Gender bias towards male GitHub coders revealed

A survey back in 2013 found that only 11.2 per cent of software developers were female. Working then on the premise that males would be prejudiced against female coders work, a group of students studied the acceptance rate of GitHub pull-requests by gender.

A pull-request is when volunteers submit work to a project and it receives some scrutiny by the project team, they often accept the work or reject it with some advice. What the study team discovered was the 78 per cent of work submitted by women was accepted, which compared favourably to only 74 per cent for men.

“Women’s acceptance rates dominate over men’s for every programming language in the top 10, to various degrees,” the researchers found.

The team then looked at submissions where the coder was clearly identifiable as a female, and to their dismay discovered that in this case females performed worse than their male colleagues did, suggesting a gender bias.

However, not all female coders related to those results. Jenny Bryan, a professor of statistics and her profile makes clear that she is a woman: “The men I interact with in the R community on GitHub know me and, if my gender has any effect at all, I feel they go out of their way to support my efforts to learn and make more contributions.”

Lorna Jane Mitchell, a software developer whose work is almost entirely based on GitHub, said, “that it was impossible to tell whether a pull request was ignored out of bias, or just because a project owner was busy or knew another developer personally.”

Elizabeth Eastaugh, a director of technology at Expedia commented: "The GitHub analysis is not only indicative of gender bias in web development, but a sign that the lack of all diversity is still a huge problem in the tech world. Looking at the approval rates at the quality of code for women compared to men when the developer’s gender is concealed is quite demoralising. But it is crucial that these results don’t dissuade minorities from revealing their identities in the future. In fact, it should spur them on to do the opposite.

"It’s important that people realise that minority groups do exist in the tech industry, and it’s also crucial that these minorities do not feel isolated in their respective fields. The technology industry needs more C-level role models who dispel the notion that great success is the preserve of well-educated white men.

"The findings should by no means justify the decision to hide your gender, because identifying yourself as female in a primarily male-dominated industry is extremely important. And the issue of inclusion and diversity shouldn’t just end with gender – it should incorporate race, sexuality and disability as well."

Image source: Shutterstock/Giulio_Fornasar