Gender diversity and women in software teams (2019)

People queueing for the restroom
Software teams could use more women, but they aren’t lining up yet

Software development teams in western countries largely consist of males or are even male-only. Hiring policies that favour women over men can help restore the balance somewhat, but are also controversial. Do these policies actually make economical sense? Spoiler alert: yes, they do.

Why it matters

The key to good software development is good communication and collaboration between team members. Women tend to be better at these things, but most software teams don’t have even a single female member.

Since communication is such an important part of software development, one might expect that teams with women are better equipped to avoid so-called “community smells” and thus outperform male-only teams.

How the study was conducted

The authors compare dataSee Vasilescu et al. (2015). The dataset doesn’t contain any female-only projects. about communication flows from 20 male-only open source projects with 20 open source projects from teams with at least one female member.

What discoveries were made

Development teams without women indeed suffer from more community smells than teams that have any positive number of women – even if it’s just one. Given what we already know about social group dynamics this is hardly a surprise.

There are many types of community smell, but the authors chose to further analyse four types that are likely to be affected by the presence of women:

The presence of women clearly affects whether the black clouds and radio silence smells (which are related to quality of communication) occur.

It’s not as clear for the organisational silo and lone wolf smells (which have to do with organisational structure), as the authors only find a partial relation between gender diversity and the two smells.

The results confirm that gender diversity in teams is a good thing to strive for and underlines the importance of team composition as a way to combat community smells.

The important bits

  1. Gender-diverse development teams have a statistically lower number of community smells
  2. The presence of women increases the quality of communication


  1. Vasilescu, B., Serebrenik, A., & Filkov, V. (2015). A data set for social diversity studies of GitHub teams. In Proceedings of the 12th Working Conference on Mining Software Repositories (pp. 514–517). IEEE Press.