Women accepted as better coders as long as no gender link

Credit: George Hodan/Public Domain

Wow, gender bias has appearances of residing in computer programming—off the charts, so to speak, but accorded serious attention in a new study. The findings come from scientists at California Polytechnic State University and North Carolina State University.

"While our big data study does not definitely prove that differences between gendered interactions are caused by bias among individuals, the trends observed in this paper are troubling. The frequent refrain that open source is a pure meritocracy must be reexamined," the researchers stated.

They worked with publicly available information on about 4 million GitHub users logged in to the service on April 1 last year. No joke.

They used a gender-linking technique to identify the gender of just over 35 percent of the users, around 1.4 million, said MIT Technology Review.

So what exactly was this gender-linking technique? The BBC said the numbers they were able to identify were from user profiles or because their email addresses could be matched with the Google + social network. "The researchers accepted that this was a privacy risk but said they did not intend to publish the raw data."

Explained further in MIT Technology Review: "An analysis of pull requests, or users' submissions of new code to the projects of other software developers, revealed that code written by women was accepted 78.6 percent of the time. For men, the figure was 74.6 percent. But when female coders did indicate their gender, they were far less likely to have their code accepted, with their approval rate plummeting to 62.5 percent."

BBC summarized the research: "Computer code written by women has a higher approval rating than that written by men - but only if their gender is not identifiable."

According to the study authors, " pervades ." They wrote that "our results show that women's contributions tend to be accepted more often than men's. However, when a woman's is identifiable, they are rejected more often. Our results suggest that although women on GitHub may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless."

The paper defined pull requests as "proposed changes to a software project's code, documentation, or other resources."

Actually, the paper made a number of observations in addition to the fact that women were more likely to have pull requests accepted than men were. Among other findings: women's pull requests were less likely to serve an immediate project need; changes were larger; and acceptance rates were higher across programming languages.

Authors are Josh Terrell, Andrew Kofink, Justin Middleton, Clarissa Rainear, Emerson Murphy-Hill and Chris Parnin. Affiliations are listed as the Department of Computer Science, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and Department of Computer Science, North Carolina State University.

The paper is awaiting peer review, said the BBC, and it remains to be seen how other experts will appraise the results.

Explore further

How do men and women respond to gender bias in STEM?

More information: Gender Bias in Open Source: Pull Request Acceptance of Women Versus Men (PDF): peerj.com/preprints/1733.pdf

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User comments

Feb 13, 2016
In my experience, male coders outnumber female coders across the board (I used to be one). That said, female coders will choose their careers because they discover that they have an apparent knack for coding. On the other hand, male coders choose their careers because they are more likely to want to be coders, but might not be necessarily especially gifted in that regard. I think that more readily explains the apparent superior capability of female coders over male coders.

I know that's not exactly what the article is about, rather it is an exposé of the archaic attitude toward gender. Give it time.

Feb 13, 2016
How much more proof to people need? This is just yet another shining example of the patriarchy raping and shredding women's rightfully deserved credit and depriving them of the acknowledgement of their obvious superiority to men. There is absolutely no possible other reason to explain the disparity. Men continue to forcefully and deliberately hold women back while laughing all the way to the bank. I'm so sick of seeing how women are continually being oppressed and abused like this. It's disgusting.

Feb 13, 2016
There have been many great female programmers. Start with Elizabeth Rather, Moore's FORTH incorporated's first programmer. And Game developer Diane Gruber, wife of Ted Gruber and his Fastgraph Tools. This is no surprise.

Feb 13, 2016
baud said: "I think that more readily explains the apparent superior capability of female coders over male coders."

They're not superior you dope, they're equal. Maybe you just sucked. LOL j/k

Feb 14, 2016
baudrunner, that is a circular argument. Let me give you a history lesson. Women used to be barred from medical school, in the same way they were barred from attending most major universities until the 20th century. Even after they were allowed admittance, there was still strong social stigma against women going into medicine. As a result, women were not often accepted into medical school, and those who were accepted were treated horribly and graded harshly. But women persevered and now make up over 50% of students in medical school. If you had looked at the number of women doctors in the 1980's, you would have found very few and could have concluded that women just don't naturally want to be doctors, or aren't "good" at it. And you would be wrong, just like you're wrong about women programmers. Women can program just as well (and apparently better), than men, just as they perform better in medical school than men do. Sexism is a poison and has done much damage.

Feb 14, 2016
"The frequent refrain that open source is a pure meritocracy must be reexamined"

It's never been a meritocracy. Open source is a shining example of clique politics and power struggles between people with egos and ideals larger than their actual competence. It's a tale of petty people completely missing the point and then arguing they're doing the only right thing, and then disregarding and disparaging each others' work, which leads to massive re-duplication of effort.

Feb 15, 2016
"They're not superior you dope, they're equal. Maybe you just sucked. LOL j/k"

Another shining example of a considered lack of reading comprehension skills, so you suck. Note that I said "apparent", implying that the study may be somewhat misleading.

And, no. I always completed my projects to the complete satisfaction of my customers, always outlasting any others in the group environment. I do not work well in groups.

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