Study of GitHub Shows Possible Gender Bias

Project Management

Do women credit for their programming abilities? That is the question that a group of student computer scientists investigated by looking at users of GitHub. While the not-yet-peer-reviewed study is published in the open-access PeerJ journal, the scientists found that out of 3 million “pull requests” developers more readily accepted code written by women (78.6%) than that written by men (74.6%). The researchers eliminated a number of factors that could be clouding the data, such as females perhaps making tinier code adjustments that project owners could more quickly evaluate. Their evidence suggests female contributions are only valued if men didn’t know the gender of the contributor.

There is also plenty of evidence that women make up less than 20% of all developers, and now we learn that those women are possibly less respected than their male counterparts.

Research suggests that, indeed, gender bias pervades open source. The most obvious illustration is the underrepresentation of women in open source; in a 2013 survey of the more than 2000 open source developers who indicated a gender, only 11.2% were women. In Vasilescu and colleagues’ study of Stack Overflow, a question and answer community for programmers, they found “a relatively ’unhealthy’ community where women disengage sooner, although their activity levels are comparable to men’s” . These studies are especially troubling in light of recent research which suggests that diverse software development teams are more productive than homogeneous teams. This article presents an investigation of gender bias in open source by studying how software developers respond to pull requests, proposed changes to a software project’s code, documentation, or other resources. We investigate whether pull requests are accepted at different rates for self-identified women compared to self-identified men. For brevity, we will call these developers ‘women’ and ‘men,’ respectively. Our methodology is to analyze historical GitHub data to evaluate whether pull requests from women are accepted less often. While other open source communities exist, we chose to study GitHub because it is the largest, claiming to have over 12 million collaborators across 31 million software repositories.

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