Computer science is a field that has long been dominated by men. It’s a hard industry for women to break into, and is often an unwelcoming and toxic environment for them. And that problem goes all the way back to high school.
According to a recent study of teenaged girls and boys, girls were more likely to enroll in computer science classes if they felt that they would actually be welcome in those classes. And part of the way to make them feel more welcome is to drop the “geeky” image those classes often carry.
Stereotypes about computer science classes often center around them being the purview of geeky boys, and in the study, students were shown photos of two different classrooms, one which features Star Trek and Call of Duty posters, and another which featured images from nature and other, more neutral decorations. They were asked to choose which room they would prefer to take classes in. Overwhelmingly, the girls preferred the latter, while boys didn’t seem to care. The issue here is that, despite the fact that women are well represented in geek culture and fandoms, they aren’t presented that way. Girls already interested in Star Trek might feel at home in such a classroom, but girls who are interested in computer science but not in the traditional trappings of that field’s culture feel unwelcome, so they don’t take the classes.
Of course, these are stereotypes, and not every high school computer class is bedecked in geeky posters. The key is to undermine those stereotypes and create a school culture in which girls don’t feel like they have no place in computer science. If that means redecorating class rooms, that’s a small price to pay to get girls in those classes. It’s up to educators to get rid of that stigma, and if they can enlist existing students to help, all the better.