Seems like an advanced form of the secondary school debate: ‘Boys Vs Girls, who are better students?’
Factually, No. On the contrary, findings from a study of 1.4 million GitHub users reveal that women actually make better programmers than men and their code gets more accepted often. GitHub is an online community of more than 12 million active users who contribute to various projects by suggesting solutions to coding problems. Such solutions may either be accepted or rejected.
Even so, there is a catch to this more ready acceptance of women’s code – this happens only if they are not identified as women. In essence, the study showed that when women’s profiles didn’t contain information on their gender, the acceptance rate was 78.6% that is, 4% higher than the acceptance rate of code written by men. However, if they did identify themselves as women, that figure drops by about 16% making the acceptance rate 62%. The findings of this study revealed two facts. The first is the tentative conclusion that women make better coders than men and the second is that the tech community, which is predominantly male with a ratio of 7:3 is biased against women.
Nonetheless, if it is backed up by research that women are actually better programmers, the question is – Why are there so few women in the technology industry?
Google is one of the most diverse tech companies in the world, and yet women constitute only about 30% of its software engineering workforce. This percentage of women software engineers is even lower in Facebook where they make up a paltry 16% as of 2015. These figures slightly increased to 31% at Google and a more encouraging 35% in Facebook in 2017. Intel reports that 76% of its employees are males and Microsoft has an even bigger gender spilt among its managers, 88% of whom are male. This trend is reflected among most major tech companies, nearly all of which are also majority-white.
There is no denying that there is an obvious heavy bias against women programmers in the tech world. In 2014, a female tech entrepreneur and former academic named Kieran Snyder conducted an informal analysis of 248 corporate performance reviews for tech engineers. She discovered from her findings that women were more likely than men to receive reviews with negative feedback and men were far more likely to get reviews that had only constructive feedback with no negative material.
A controversial, sexist opinion is that women are less suitable to coding due to their inherent biological nature. In 2017, a Google employee called James Damore suggested in an internal memo that women cannot thrive in a competitive world of coding because they deal with stress worse than men and are prone to higher levels of anxiety. Although he was sacked on sexist grounds, other male employees on Google’s internal boards agreed with his analysis.
However, if sociobiology is the reason so few women are programmers compared to men now, how come women were the first coders in history and were so prominent in the early years of American Programming when programming was an entirely uncharted field? Talk of the great (yet sometimes unrecognized) achievements of women programmers such as Dr. Grace Hooper, Joan Clarke, the Eniac (six women software engineers instrumental in the creation of the first programmable computer during WW 2), etc.
Problems that Affect Gender Diversity in the Technological Field.
All around the world, there’s been a call for an increase in the active, recognized involvement of women in the tech field. Even in developing countries like Nigeria, there have been activities geared at solving some challenges that women programmers face. These include:
Lack of Proper Education
Some women are interested in programming but do not have the required specific education. Sometimes, this is not even tied to poverty or not being able to afford payment for training. Even as kids before they begin school, girls are encouraged to be pretty and nice and their toys reflect this plush – dolls, playhouses, sewing kits. On the other hand, boys are encouraged to be adventurous and creative and are given toys like building blocks, computer games, mathematical sets, etc. In addition, for various reasons, teenage girls, even those who like maths in school become discouraged from pursuing education and careers in technology. Many teachers suggest that girls should pursue careers in arts because of their perceived aptitude for writing and languages.
A lack of acceptable collateral and difficulties in the loan application is often cited as issues small businesses, especially those owned by women, face when trying to secure bank loans in Nigeria. Also, female start-up founders are less likely to secure funding in comparison to their male colleagues. Odunayo Eweniyi, a co-founder of PiggyBank, a fintech start-up, said local investors relate better with men and she had to stop attending investment meetings, leaving her male co-founders to handle that aspect.
Chioma Agwuegbo, founder of TechHer which is a platform for knowledge exchange for women, said that negative cultural stereotypes associated with female programmers e.g no makeup, glasses-wearing, and made worse by ignorance of what programming entails may be the reasons why fewer women are involved in the tech sector. Sometimes parents of female children are even the ones who discourage them from pursuing a career in technology, as it is perceived to be ‘unfeminine’. Also, Chika Nwobi, a start-up founder admits that cultural beliefs prevent him from forming professional relationships with female coders because it could be easily misconstrued.
Lack of Confidence in Skills
According to research, female coders with more than eight years of experience demonstrate the same confidence levels about their skills as male coders with zero experience. This is as a result of women underestimating their skills and men overestimating theirs. This lack of confidence in women coders prevents them from objectively describing their skills during an interview. Additionally, research by HP revealed that women coders apply for a promotion only if they meet all the necessary requirements, while men consider themselves a good choice for the promotion of they meet only 60% of the requirements.
Dr. Grace Hopper, who developed COBOL said in 1967 that programming is natural to women because it is comparable to planning dinner. A dinner planning entails advance planning and scheduling different actions to obtain satisfactory results.
Another reason is a phenomenon called Survivorship Bias. This just means that if a woman is actually a coder, despite all the challenges of the profession, it means that her professional level of expertise is higher than that of her male colleagues. Sarah Myers, a technical writer at Masterra, notes that ‘Female coders should receive at least the same recognition as their male colleagues because they make their codes spotless because they know they deal with more criticism than if they were males’.
It’s unfortunate that coding solutions by women are more likely to be accepted if they hide behind gender-neutral profile. Women must build more confidence in their skills in order to gain better recognition for their work and serve as role-models for upcoming female coders.