Members in the Media
From: The Atlantic

The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM

Though their numbers are growing, only 27 percent of all students taking the AP Computer Science exam in the United States are female. The gender gap only grows worse from there: Just 18 percent of American computer-science college degrees go to women. This is in the United States, where many college men proudly describe themselves as “male feminists” and girls are taught they can be anything they want to be.

Meanwhile, in Algeria, 41 percent of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math—or “STEM,” as its known—are female. There, employment discrimination against women is rife and women are often pressured to make amends with their abusive husbands.

According to a report I covered a few years ago, Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates were the only three countries in which boys are significantly less likely to feel comfortable working on math problems than girls are. In all of the other nations surveyed, girls were more likely to say they feel “helpless while performing a math problem.”

So what explains the tendency for nations that have traditionally less gender equality to have more women in science and technology than their gender-progressive counterparts do?

Read the whole story: The Atlantic

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Having worked with women in Kyrgyzstan, which is no where near as oppressive as the countries listed in this article, I have the feeling that women sense that the only way out of a miserable life of dependency on an neglectful or abusive husband (& the husband’s family) is through academic achievement in a high paying field. I think in the U.S., women see that there are more possibilities for them, than just going for a high paying job they are not sure they would enjoy.

I wonder whether further qualification is needed – certainly the gender gap in US CS departments and college degrees is large and troubling. But, it has the potential to be remedied. After considerable hard work by Dr Lenore Blum and her colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University (, female enrollment in this year’s incoming CS is 49.8 percent female. There is every expectation that these women will graduate with a college degree in CS.

At Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), we believe that academia and industry can effectively and rapidly increase the participation and success of women in computer science (CS) by paying attention to the micro-culture and implementing common sense changes.

Our guiding premise: The minority in any community does not have access to, is indeed often excluded from, the academic and professional opportunities and advantages critical for success that are available (most often implicitly) for the majority in the community. These implicit advantages include: Role models, mentors, community, connections, networking, experiential learning, leadership opportunities, … Thus, it makes sense to level the professional playing field by making these advantages explicit and available for everyone. It’s not rocket science, just common sense!

A number of years ago, Carol Frieze, Orit Hazzan, M. Bernardine Dias and I published a paper on “A Cultural Perspective on Gender Diversity in Computing” where we examined the participation of young women in CS in various cultures (including both the Jewish and Arab communities in Israel, at CMU in Pittsburgh and in Qatar). Our findings belied stereotypical expectations and showed that micro-culture was a key to active participation. As stated in “The More Gender Equality, the Fewer Women in STEM,” Olga Khazan in The Atlantic, Feb18, 2018, a possible factor leading to participation might be where women are “seeking the clearest possible path to financial freedom.” But also, we found, successful participation in CS was a direct result of family and teacher encouragement that outweighed negative peer pressure. Thus, there was a higher percentage of girls taking AP CS classes in the Arab communities in Israel than in the Jewish communities where peer influences were much greater.

At CMU, its Women@SCS program to level the professional playing field, effectively countered the macro-culture, resulting in women entering the CS major at CMU in increasing numbers, now inching up to almost 50 percent–and with retention of women now at a slightly higher level than men! We find that in a more balanced environment (in terms of both numbers and professional opportunities afforded) there is virtually no gender divide, as Carol Frieze and I discussed in a 2005 paper, “The Evolving Culture of Computing: Similarity is the Difference.” In fact, we found similar spectra of interests and attachments to CS amongst women and amongst men. Some women love coding as do some men, some women and some men prefer applications of CS, most are interested in both —and everyone wants to have impact. This has been borne out in ongoing studies. These findings counter early studies at CMU (done in the 1990’s) that found (in a then highly unbalanced CS environment) marked gender differences, and as a consequence, recommended curricular changes that would be applications-oriented and “female friendly.” Our tack was just the opposite. Starting in 1999, we changed the culture, not the curriculum.

To find out more about the CMU School of Computer Science (SCS) programs, see Kicking Butt in Computer Science: Women in Computing at Carnegie Mellon University by Carol Frieze and Jeria Quesenberry and check out the Women@SCS, OurCS and SCS4All websites. See also:

¥ L. Blum, C. Frieze, “The Evolving Culture of Computing: Similarity is the Difference,” Frontiers, Volume 26, Number 1, 2005, pp 110-125.
¥ L. Blum, C. Frieze, O. Hazzan, M.B. Dias, “A Cultural Perspective on Gender Diversity in Computing,” Reconfiguring the Firewall: Recruiting Women to Information Technology across Cultures and Continents eds. C.J. Burger, E. G. Creamer, and P. S. Meszaros, AK Peters, 2007.

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