GitHub: Open source is dominated by men who just can't communicate

A random selection of users for GitHub's Open Source Survey reveal a population that's 95 percent male.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

The GitHub survey highlights what developers see as the main problems encountered in open source.

Image: GitHub/opensourcesurvey.org

A large GitHub survey of open-source projects has found open-source software development is almost completely dominated by men, and that most programmers neglect to write documentation.

While people from all walks of life use open-source software every day, GitHub's survey of 5,500 randomly selected developers from the open-source community are overwhelmingly men.

The random selection, via an online survey hosted on GitHub.com in March, returned a population of 95 percent men, three percent women, and one percent "non-binary".

"The gender imbalance in open source remains profound," GitHub notes.

Currently poor documentation practices aren't helping address the gender imbalance or efforts to build inclusive communities.

The survey found that an astounding 93 percent of developers struggle with incomplete or confusing project documentation. Meanwhile, 60 percent report they rarely or never contribute to documentation.

While documentation is a long-running challenge in open source, it could be helpful to building a more inclusive community that's welcoming to newcomers. GitHub notes that clearly documented procedures for contributing and codes of conduct are more valued by minority groups, such as women, and can also help engage people who are newer to English.

The survey found that, overall, negative interactions are rarely encountered, but that the nature of open source means they're visible when they do happen and so can have a negative impact on project activity. Half of respondents say they've witnessed bad behavior such as rudeness, name calling and stereotyping, and 18 percent have experienced it personally.

Less than five percent report encountering more serious bad behaviors such as sexual advances, stalking, or doxxing, the leaking of personal information. Less than two percent report experiencing this type of behavior from others.

However, women are more likely to experience these negative interactions than men, the survey found. For example, 25 percent of women have encountered language that made them feel unwelcome versus 15 percent of men, while six percent of women report unsolicited sexual advances compared with three percent of men.

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