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Study: GitHub Code by Women Is Used More, but Only If They Hide Their Gender

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Today in “things that you’re not surprised are true but at least now you have science on your side” news, a recent report suggests that code written by women has a higher acceptance rate from their peers than code written by men on GitHub, but there’s a catch: That approval is only higher if their gender is unidentifiable.

Student researchers from California Polytechnic State University and North Carolina State University released a study titled “Gender bias in open source: Pull request acceptance of women versus men,” the “largest study to date on gender bias” in the open source software community. (Note: the report has not yet been peer-reviewed, so findings are still preliminary.) The abstract reads, “Our results suggest that although women on GitHub may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless.”

Bias is obvious in demographic numbers, says the report. A 2013 survey stated only 11.2% of developers were women. However, that bias also appears in pull requests (a feature on GitHub where a user proposes a change, and may be accepted through a “merge”), as well. The researches discovered that women tended to have their pull requests accepted at a higher rate, around 4% more. After exploring various possibilities (What kinds of requests are being made? Does it change over time?), they found that acceptance rates drop significantly when the user’s gender is identifiable, either through display names or icons.

The study then goes into different theories or possibilities for this change, ending with this paragraph:

In closing, as anecdotes about gender bias persist, it’s imperative that we use big data to better understand the interaction between genders. 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.

What do you think about the study? For those of you on GitHub, do you have similar experiences?

(via The Guardian, image via HBO’s Silicon Valley)

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