New research shows that code written by female computer programmers is more likely to be approved by their peers than code written by men—but only if their gender is concealed.
After analyzing data from the popular open source software website GitHub, researchers concluded that women on the site "may be more competent overall." According to The Guardian, "the researchers looked at approximately 3m pull requests submitted on GitHub, and found that code written by women was approved at a higher rate (78.6 percent) than code written by men (74.6 percent)." However, they noted, "bias against [female coders] exists nonetheless." According to their findings, code written by women is viewed more favorably when the coder's gender is kept secret.
If feminism has taught us anything, it's that almost all men are sexist. As this GitHub data shows, whether or not bros think that they view women as equals, women's work is not being judged impartially. On the web, a vile male hive mind is running an assault mission against women in tech. Perhaps most notoriously, an online movement known as "GamerGate" recently targeted women in the video game industry; many of those involved with the movement, who claimed to be concerned about "ethics in games journalism," would send death and rape threats to female game developers and critics and reveal their personal information online.
Although GamerGate is an extreme example of the misogyny in tech, it is merely on the far end of a spectrum that extends from unconscious bias to enraged violence against women. Unfortunately, men have been reared by a dumb and damaging form of masculinity that is defined by pseudo-dominance, an (imagined) ideal of superiority that can only be maintained through the subordination of women.
Lisa French is a front end engineer and co-founder of Nashville Women Programmers. In an interview with Broadly, she explained how her gender has come into play in the tech industry. "I was interviewing for a position and the hiring manager told me outright that I was the best candidate for the job, but he would have to fight for me, because upper management was expecting to hire a guy." French believes the company equated knowledge and experience with being male. "Yes, this is crazy illegal," she said, adding that she felt resourceless because there was no proof of the encounter, and, in a way, she also appreciated knowing the reality she was facing in this industry.
The data from GitHub doesn't surprise her at all. "As a woman, I feel that I start at a disadvantage because of people's perceptions of women in programming." French said that she has to work twice as hard as her male contemporaries. "I don't feel I have much room for error," she told Broadly. It's caused her to approach her work with a high degree of caution and care, "to think through a few solutions to find something more optimal than the first bit of code that comes to mind, to test the code, to make sure the code is organized and clean so it's easier to read, and to give thought to if the code and its comments are improving communication of ideas, etc." In a way, her awareness of the institutional sexism in coding has caused her to be that much better than everyone else. Maybe the same is true for other woman.
I believe the industry is male dominated because guys get the message early on that this a field where they belong.
There are many reasons that French believes more women should code: the freedom to work remotely, the high pay, and wealth of job opportunities, to name a few. Despite all this, French said, "it can be hard to guide women into this field, when you know all the obstacles they will face based solely on their gender."
Women who are just entering this field now may face more difficulty finding a job than someone who realized years ago that programming is a skill that they can master, French added. "I believe the industry is male-dominated because guys get the message early on that this a field where they belong." According to her, an integral part of programming is learning from mistakes, taking risks, and finding out what works—and what doesn't. This may play into the disproportionately low number of women in the field, French suggested. "I think guys feel empowered and okay with not having to have all the answers, and many women are taught from an early age to not put themselves out there or fail."
Tracing a connection between the subtle form of gender discrimination witnessed on GitHub to the extreme version enacted by GamerGate may help to illustrate the fact that this insidious prejudice is both real and materially consequential; women may lose opportunity when made the subject of some man's bias, or worse. "I think these recent findings with GitHub could be upsetting to guys like that," French says. "I am not quite sure where [GamerGate's] violent rejection of women comes from, but if I had to guess, I would imagine it was from people feeling that something was being taken away from them and wanting to attack that source to get back what they perceive they are losing."