Female coders are rated more highly than men—except when people know they’re women

Hacking code, but not gender barriers.
Hacking code, but not gender barriers.
Image: Alison Yin/Invision for Nintendo/Facebook/AP Images
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This post has been updated.

A group of computer scientists, when studying the acceptance of contributions on the software repository GitHub, found open source code written by women is actually more often approved than code written by men. The catch—there’s always a catch—is that this only happens when the woman’s gender is hidden.

GitHub, which is used by more than 12 million people, allows developers to write code for the projects of other software developers, who then choose whether to approve the submissions. Among the three million submissions (or “pull requests”) the researchers examined, female-written code saw a 78.6% approval rate. With male-written code, it was 74.6%.

If female coders specified their gender on their profiles, though, their acceptance rate fell to 62.5%.

“Our results suggest that although women on GitHub may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless,” the six computer science researchers from California Polytechnic State University and North Carolina State University wrote in the study published Feb. 9. The higher blind acceptance rate for code written by women is all the more impressive when you consider that men in the open source community overwhelmingly outnumber their female counterparts—who by various estimates make up only 1% to 11% of the population.

Granted, the study is a preprint and has not been peer-reviewed. Various researchers have also raised concerns about the legitimacy of the findings, noting among other things that it’s unclear as whether people rejecting pull requests actually looked at the coder’s gender.

Assuming it does have a sturdy basis, though, the study only adds to the avalanche of research on gender discrimination within the technology sector, typically finding men to be more dominant, visible, and respected while women are more likely to battle rampant sexism. Women, it seems, actually have everything it takes to thrive in the programming world. If only they could make everyone forget they’re women.