Women considered better coders – but only if they hide their gender

Researchers find software repository GitHub approved code written by women at a higher rate than code written by men, but only if the gender was not disclosed

When a group of computer science students decided to study the way that gender bias plays out in software development communities, they assumed that coders would be prejudiced against code written by women.

After all, women make up a very small percentage of software developers – 11.2% according to one 2013 survey – and the presence of sexism in all corners of the overwhelmingly male tech industry has been well documented.

So the student researchers were surprised when their hypothesis proved false – code written by women was in fact more likely to be approved by their peers than code written by men. But that wasn’t the end of the story: this only proved true as long as their peers didn’t realise the code had been written by a woman.

“Our results suggest that although women on GitHub may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless,” the study’s authors write.

The researchers, who published their findings earlier this week looked at the behavior of software developers on GitHub, one of the largest open-source software communities in the world.

Based in San Francisco, GitHub is a giant repository of code used by over 12 million people. Software developers on GitHub can collaborate on projects, scrutinise each other’s work, and suggest improvements or solutions to problems. When a developer writes code for someone else’s project, it’s called a “pull request”. The owner of the code can then decide whether or not to accept to proffered code.

The researchers looked at approximately 3m pull requests submitted on GitHub, and found that code written by women was approved at a higher rate (78.6%) than code written by men (74.6%).

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