The gender gap is Silicon Valley, where fewer than one in five technical employees are women, is no longer a well-kept secret. But we can't just blame the computing industry for its dearth of female workers. The problem starts in school. As of 2012, the National Science Foundation reported only 18 percent of computer science degrees were obtained by women.
Some institutions have been able to bring women back into the fold and bring those graduate rates up to 38 percent. But these numbers aren't coming from schools; they're coming from coding boot camps. A major draw of these programs is they don't require previous experience — pay your $11,000 fee for a 10-week dive into how to code.
In these programs, most people don't have the same prior experience with computers as someone who may be a CS major in college, which is what makes coding boot camps so attractive to women. Intimidation is a big barrier to entry, which some schools are turning around.
In 1984, 37 percent of computer science degrees were awarded to women. But that was the last year of an upward trend — every year after women in computer science dwindled. Before 1984, women were seen as naturals for the field. It may have had something to do with their typing abilities, so it seemed like a good fit. Somewhere along the way computers became something masculine.
Manoush Zomorodi, host of Note to Self, reported on the case of Harvey Mudd College. The institution went from 10 percent of its females graduating with a degree in CS to 40 percent. How did they do it? Educators started with a better lead, changing the title of an intro course to “Creative Approaches to Problem-Solving in Science and Engineering Using Python.”
Next they organized classes to minimize intimidation by splitting up students into two courses. This helped reduce the “macho effect” — students who already know how to program and dominate class discussion, derailing the class. But she explains, “It's a nuanced game to cut down on the macho without cutting out the well-meaning enthusiasm that causes it.” So, teachers end up pulling exceptional students aside, praising their enthusiasm, but being honest, letting them know their knowledge could be intimidating for other members of the class.
It's an interesting approach; the only thing left to solve are the problems facing women after graduation.
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