Having higher gender and tenure diversity is associated with higher productivity in GitHub teams.

A joint team of computer science researchers from University of California, Davis and Eindhoven University of Technology, in The Netherlands, have conducted a study of the effects of gender and tenure diversity on productivity and turnover in teams of Open Source Software (OSS) developers, and have found small but positive effects. The paper describing the results has been accepted for presentation at the prestigious 2015 ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, in Seoul, South Korea, in April 2015. The paper was authored by Bogdan Vasilescu, Daryl Posnett, Baishakhi Ray, Mark van den Brand, Alexander Serebrenik, Prem Devanbu, and Vladimir Filkov.

Dr. Vasilescu, the first author on the paper, and colleagues used regression modeling on carefully-extracted data from more than 23,000 projects on GitHub, the largest and most popular online collaborative coding platform. To triangulate the findings, they also ran a user survey, with more than 800 respondents. Their models show that after controlling for team size and other confounds (such as a project’s age, development model, or amount of social activity), both gender and tenure diversity are positive and significant predictors of productivity, together explaining a small but significant fraction of the data variability. The benefits of experience diversity have a limit, though, as higher tenure diversity may increase attrition. This negative effect appears to be mitigated, however, when more experienced people are present. Survey respondents acknowledged the importance of diversity on their team’s functioning, but reported different perceived effects.

This is the first academic study to consider effects of gender diversity on productivity and turnover in OSS communities. Based on these findings, Prof. Filkov, the senior author on the paper, believes that increasing gender and tenure diversity in software teams may benefit productivity, if all other confounds are equal. Traditionally, women are significantly underrepresented in OSS and other technical teams. On a larger, economic and societal scale, these findings suggest that added investments in educational and professional training efforts and outreach for female programmers will likely result in added overall value.

A preprint containing more details is available here. Dr. Vasilescu can be reached at vasilescu@ucdavis.edu. Prof. Filkov can be reached at filkov@cs.ucdavis.edu.