February 26, 2014
Despite Silicon Valley's reputation for progressivism, women remain underrepresented in computer science. Those who do enter the field often report feeling marginalized or excluded by their male colleagues, or so-called "brogrammers." These sands might be shifting: For the first time ever, women outnumber men in an introductory computer science course at the University of California Berkeley, TechCrunch reports. Enrollment increases do not necessarily lead to comparable boosts in employment, but to many experts, it is a solid start.
106 women and 104 men are enrolled in the course. The spread, though minimal, is historic. Women are not only underrepresented in the tech world, but their enrollment in computer science programs has actually been declining. A National Science Foundation report found that in 2010, just 18.4 percent of computer science degrees were given to women. In 1991, that share was 29.6 percent. Nonetheless, the news from UC Berkeley is significant, since it serves as an important feeder school to many of the Silicon Valley's top companies.
Professor Dan Garcia, who taught the course last spring, told TechCrunch that curricular changes may explain the gender flip. Classes now emphasize team-based project learning, open-sourced materials and more opportunities to become teaching assistants. He said the course really captures the "Beauty and Joy" of computing and that "learning can be a lot of fun."
UC Berkeley is not the only school seeing increased interest in computer science among female students. Wired notes that in 2012, Stanford had almost as many women as men enrolled in its own intro to computer science course. Still, industry gains remain sluggish, and even women who enter the tech sector do not necessarily stay there. A recent study from the Harvard Business Review found that 52 percent of women who enter the STEM industry leave and never come back.
The reasons women are not drawn to the technology industry are complex. The San Jose Mercury News reports that many researchers trace the trend back as early as kindergarten, when young girls are often directed away from STEM. Ellora Irani, a Stanford computer science major and co-founder of she++, a group that encourages young women to pursue computing, said a lack of female role models could also contribute.
"Men can look at Mark Zuckerberg or basically every founder in Silicon Valley and say, 'He's cool. He did something with computer science,'" Israni told The San Jose Mercury News. "(You) ask women, 'Who are your role models?' And their role models are never programmers."
Whatever its cause, Facebook engineering director Jocelyn Goldfein suggested to The Mercury News that the tech industry's gender disparity could limit innovation, which is Silicon Valley's bread and butter.
"If we want to hire the best software engineers in the world, how can we be confident that we're doing that when we're drawing practitioners from only about half the available talent pool?" asked Goldfein.
Compiled by Aimee Hosler
"Can early computer science education boost number of women in tech?" mercurynews.com, February 25, 2014, Mike Cassidy, http://www.mercurynews.com/mike-cassidy/ci_25201424/can-early-computer-science-education-boost-number-women
"In a First, Women Outnumber Men in Berkeley Computer Science Course," wired.com, February 21, 2014, Klint Finley, http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2014/02/berkeley-women
"Women Outnumber Men For The First Time In Berkeley's Intro To Computer Science Course," techcrunch.com, February 21, 2014, Gregory Ferenstein, http://techcrunch.com/2014/02/21/women-outnumber-men-for-the-first-time-in-berkeleys-intro-to-computer-science-course/