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Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing

15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262632690
ISBN-10: 0262632691
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Editorial Reviews Review

When there were no opportunities for women in the sciences, it was assumed they had no aptitude for the work. Even today, our tendency is to explain the gender gap by pointing out cognitive differences between men and women, overlooking the powerful societal pressures that guide young people into--and away from--certain careers. Convinced that "women must know more than how to use technology; they must know how to design and create it," Jane Margolis, a social scientist, and Allan Fisher, a computer scientist and college dean, devised a four-year study (involving some 230 interviews) at Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science. They found that the seven percent of female undergraduates at the college started out with as much excitement and talent as their male counterparts, but often wilted early on, perceiving that male students had come to college far better prepared than they had. "The study of computer science education can be seen as a microcosm of how a realm of power can be claimed by one group of people," the authors argue, "relegating others to outsiders." Happily, thanks to their efforts, female enrollment is up at Carnegie Mellon, and more women are remaining in the field. The racial divide in computer science is as pronounced as the gender gap, however, and would benefit from studies like the one described in Unlocking the Clubhouse. Surely the door can be pried open for blacks and Hispanics as well. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Margolis and Fisher document the astonishing gender gap in the field of computing by answering the question of why female interest in technology begins to wane in middle school and all but dies in high school. The authors argue that male dominance in information technology can be traced directly back to cultural, social, and educational patterns established in early childhood. Women, therefore, are vastly underrepresented in one of the most economically significant professions of the twenty-first century. After countless hours of classroom observation and interviews with hundreds of computer science students and teachers, the authors offer an array of formal educational reforms and informal practical solutions designed to rekindle and to nurture female interest in computer design and technology. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Women in Computing
  • Paperback: 182 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (February 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262632691
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262632690
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #496,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Elaine Seymour on January 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is an important book for everyone concerned about the causes and consequences of the nation's failure to attract undergraduate women into computer science. Margolis and Fishers' well-structured, longitudinal study is the first to explore multiple dimensions of this issue in careful detail, and their findings counter causal myths (e.g., about the "natural" distribution of interest and aptitude) that can inhibit or
misdirect remedial efforts. Some roots of the recruitment problem lie in the inequities of pre-college access to computer experience; some (as other research has shown) reflect the gendered character of IT industry products that target children and young people. As a result, few of those female students who possess strong mathematical, linguistic, or logical thinking skills enter college with sufficient disciplinary knowledge and experience to entertain computer science as a major. They may also have limited information about the range of careers open to CS graduates.

As the study also documents, women who do enter CS majors (approximately 15% of this student population) are apt to be discouraged by the misogyny of the peer culture (which varies from, but is related to, that documented in other science majors). They are often strongly distanced from the geek persona that they (wrongly) perceive to be a requirement for success. The emergence of CS as a discipline that defines itself in conceptual, theoretical, and technical terms, and somewhat avoids functional application or customer-programmer negotiation, also reduces the appeal of the major to those women who are primarily interested in what they can do with computers. This group looks elsewhere (e.g.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Lilly C. Irani on December 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book grabbed me by the collar and shook me up. I'm a female Computer Science student and the stories in the book sounded like quotes taken from conversations between me and my friends. Margolis and Fisher describe the factors that affect the experiences of tech inclined women as they embark on and endure or exit from the Computer Science major at CMU. The writing is level-headed and socially conscious, and the experiences are told largely through the stuents' own words. It's a good read for academics, teachers, parents, women, students, engineers, or anyone interested in these groups. It's pretty amazing to see the subtleties of a culture and a discipline as experienced through the eyes of someone other than yourself.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Katherine M. Meadows on February 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
The book focuses on the results of a "four-year study (involving some 230 interviews) at Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science." The authors did not spend a great deal of time offering solutions to the gender gap problem, but they did offer a great deal of insight into what causes it, such as the way boys and girls play and subsequently view the computer as a "boy's toy." It goes into detail about the societal pressures and our cultural differences that have attributed to the small percentage of women in computer science. I believe that some of the results from this research can lead to programs and other solutions that will eventually decrease the gender gap, but again not much emphasis is placed on what these solutions might be.

On a personal note, it was actually quite helpful in sorting out the emotions and situations that occured during my undergrad work and the fears and apprehensions I had of going to grad school. I especially recommend this book to all women in the computer fields and any woman interested in pursuing a computer science career.
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful By kittenchicken0398 on December 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book because I had observed the females in my CS department (including myself) drop like flies. I was curious as to the cause of it, but there didn't seem to be a common theme, so I thought this book might have some insight. It didn't.

They cited several reasons women at CM were leaving, some of which were interesting, but the one that made me put down the book and walk away was when it claimed that it was because women are nurturing, and computer science needs to change to be more about using computers to nurture and care for people. To me, that sounded suspiciously like "Women aren't interested in computer science because it doesn't involve babies and ironing their husband's shirts!"

Reading about the changes they instituted made me retch a little bit. They talk about specifically approaching female students and having "women in CS" gatherings. While I'm all for creating a supportive community, if my university had done this, I would have turned and run the other way. The reason I enjoyed my CS department so much was because nobody talked to me like I was any different, or made an issue of my genitalia, I was just another computer science student.

Admittedly, a lot of my dissatisfaction with this book stems from my views on gender: I see men and women as fundamentally the same, but socialized to be different. Ultimately, they're all people. It seems like the researchers found that certain types of people (those who wanted to nurture and pursue a variety of interests as opposed to single-mindedly obsessing over one) were not succeeding in computer science, and those types happened to be overwhelmingly female. They proceed to refer to these types of people and "women" interchangeably, which I feel is inaccurate.
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