Margaret Burnett, Distinguished Professor of computer science, was awarded the 2020 iGIANT Champion Award for her outstanding research contributions to inclusive software design. iGIANT® (impact of Gender/Sex on Innovation and Novel Technologies) is a nonprofit corporation that promotes best practices for gender/sex-specific design elements.

“I am honored to be recognized for my work with iGIANT, but all of it was a team effort,” Burnett said.  “None of it would have been possible without the help of many other volunteers, including Larissa Letaw and Jillian Emard here at OSU, working together to help iGIANT’s mission of inclusiveness and equitable experiences for all genders.”

Over the last decade, much of Burnett’s research has focused on gender inclusiveness in software. Her internationally recognized work in this area with students and collaborators has shown gender differences in ways people problem solve with software.

Burnett developed a method called GenderMag with her collaborators that enables IT professionals to identify and eliminate gender biases in the software. She and Anita Sarma, associate professor of computer science, lead the research team that is helping academic and industry partners develop inclusive design for software and websites. Their work was featured in the story, “Oregon State leads fight against gender bias in software,” published by Oregon State’s news and research communications office.

Anita Sarma
Anita Sarma, associate professor

“Open source software is changing the technology and workforce landscape. Our work will help open source software tools and technology support diverse cognitive styles that will help bring diversity in thought by enabling diversity in open source contributors.”

 – Anita Sarma, associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering at Oregon State.

Principal investigators:

  • Lead PI: Anita Sarma, associate professor of computer science, Oregon State University
  • Co-PI: Margaret Burnett, Distinguished Professor of computer science, Oregon State University

In collaboration with:

  • PI: Igor Steinmacher, assistant professor, Northern Arizona University
  • Co-PI: Marco Gerosa, associate professor, Northern Arizona University

Agency:

National Science Foundation

Award amount:

$1.4 million between the two universities, $870,773 to Oregon State.

Research objectives:

This research will investigate whether and how open source software tools and technologies have gender biases tied with diverse problem-solving styles, and how to remove any such biases.

This work will harness foundational gender research to provide theory-based yet practical solutions and redesigns of open source software projects to address the underrepresentation of women.

The redesigns and the process of creating inclusive tools will be empirically evaluated to create a compendium of “best practices” for fixing gender-bias bugs, in both products (what suitable fixes are to such bugs) and processes (how open source software teams can work together to fix gender-bias bugs).

Broader impacts:

Open source is having a significant impact on society, in the products it produces and the career paths that it facilitates. However, women are vastly underrepresented among open source developers. This is a significant concern to these communities because it prevents them from receiving the benefits of a larger talent pool and of team diversity. The problem is perpetuated when women developers miss the learning and professional growth opportunities that open source software projects provide, and are overlooked when open source contributions are used to make hiring decisions. Our work will help break down these gender-bias barriers in tools and technology used in open source software.

More information is on the NSF website.