is that countless entirely-male-teams exist out there. Women indeed are not majority in tech clases, but they do exist. I prefer to point out that chances are that those men are not the best qualified for their job.

          • Exactly this. I agree 100% with you Mary.

            It’s not about woke tokenism blabla, Peter. It’s about setting a record straight. It’s about trying to counter balance the wrong that is in fact still a major problem in Tech. Women aren’t little kids that want to play developer or designer along with the ‘big guys’. We are however often being treated like that. Not only by a few individuals but far too often by toxic masculine culture.

            And yes there are many men only teams that aren’t necessarily the best qualified persons for the job, but somehow got assumed they are. Nobody in those teams bothers to ask questions about that.

            So thank you Team WordPress for providing women with this opportunity.

            • Bianca, Mary,

              Apparently the mods here are not publishing all my replies, but take two.

              Yes most of those all men’s teams are not the best. That should be called out.

              BUT deliberately choosing an all womens team does not solve that issue AND it means that (at the margin) the WordPress 5.6 release team is not the best it could (and the software may as a result suffer)

              • Yes most of those all men’s teams are not the best. That should be called out.

                Good to see we agree on that. So how would you think a culture like that is gonna change? Speaking up alone unfortunately isn’t enough. That probably would work on individuals and maybe small teams, but not when you try to improve the culture of the whole field (including many corporate organizations) that’s been like that for decades.

                WordPress has always been about democratizing publishing, so it’s not woke tokenism. It’s part of the WP community fabric to take a stand against these kind of imbalances and attempt to straighten that out. At least that’s my understanding. 5.6 being an all women team is a form of speaking up, but on large scale.

                Will this approach entirely solve the issue? That would be awesome, but I guess a little more is needed to accomplish that. That doesn’t mean that WP shouldn’t even try. I think this approach will definitely create a stir (discussion is good I think) in the field, and organizations will reassess their ways.

                the WordPress 5.6 release team is not the best it could

                Were the previous release teams the best it could, all of them? When is a team the best team on the planet? There is literally more than enough quality in the WordPress ecosystem these days, so I wouldn’t worry about that. Quality or being the best fit for a role isn’t defined by being a woman or a man. That’s the whole point.

                • Mary,

                  If you are choosing on criteria other than pure ability then the team is not the best it could be.

                  Re solving the broader problem in society I’d make the following points

                  I don’t think that problem exists in the WordPress community
                  I don’t that this gesture will help the problem elsewhere, if it is noticed outside at all it will be dismissed.
                  I think WordPress should concentrate on building the best cms possible rather than tryto solve the broader problems in society.

    • Peter,

      It seems you only question the ability of all-women teams but never of all-mens teams. I assume you also don’t question the ability of all-Argentineans or all-African teams, etc.

      Perhaps you should reflect on your own (obvious) personal bias and leave the professionals to do what they do. If you want to judge, judge them as developers based on their release work….not this juvenile boys-vs-girls debate.

      Boy, if I had a nickel for every fragile male-ego crying for attention because a woman was celebrated…

    • For starters, can one officially say that any WordPress release was filled with the “BEST” for each role? I would lay $100 on the table right now to say that will be a big ole NOPE as there are so many amazing people in the WordPress Community that do not even contribute to core who would be more than qualified.

      We should be sending a big kudos to Josepha for coming up with this idea and the over 75 people who identify as a woman choosing to want to be on this team. The 5.6 release is a huge stepping stone for inclusivity in tech. I know you have no idea what it is like being someone who identifies as a woman working in a more male-led world. It is hard. It is damn hard. We are paid less, thought to be less intelligent, and believed to be not up for the job. The 5.6 breaks all of those barriers showing the world that there are some brilliant women in the WordPress Community and helps us to set the standard for all areas of tech to wake up and see the woman.

      No this is not “woke tokenism” but a display of some of the greatest minds in WordPress who may have been before stepped over for a man who someone may have thought more qualified because of their anatomy or the woman being pushed down so far that she does not realize her value.

