02/24/14 | Motivation

For the First Time Ever, More Women Than Men Enroll in UC Berkeley Intro to CS

Some good news for Monday: women now outnumber men in the traditionally male-dominated course.

By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)

Social change takes time. Campaigners struggle on for years notching up few successes before a tipping point is reached and victories come more quickly. We all know this intellectually, but the day-to-day reality of this slow progress can be disheartening.

Which is why those fighting for gender parity in STEM will cheer a recent TechCrunch article which reports that, for the first time ever, women outnumber men in Intro to Computer Science at UC Berkeley, an important feeder school for the Bay Area tech scene. 106 women signed up for the course this semester as opposed to 104 men.

First things first: a great big cheer for those 106 women! We can’t wait to see what some of them will be up to in five or ten years’ time. It’s also important to congratulate the university for the changes it made to the class to make it more friendly to women. TechCrunch reports:

In an email, Professor Dan Garcia, who taught the Berkeley course last spring, tells us that he attributes the gender flip to a drastic transformation in the curriculum, including team-based project learning, opened-sourced materials, and opportunities to become teaching assistants. “The course & curriculum really does capture the “Beauty and Joy” of computing; learning can be a lot of fun,” he writes.

Clearly, the changes are having an impact and should offer ideas and inspiration to other institutions hoping to attract more women to technical fields. But before we get too celebratory, the article also notes that Berkeley remains an outlier, and we still have quite a ways to go on this issue:

There is still a long way to go. Worldwide trends in the gender balance aren’t any better than the U.S. Recent data from UK universities, shows that while women do earn a majority of the degrees (60% vs. 40%), they vastly underperform their male counterparts in computer science (82% vs. 17%).

Barriers to improvement remain, including few girls taking computer science courses in high school and, according to Professor Garcia, “the lack of female role models in our industry” (we’re working on it!), but it is still nice to celebrate any signs of improvement.

Check out the complete article for more statistics and charts on the current state of female participation in tech education.

How optimistic are you about seeing more women studying STEM in the near future?

jstillmanAbout the guest blogger: Jessica Stillman (@entrylevelrebel) is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com, contributes regularly to Forbes and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others.



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