Researchers from the computer science departments at California Polytechnic State University and North Carolina State University gathered data from nearly 1.4 million GitHub users, and the results are in: Women are better at writing code.
In a paper on gender bias, the researchers noted that on the program-sharing platform, women’s suggested code changes, aka “pull requests,” have a higher likelihood of being accepted than those of men — but only when the requester is anonymous. When a female coder identifies her gender, her requests are more likely to be rejected than those of her male counterparts.
Researchers decided to investigate the bias when software developer Rachel Nabors wrote about her experiences on GitHub in 2012. “I was admonished, ‘When you see something broken, fork it, fix it and submit a pull request,'” Nabors wrote on her website. “Simple enough! Err, not so… Not a single one of my pull requests made it in! So where did I go wrong?”
Nabors noted that all of her rejections had been “polite” and “justified” and pointed to larger problems with the open-source platform, but a commenter suggested that these flaws might actually be the result of sexism. Women’s requests are accepted 71.8% if their gender is unidentifiable, but only 62.5% of the time when it is.
Still, researchers said they had a few alternate reasons accounting for the numbers, including self-selection and “survivor bias.” It’s possible, the study states, the women who stick to coding are the ones who are the best at it, while less competent men might still choose to remain in the field.
“Our results suggest that although women on GitHub may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless,” the study reads.
Not to overstate what’s going on here, but given how much software engineers are shaping the job market — and the content we consume — this could change everything. Forever. Brace yourselves.