Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing
Author: Jane Margolis, Allan Fisher
Publisher: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003
Review Published: July 2006
I appreciate Carly Woods' thoughtful review of Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. I would like to comment on two reservations raised in the review. First, that "class and race considerations are mentioned only briefly" in the book, and that statistics "suggest that there may be more to the computer science clubhouse than just 'no girls allowed' sign hanging outside." Woods is indeed right about this. The race gap in computer science is alarming. For instance, of students taking the Advanced Placement Computer Science (AP CS) exam nationwide, only 15% are female and the combined percentage for African-American and Hispanic students accounts for only 10% of the test-takers (College Board Report, 2005). In California (where I am now doing research), while 53% of the California student population are students of color, only 1.5% of the test-takers are Latinas and a mere 0.2% are African-American females. By college, at the nation's PhD-granting departments of computer science and engineering, just 7% of the computer science degrees are awarded to African-American and Latino/as of both sexes (Taulbee Survey, 2004).
When I began the CMU gender research, I wanted to investigate issues of race as well gender, but the numbers of traditionally underrepresented students admitted and enrolled in the CMU School of Computer Science were so small that we were not able to conduct a systemic analysis beyond the experiences of a handful of students. In 1999, when I moved to Los Angeles, I applied for and received a National Science Foundation grant for a three-year study "Out of the Loop: Why Are So Few African-American, Latino/a, and Female Students Learning Computer Science At The High School Level." Conducting research in high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District -- the second largest and one of the most diverse districts in the country -- our research team found persistent disparities in access to computer science learning opportunities that followed race and socio-economic lines. Too frequently, especially in low-income communities, and in schools with large numbers of students of color, computer science learning opportunities do not exist, or if they do exist, teachers and students are not sufficiently prepared and/or supported (Margolis, J. et al, 2003 ). Once again, as in the CMU gender study, these research findings reveal the institutional role in the skewed demographics in the field.
The second question that Woods poses about Unlocking the Clubhouse is: "Have the cultural and technological changes of the last ten years significantly mooted their diagnostic findings?" Woods rightly points out how technology is changing so rapidly and that "a book of this sort is, in many ways, outdated at soon as it goes to press." But, is this indeed the case?
While girls and women certainly are more present in the on-line world today, and many girls now have computers in their rooms, their own web pages, blogs etc., the statistics still show that women are not becoming computer scientists and creating the technology. Today, just as in 1995 when we started this study, the numbers (gathered together by the National Center for Women in Technology and viewable here) of women participating in computer science are abysmally low:
Margolis, J., Holme, J.J., Estrella, R., Goode, J., Nao, K. & Stumme, S. (2003). The computer science pipeline in urban high schools: Access to what? For whom? Technology and Society, 22(3), 10-19.
Taulbee Survey. (2004). See www.cra.org/statistics/home.html.
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