The information technology revolution is transforming almost every aspect of society, but girls and women are largely out of the loop. Although women surf the Web in equal numbers to men and make a majority of online purchases, few are involved in the design and creation of new technology. It is mostly men whose perspectives and priorities inform the development of computing innovations and who reap the lion's share of the financial rewards. As only a small fraction of high school and college computer science students are female, the field is likely to remain a "male clubhouse," absent major changes.
In Unlocking the Clubhouse, social scientist Jane Margolis and computer scientist and educator Allan Fisher examine the many influences contributing to the gender gap in computing. The book is based on interviews with more than 100 computer science students of both sexes from Carnegie Mellon University, a major center of computer science research, over a period of four years, as well as classroom observations and conversations with hundreds of college and high school faculty. The interviews capture the dynamic details of the female computing experience, from the family computer kept in a brother's bedroom to women's feelings of alienation in college computing classes. The authors investigate the familial, educational, and institutional origins of the computing gender gap. They also describe educational reforms that have made a dramatic difference at Carnegie Mellon -- where the percentage of women entering the School of Computer Science rose from 7% in 1995 to 42% in 2000 -- and at high schools around the country.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I saw this book quoted a number of times on the web on both American and British sites and was intrigued. It evidently was producing a hot reaction (both supportive and antagonistic) from people who had read it.
About two-thirds of the book is a report on how girls with a natural bent towards science and technology fare at school and at home. I'd say that there's nothing here that would be surprising to a woman scientist or technical worker, but it was apparently breaking news to teachers -- who were bribed with the lure of free programming classes to listen to the material. To their everlasting credit, the AP Computer Science teachers changed the way they recruited and taught, and Carnegie Mellon University received a higher quality and more balanced input to their School of Computer Science. It's just a pity that the book is short on the details of how the high school teachers accomplished this miracle.
A major question that has been raised by the book is: Why should we interfere with women's decision not to major in CS, or to change to another discipline? The authors say that women are 'missing out on a field with high salaries and plentiful jobs'. They claim that the 75% failure rate of software projects is 'attributed to a shortage of skilled workers'. The irony of the situation is that this book may have been published too late to save an industry in crisis, and that the women who elected to choose careers away from computing may have been the clever ones after all.