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No Gender Difference Found Between Software Engineers Experiment by Kindai University and Kobe University measured speed of program understanding


A research group, comprised of Associate Professor Masateru Tsunoda of the Kindai University Faculty of Science and Engineering and Associate Professor Masahide Nakamura of the Engineering Kobe University Graduate School of System Informatics, announced their finding that there was no difference in the speed of understanding a program between software engineers of different genders. Sixteen male and female students from the faculty participated in the experiment as subjects. The experiment affirmed that there was no difference in the amount of time required for program understanding between female and male students. The results are expected to put a stop to stereotyped assumptions and biases regarding the division of roles between men and women and help encourage female students to choose career paths as IT engineers. The results were published in the February 3 online edition of IEICE Transactions on Information and Systems, the journal published by the Institute of Electronics, Information and Communication Engineers (IEICE).

Concerns are growing about a potential shortage of IT personnel as the demand for them rises with technological advancement. According to the IT Personnel Whitepaper 2020 published by the Information-technology Promotion Agency, the ratio of women is less than 20% at roughly 60% of IT companies in Japan, and while the ratio of women involved in information services is growing, it remains at the 20% range. An increase in female IT engineers is expected to help promote an increase in IT engineers overall. Meanwhile, in a survey carried out by in 2019 for women employed at IT companies and female university students interested in the IT industry, throughout the world, a high ratio of women responded that they experienced gender bias while job hunting and that made it difficult for them to enter the IT industry (47% for the former and 62% for the latter). These biases may be affecting the career choices of female university students.

For this experiment, the research group examined whether there was any gender difference in the capabilities required to be an IT engineer. Existing research had already shown that there was in fact a gender difference in memorization abilities. However, it was unclear how memorization abilities effected the speed of understanding a program, a skill required for software maintenance, which comprises roughly 40% to 60% of software operations costs.

Accordingly, 16 students majoring in information science in the same faculty at the same university (8 women and 8 men) served as subjects. Four programs (of roughly 20 to 30 lines of code each) were provided, where the effect of memorization ability on speed of understanding the code was different for each. The amount of time each subject required to understand each program was then measured. The programs were read in a different order by each subject to avoid the order from impacting the outcome in any way.

The results showed that there was no difference in the speed at which the male and female groups understood the programs. Even in the case of programs in which memorization had a large effect on the speed of understanding, where there was a drop in speed of understanding of 1.5 to 2.5 times for women and 1.8 to 2.3 times for men, there was no difference thereof due to gender. The same experiment was then repeated with roughly double the number of subjects, with the same outcome.

Accordingly, the researchers concluded that there is no gender advantage in code understanding speed, irrespective of the importance of memorization skills for the relevant program, provided the programming experience and educational level of the subjects is the same. University students served as the subjects for this experiment, but it has already been reported that there is no major difference between students and actual workers. When the content of the programs used for the experiment are considered, it is expected that there will be no major difference in test outcome when using actual workers as subjects.

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd.( Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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