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Women students are still leaving computer science. Here's why

Universities are getting women into their intro computer science courses. Keeping them on that high-tech track is another matter.


Why can't universities hang on to women computer science majors?

Jeff Pachoud / AFP/Getty Images

If you're trying to find women in tech, one place to look might be an introductory computer science class.

At Carnegie Mellon University, for instance, 48 percent of the incoming freshman class in computer science for the 2016-17 school year was female.

But having a strong showing early on may not be enough to help shore up the numbers of women in tech, according to reporting from CNET sister site TechRepublic.

"The state of women in computer science: An investigative report," shows that -- despite efforts to attract women to tech through intro courses offering plenty of support and trumpeting the idea that pre-college experience in computers is not required -- many universities are still not addressing the exit ramps women face as they progress in their major.

"It's surprising to see that all of these top colleges have made some good strides in terms of getting more women to take these introductory courses, but then when you really look at it, that's not translating into the people who are actually graduating with computer science degrees," said author Alison Denisco, a TechRepublic staff writer.

The report comes as tech is grappling with its low numbers of women and minorities, which rise by only small increments from year to year. Meanwhile, high-profile flare-ups like the one centered on ex-Googler James Damore's manifesto, which questioned whether women are biologically suited for tech, don't exactly lay out the welcome mat, even when large tech companies are trying to project an image of inclusivity.

The TechRepublic report gathers experiences from women students at top universities in the US who say that despite entering their majors with plenty of other women, the gender breakdown tends to revert toward the typical male-dominated proportions as time goes on. Hence the well-worn statistic that only about 18 percent of computer science majors are women.

It also outlines a variety of reasons for this decline between freshman year and graduation, including a lack of women role models, professors and even study partners, as well as the usual run-ins with intentional or unintentional stereotyping and sexism. One MIT student said a professor had made comments like "Some of you should be getting married soon."

Or as another student explained: "Nobody wants to fight small battles every day. You get tired."

Solving for XX: The tech industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech."

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