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Female developers’ pull requests are accepted if they conceal their identity, report finds

Gabriela Motroc
female developers
Illustration of inequality sexes image via Shutterstock

A team of American computer science researchers set out to identify gender bias against women in the open source community, but ended up making an interesting discovery: female developers are more likely than their male counterparts to have their open-source software contributions accepted -under one condition.

Researchers from North Carolina State University and California Polytechnic State University co-produced a study titled Gender bias in open source: Pull request acceptance of women versus men which has a bittersweet result for female developers. On one hand, it revealed that project owners tend to accept women’s pull requests more often than men’s across all programming languages. On the other hand, this only occurs if women have gender-neutral GitHub profiles.

Female developers vs. male developers

To point out a possible gender bias, the authors of the study separated profiles into two categories: gendered profiles which contain a user photo and a gendered user name and gender-neutral profiles where the user provides an image and a name that do not betray his or her gender. According to the findings, accounts belonging to female developers scored higher acceptance rates than the ones which belong to men, but this occurred only when gender-neutral profiles were examined.

Project owners tended to accept a greater number of pull requests from men than from women when their gender was out in the open. To ward off skeptics and make sure the study is not misunderstood, the authors explained that the study is not in its final phase. “This report has not yet been peer-reviewed, and thus the findings should be considered preliminary,” says an author comment.

The researchers suggest that the gender gap only occurs when pull requests come from ‘outsiders’ -when project leaders have to choose between the submissions of a male and a female developer, they tend to use code from a man. However, this gender bias does not appear when the project leaders know and trust the developers. In the second scenario, familiarity takes the stage and gender differences disappear.

The study also indicates that women who contribute to GitHub are more competent than male developers. Nonetheless, they continue to bear a stigma and are seen as less competent than their male counterparts.

Revisiting older dilemmas

JAXenter advanced the idea of gender bias and emphasized the importance of gender diversity in the development space in late 2015. The low number of women in the IT industry or at least the low number of women who want to step forward and share knowledge was visible during JAX London.

After loads of social media buzz and an open call for papers for several weeks, female involvement was still weak. Seven female speakers were eventually incorporated into the JAX London lineup, but the pattern persists -the stronger the male presence, the weaker the female involvement.

There may be no connection whatsoever between these two premises, but the most popular viewpoint remains the following: women’s expertise is as valuable as men’s and their voice should be heard.


Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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