Gender-Inclusivity in Software

Date and time: 
Thu, Oct 24 2019 - 3:30pm
245 Straub
Anita Sarma, Margaret Burnett
Oregon State University

Gender inclusiveness in the software industry is receiving a lot of attention these days, but it overlooks a potentially critical factor: software itself. Research shows that different people often work differently with software, and that some of these differences statistically cluster by gender.  In this talk, we'll begin by presenting a method we call GenderMag, which can be used to find and fix "inclusivity bugs" -- gender biases in software-mandated workflows that support people of one gender less well than people of another gender. As we’ll explain, at the core of the method are 5 facets of cognitive style differences that are also statistically gender differences, drawn from a large body of foundational work from computer science, psychology, education, communications, and women's studies.  We then present some results of using GenderMag on real products — IT supporting academia (e.g., OSU's IT), commercial, and open source — and finally focus on practices for taking the method into real world usage.


Margaret Burnett is a Distinguished Professor at Oregon State University. She began her career in industry, where she was the first woman software developer ever hired at Procter & Gamble Ivorydale. A few degrees and start-ups later, she joined academia, with a research focus on people who are engaged in some form of software development. She leads the team that created GenderMag, a software inspection process that uncovers gender inclusiveness issues in software from spreadsheets to programming environments. Burnett is an ACM Fellow, a member of the ACM CHI Academy, and a member of the Academic Alliance Advisory Board of the National Center for Women In Technology (NCWIT).

Anita Sarma is an Associate Professor at Oregon State University. She performed her PhD work at University of California, Irvine, and was a post-doctoral scholar at Carnegie Mellon University. Sarma’s research crosscuts Software Engineering and Human Computer Interaction, and explores how socio-technical dependencies affect team work, how onboarding barriers in open source can be alleviated, and how software can be made gender-inclusive. She leads the GenderMag work investigating gender biases in Open Source Software Communities’ tools and infrastructure, and how to remove such biases. Her work has been funded through a variety of NSF and U.S. Airforce (AFOSR) grants, including the NSF CAREER award.

Dr. Burnett and Dr. Sarma are co-directors of the GenderMag project.