Women face discrimination on GitHub, despite coding prowess

12 Feb 2016

A new study looking into the number of coding projects approved on the software-sharing site GitHub has shown that women are considered better coders, but only if they hide their gender.

The investigation into gender bias on the coding repository was undertaken by a group of researchers, who have now published their findings in a paper online, in a bid to see whether the site would be more willing to accept identical software from a male or female account.

The site is one of the largest online for people to post open source software, which is then reviewed by their peers and, as part of the study, the number of programs posted that were downloaded by other people – referred to as pull requests – were noted.

According to The Guardian, the study took 3m of these pull requests and analysed them to see whether there was any difference in acceptance between software designed by women and men.

Women dominate most languages

Interestingly, their figures showed that, without knowledge of the original coder’s gender, software used by developers that had been made by women was accepted 76.6pc of the time, compared with men, whose code was accepted 74.6pc of the time.

In fact, women-designed code was found to be downloaded more often across all of the top 10 programming languages.

When looking deeper into the findings, however, the researchers stumbled across the worrying reality that a person’s gender being identified was going to be either a hindrance or a boon to their work getting used.

As it turns out, the vast majority of those women successful in getting their coding pulled didn’t identify their gender on the site, and the women who did reveal their gender were less likely to see their work get chosen by the GitHub community compared with men.

Not universally agreed

However, speaking with The Guardian, a number of women software developers have said that they don’t necessarily agree that having a profile that identifies them as a woman has had much of a negative effect on their code getting pulled.

One R programmer that uses GitHub, Prof Jenny Bryan of the University of British Columbia, says that the issue is more a wider problem with gender bias in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in general.

“At the very most, men who don’t know me sometimes explain things to me that I likely understand better than they do”, she said.

“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.”

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Woman at computer image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey
By Colm Gorey

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic. He joined in January 2014 and covered AI, IoT, science and anything that will get us to Mars quicker. When not trying to get his hands on the latest gaming release, he can be found lost in a sea of Wikipedia articles on obscure historic battles and countries that don't exist any more, or watching classic Simpsons episodes far too many times to count.

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