      Yes, it would be nice if we did not even have to do an “all” anything and everyone have an equal seat at the table. However, we must break through all of the stereotypes before that can happen. Typically, breaking down those walls and stereotypes involves drastic events like an all female WordPress release to get those changes to happen. Then once it becomes the norm of letting everyone have a chance, we can leave these types of conversations for the history books.

  1. Well, you have a valid point: this is one of the 0,1% times in tech history in which a team is entirely led by women.

    What a good thing!

    Strange it is that countless entirely-male-teams exist out there. Women indeed are not majority in tech clases, but they do exist. I prefer to point out that chances are that those men are not the best qualified for their job.

  2. One comment mentioned “setting the record straight.” Two wrongs don’t make a right. Choosing people based on gender, is wrong. Disallowing someone on a squad based on gender, is wrong. I know my view is not popular, but I wanted people to know that not all women think the same. Some women may think differently.

    • I do wonder what the implications of the idea of “re-balancing the overall historical record” are. How many of this team will be North Americans? University graduates? How many had slave-owning ancestors? This can go on and on, and will it lead us somewhere good?

      When these sorts of things are done we seem to be offered the choice of either making all these things consistent, in which case we end up in some dystopian nightmare in which everyone is cancelled because of things beyond their control…. or on the other hand if we decide we’re happy to be inconsistent then the charge of tokenism can’t be defended against. Lose-lose. I conclude that in software engineering being gender-blind, colour-blind, etc., was the right policy and should be retained.

  3. Peter there is a fundamental flaw in your reasoning.

    The release team has never been made up of the 50 best and brightest in the entire world. The job doesn’t require that, few jobs do. You’re making an argument that you need the 50 best people in the world to do a job, when in fact thousands are qualified to do exceptionally well.

    However, historically, out of those thousands of qualified folks certain groups are under represented because of systemic discrimination. So in spite of wanting to participate, and being over qualified to participate, those folks aren’t able to do so.

    Organizing an this all woman release team is a great reminder that there are thousands of qualified people out there and a well qualified release team can be put together from just one of the many under represented groups with a little bit of effort to over come those barriers.

  4. For the folks complaining.

    1) There have been all male release teams
    2) On any given team there are probably people more “qualified” both male and female
    3) Do you often complain about the “qualifications” of other release teams?
    4) Sounds like you are part of the problem, not a solution.

    In short, I welcome the day that we don’t have to worry about gender, race, and other barriers but right now these are real issues and this is a step to admitting there is an issue and we are responsible for working towards a solution.

    This is not the solution, it is a step towards a solution.

    People complaining should reassess their thinking. You might find out you are part of the problem and need to take additional, personal responsibility as we all move towards a better world.

    • This is how this discussion goes. Anyone who raises a question is quickly branded “part of the problem” and an obstacle to a better world.

      By implication, they should be cancelled. Why would any community want to give any voice to people who are “part of the problem” and campaigning for a worse world? This invokes Rod Dreher’s “law of merited impossibility”. At first, the response is “no, that’ll never happen, don’t be alarmist!” On the next step, it happens, and people are told “you deserved it because you were so evil!”.

      I propose that the way to a better future culture lies in our past: the old culture of accepting that people can reasonably disagree with you and interacting with their viewpoints, without jumping immediately to polarising, personalising and punishing as is now the fashion.

      • Nice twist, David but no…these weren’t open-minded individuals “raising questions” as you casually say.

        They’re a group of fragile men (no surprise) openly complaining and contesting every validity for an all-women team. Even holding them to standards they didn’t previously have for male teams. Most ironic is how they defend male-sexism by pointing fingers at female-sexism.

        Try not jumping to polarizing viewpoints about other people working together (like Peter Shaw) and surely, nobody will have any about you either.

        It’s too bad the moderators won’t post the most flagrant comments.


Subscribe Via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: