Let’s take a look at a study on an open source development project. This study analyzed 3 million pull requests. A pull request is when a developer makes changes to the code of a software project, and then asks permission to officially include these changes in the project. The project leads then decide whether to accept or deny this request.
This study focuses on the pull request success rates of each gender. At first glance, the results look quite promising:
The overall success rate for women was 78.7% and for men it was 74.6%. So, that doesn’t look like gender inequality at all.
However, if you drill down into the results, you find that these results include insiders to the project – people who knew each other, and each other’s work.
It turns out that the results are quite different for people who were unknown to the project leads.
For non-insiders – new ones – the acceptance rate for women was much lower at only 58 %. For new men it was 61%. And then there were a lot of people who had a gender-neutral name and user profile, meaning the project leads did not know their gender. Among these people the acceptance rate is a bit higher. Men with a gender-neutral profile had an acceptance rate of 65% and for women it was 70%. And this is interesting.
The results show that women had a good chance of getting their pull request accepted if they were known. Higher than men even. But if they were unknown, the gender stereotypes seemed to kick in. Will a woman’s development skills be as good as a man’s?
For a woman who is new, you’d have the best chance of getting your pull-request through if you concealed your gender. Chances are that people will assume you are male, just because, stereotypically, the majority of developers are male.
This study shows us that our prejudice kicks in when we don’t know people. This is when we need that mechanism to make sense of the world. It’s the only information we have to work with.
It turns out that in uncertain situations, people are most prone to use prejudices. And that’s something we all should be more aware of. Uncertainty can lead to prejudice.
Want to read the entire study? Check it out!