A group of student researchers this week published a study suggesting that women are considered superior coders to their male colleagues, but only when their gender is not disclosed to their peers. The team analyzed submissions to the GitHub code-repository and found that “pull requests” – i.e. submissions to another developer’s project – were more likely to be accepted if the coder was female (78.6 percent acceptance rate) than male (74.6 percent acceptance rate). However this was only the case if the coder’s gender was not revealed.
The authors of the study say that they actually began their research expecting to find that female coders’ work would be accepted less frequently by other developers than that of men:
Surprisingly, our results show that women’s contributions tend to be accepted more often than men’s. However, when a woman’s gender 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.
One GitHub user, Jenny Bryan, a professor of statistics at the University of British Columbia, was quoted by the Guardian newspaper as saying that she doesn’t feel discriminated against as a woman on the platform. However she admitted that “men who don’t know me sometimes explain things to me that I likely understand better than they do.”
The Guardian reports that only 11.2 percent of coders are female. In common with other female coders cited by the Guardian, Ms Bryan felt that the importance of showing solidarity with other female developers, by letting them know they are not alone, is more important than hiding her identity in order to avoid any possible bias. Other female users echoed Bryan’s sentiment saying that, despite the study’s results, they did not intend to now begin hiding their gender from other users.
Beyond the fact that women are more likely to have pull requests accepted than men as so long as their gender is not known, some of the issues identifies by the study include the fact that “women continue to have high acceptance rates as they gain experience, ” and that “women’s acceptance rates are higher across programming languages.” However the study makes it clear that:
Women have lower acceptance rates as outsiders when they are identifiable as women.
One of the researchers, Emerson Murphy-Hill, an associate professor at North Carolina State University, told CNN that “There’s a strong belief among developers in open source that the process is a pure meritocracy…This research casts doubt on that belief.” As the paper’s authors say, “These studies are especially troubling in light of recent research which suggests that diverse software development teams are more productive than homogeneous teams”.