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Study suggests women’s computer code is preferred, only if their gender is unknown

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When justifying the conspicuous absence of women in tech, the most commonly offered explanation has always been lack of skill — women are less interested in technology, they don’t pursue it as often (or as early), so by extension, when it comes to job applications, there are fewer qualified women in the mix. How could engineering teams not be majority male? Well, a new study published on PeerJ pokes a pretty damning hole in that argument — according to this research, women write better code than men on GitHub, or at the very least, their contributions are accepted more often by fellow coders. But this is only true when their gender is not known; once it’s made apparent that a woman is behind the syntax, all bets are off. In fact, bets go down.

The study (which has not yet been peer reviewed), involved the analysis of nearly 1.4 million users of open source program-sharing site Github, a platform that is often referenced in job interviews among computer scientists. The 12 million strong developer community does not require that its users provide gender information, but researchers were able to determine the sex of about 1.4 million of them (12 percent), the BBC reports, “either because it was clear from the users’ profiles or because their email addresses could be matched with the Google+ social network.”

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Based on this information, the team determined that pull requests (code change suggestions) made by women made were accepted four percent more often than those made by men. However, this proportion dropped drastically when a woman’s gender was noticeable. The researchers write, “For outsiders, we see evidence for gender bias: women’s acceptance rates are 71.8% when they use gender neutral profiles, but drop to 62.5% when their gender is identifiable. There is a similar drop for men, but the effect is not as strong.”

“Women have a higher acceptance rate of pull requests overall, but when they’re outsiders and their gender is identifiable, they have a lower acceptance rate than men,” the study shows. “Our results suggest that although women on Github may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless.”

Considering that major tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple all have less than 20 percent of their technical positions filled by women, this is an alarming finding.

So keep coding, ladies. Maybe one day, you’ll be able to identify yourself and claim your fame.

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