In a First, Women Outnumber Men in Berkeley Computer Science Course | Wired Enterprise | Wired.com
In a First, Women Outnumber Men in Berkeley Computer Science Course
• By Klint Finley
• 3:54 PM
Students on the steps of Sproul Hall at UC Berkeley. Image: John Morgan/Flickr
Women are seriously underrepresented in the world of computer science. But in small ways, things are beginning to move in the right direction. PayPal just hired industry veteran Danese Cooper as its head of open source, and at the University of California, Berkeley — a school traditionally at the heart of the computer science world — women now outnumber men in one of the school’s introduction to computer science courses.
Last spring, 106 women and 104 men enrolled in the course. “It was the first time since at least 1993 — as far back as university enrollment records are digitized — that more women enrolled in an introductory computer science course,” San Francisco Chronicle reports. “It was likely the first time ever.”
The course is designed to introduce the concepts of computer science to those not majoring in the subject. But more women taking that first step towards learning to program could go a long way towards correcting the long standing gender imbalance in the tech workforce, which would benefit everyone in the industry. More diverse teams are better problem solvers and make better decisions, according to a study by the Kellogg School of Management.
More women taking that first step towards learning to program could go a long way towards correcting the long standing gender imbalance in the tech workforce, which would benefit everyone in the industry
Berkeley isn’t the only university making improvements in this area. In 2012, Stanford University announced that its introduction to computer science course had an almost equal number of men and women. The increased number of women in computer science courses at both schools are credited to big changes in the curriculum. At Berkeley, that meant expanding the introductory course beyond just programming, and doing more to explain the real-world implications of computing.
The number of women continuing on from beginner’s courses to become computer science remains low, but even those numbers are improving. At Stanford, 20 percent of students graduating with a computer science degree were women in 2011, up from 10.5 percent in 2007. Stanford is ahead of the curve, but according to a study conducted by the Computing Research Association, the percentage of female computer science majors in the U.S. and Canada rose from 11.7 percent to 12.9 percent between 2010 and 2012.
But that’s still a far cry from the percentage in 1991, when nearly 30 percent of computer science bachelor degrees were awarded to women, according to a report published by the National Science Foundation. And education alone won’t address the gender disparity in the tech industry. According to research published by the Harvard Business Review, 52 percent of women in science, engineering and technology leave the field and never come back. Clearly the industry needs to do more to retain the talent it already has.
But seeing more women than men in a major computer science class is still a huge change. One that bodes well for the future.
Klint Finley is a writer with Wired Enterprise. Got a tip? Send him an email at: me [at] klintfinley.com.