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Whitney said the number of women getting computer science degrees started to fall when the field was rolled into college engineering departments. People had less sense of what could be accomplished with a computer science degree in the 1980s, and boys latched onto personal computers and video games more quickly than girls. While the share of computer science degrees going to women rose in the 1990s, the percentage fell again after the dot-com bust.
“There was a view that the jobs were being outsourced, and also it just wasn’t cool,” Whitney said. “There’s an image factor that’s probably the biggest issue.”
At Klawe’s college, nearly half of sophomores who declared computer science as their majors are women. She said the key is to make computer science fun and accessible. High school girls, Klawe said, think that programming is boring, that they won’t be good at it because computers are daunting and that they “wouldn’t want to be seen dead with the people who work in computer science.”
So Harvey Mudd started sending first-year female students interested in computer science to the Hopper conference, to introduce them to the world of women in technology. The school retooled its computer science curriculum to make it more interesting and fun.
“They took the introductory computer science course, and they just decided to make it the most fun course you could possibly take,” Klawe said. “They made it not scary.”
Sandberg said technology is driving progress in the world and allowing unprecedented new types of collaboration, which only adds to the urgent need for female participation.
Before the Internet, the largest project that a large group of people worked on together was a pyramid, she said, and that was about 70,000 people. In 2009, Facebook announced that 300,000 people had helped translate Facebook into 70 languages.
“Technology is going to change the world,” Sandberg said. “In order to change the world in the right ways, we need women to lead along with men.”
Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 Twitter: @adambelz