A Bechdel Test for Tech?

Bechdel Tweet

In order for a movie or television show to pass the Bechdel Test (named after cartoonist and MacArthur genius Alison Bechdel), it must do three things:

  • Feature two female characters
  • Have those two characters talk to one another
  • Have those characters talk to one another about something other than a man

A lot of movies and shows don’t pass. How would programming culture fare if subjected to a similar test? One tech firm, 18F, decided to find out after seeing the above tweet from Laurie Voss, CTO of npm, which explained the parameters of a modified Bechdel Test. According to Voss, a project that passes the test must feature at least one function written by a woman developer, that calls a function written by another woman developer.

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“The conversation started with us quickly listing the projects that passed the Bechdel coding test, but then shifted after one of our devs then raised a good point,” read 18F’s blog posting on the experiment. “She said some of our projects had lots of female devs, but did not pass the test as defined.” (Hat tip to ThinkProgress.org for the original link to the posting.) For example, some custom languages don’t have functions, which means a project built using those languages would fail even if written by women.

18F, which acts as the in-house digital delivery team for the federal government’s General Services Administration, used the test as a springboard for an internal discussion about diversity: “It only addresses gender: race, socio-economic status, disability, and others are important considerations when building successful, diverse teams.”

Nonetheless, both startups and larger companies could find the modified Bechdel Test a useful tool for opening up a discussion about gender balance within engineering and development teams.

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Image: Twitter

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