Does a Greater Female Population in Its Intro to Computer Science Class Mean Berkeley is Truly Advancing Women?

For the first time ever, last Spring, Berkeley’s intro to computer science course brought in more women (106) than men (104).  While only a slight majority, this gender flip represents a significant change  – not only for Berkeley but for women in Computer Science and other male-dominated fields across the globe.

Or does it?

Both Berkeley and Stanford have revamped their Computer Science programs to make them more attractive to women.  The new title of the “Introduction to Symbolic Programming” class:  “The Beauty and Joy of Computing,” certainly points to that.  Moreover,  now there are more feminine-oriented  slants like stressing how technology can change the world for the better, team exercises and the latest press releases about computing.  To be sure, their efforts seem to be working:  both institutions have experienced a near-doubling of its women computer science majors since 2008.  

However, what happens when these Lady Techies graduate and become part of the “real world,” where the “curriculum” is not adjusted to  make various populations feel more comfortable?  How long can women in computing last and how strong will be their impact?  According to  Sapna Cheryan, a psychologist from the University of Washington who has studied stereotypes in computer science, what is done today to get women in the classroom today could have an adverse affect on them down the road.  We can’t assume that what works for some women will naturally work for all. No, we are way too diversely intelligent for that.

So, what’s the lesson in all this?  That perhaps such a traditionally male-dominated field is beginning to see a crack of light of more feminine influence.   While Berkeley and Stanford are arguably the most progressive institutions in the United States and therefore would be the first to usher in women where they haven’t been numerous before, this is still a move in the right direction – both in terms of the amount of enrolled women and in terms of these universities waking up to figure out how to grow their female following.

Imagine if entire companies and industries did this:  recruited women leaders who oversaw their sales grow in proportion to the enormous purchasing power that women hold:  two-thirds of the consumer wealth in the US over the next ten years.    Where would we women be then?


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