Do women write better code?

The BBC published an article Women Write Better Code a few days ago, based on some US research of GitHub statistics. It showed that, when no gender was known, code written by women was judged by the GitHub community to be better than code written by men.  One thing that struck me was the casual way that we accept the “when no gender was known” point – in other words, accepting that sexism is still alive and well in the developer community.    The next thing was this was the first time that I’d seen some evidence that achieving gender parity in IT could be as much about quality and productivity as about fairness.

The under-representation of women in IT has been a hot topic for me since my first IT Director role, when I witnessed the transformational effect of women joining an all-male IT team. Unsurprisingly, the team communicate better, have better ideas, behave better, etc when there’s gender diversity – just the same as when there is diversity in age/culture/background/nationality/experience/etc.

I was honoured to be on the judging panel for the Women in IT Awards 2016 recently – and looking through the brilliant nominations and talking to the fellow judges – it was great to see how the Iwomen in it awardsT world has moved on in the past 10 years.  But I was struck by one statistic presented by a nominee: that they are proud to have women comprising 25% of their IT workforce. It’s more or less the same statistic in my own team.  Which is great, but still a long way from the 51% that gender parity would mean.

There’s lots being written and done about STEM education and job opportunities for girls – and it is pretty obvious that this is the right solution.  My daughter was buzzing after attending the GDST Digital Leaders 2016 conference recently – a fantastic initiative.  But we shouldn’t underestimate how difficult it is to change perceptions about who should do what jobs

isis_anchalee_engi_3398011b.jpg– it was a happy by-product of the last world war that we saw such a step-change in the role of women in the workforce.   For all the government and institutional initiatives, I suspect there’s as much impact from viral social media messages like the fantastic #ilooklikeanengineer campaign recently – they will do as much, if not more, to convince girls that jobs in technology are the way to go.

Putting that aside, is it really true that women write better code?  If so, why would that be? Is it that the women who do go into software engineering despite the sexism and the under-representation, have to strive harder to succeed? And would that “advantage” then dissipate as gender parity was achieved?  Or is there an inherent reason – such as, neurological differences like this news article a couple of years ago.

Whatever the reason, and whether women write better code than men (or just as good), then there’s still a big hill to climb to get to the equal representation of women in the IT workforce.  It would be brilliant, if, as well as being fairer, equal representation also delivered increased quality and productivity.

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