Sexism in tech culture is alive and well and infesting GitHub, according to a recent Washington Post article, “The stunning difference in how people treat female coders — once they find out they’re female.”
The article concerned the findings by a group of researchers from both coasts, who have published a study on male and female coders using GitHub. GitHub is arguably the largest repository of source code in the world at this writing. The study looked at whether “pull requests are accepted at different rates for self-identified women compared to self-identified men.”
Women’s pull requests were more successful at being accepted by programmers across the board than men’s. That is, unless their gender was revealed by their username or profile image, in which case, their acceptance rate dropped below the men’s rate in the study.
The authors of the study pull a number of interesting analyses out of the data. After controlling for a number of factors, it appears that, in an ostensibly meritocratic environment like GitHub, women actually may be more competent than their male counterparts. This shoots the “men are better at coding” theory in the head.
The authors theorize this may be because, if a woman gets through the STEM curriculum in an historically biased field, there is self-selection for those who are very good at what they do. Women with weaker skill sets or less dedication simply get weeded out early. As the authors put it, “In contrast, less competent men may continue.”
In the interest of fairness, there is a lot of push back coming from the tech world. The level of interest in the study, and the commentary around it show what a hot-button issue this is and will continue to be for some time. The fact is, highly publicized sexism in the tech industry is exposing the “meritocracies” for what they really are–the same cardboard box that 10-year-old boys used for a clubhouse in our childhoods, with “No girls allowed,” scrawled on the side. Maybe it’s time they grew up.