The state of women in computer science: An investigative report

Top colleges boast about reaching gender parity in ‘intro to computer science’ courses. But very few of those women go on to graduate with a CS degree. Here’s why.

In the classrooms at Georgia Tech, among the laptops and notebooks and lines of code, senior computer science major Marguerite Murrell likes to play a game she’s dubbed “Count the Girls.”

“If I can keep it under two hands, then I win,” Murrell said. “There are certainly some girls, probably more than some other computer science programs in the nation. But it’s a lot of guys.”

Women earn only 18% of computer science bachelor’s degrees in the United States. And leaders such as Apple CEO Tim Cook have stated that if the US tech industry doesn’t solve its gender imbalance issues then America will lose its lead in tech.

But in recent years, a number of top colleges have made efforts to draw women into the field with revamped introductory courses that make the technology less intimidating for those that enter college without prior programming experience—largely, women—among other efforts. Many of these schools boast about gender parity in these basic courses and incoming freshman classes. But for upper-level students, men continue to dominate technical courses in robotics, machine learning, and security, and “Count the Girls” still yields poor results in those classes.

A confluence of factors prevent women from pursuing and persisting in computer science majors, according to Wendy DuBow, director of evaluation and senior research scientist at the National Center for Women & Information Technology. A lack of exposure to computer science and engineering concepts in middle school and high school, well-meaning teachers or parents steering girls away from tech-focused…

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