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Attracting More Women to Computer Science Requires Shattering the 'Brogrammer' Culture

California's Harvey Mudd College has taken huge steps toward boosting the number of female computer science majors.

Call it "revenge of the nerds": Computer programmers are beginning to shed the stereotype of antisocial guys with bad acne and extensive action figure collections. Unfortunately, they’re ditching the image of awkward geeks in favor of being seen as collar-popping, beer-swilling bros.

They call them "brogrammers"—tech startups and university computer science departments are chock full of them. But whether they're nerds or bros, one thing that hasn't changed is that the programmers are overwhelmingly men. And the brogrammer culture is making computer science a pretty unwelcome environment for women college students.

Although women now make up the majority of college graduates, the number of female computer science grads has dropped precipitously over the past 25 years—from nearly 40 percent in the mid-1980s to 18 percent in 2009. As a result, only 2 in 10 programmers are women.

Harvey Mudd College in suburban Los Angeles is taking steps to fix the problem. In 2005, only 10 percent of computer science majors at Harvey Mudd were women, in part because male students started college with more computer experience. To level the playing field, Harvey Mudd began requiring all students to take a computer science class, whether an intro level or something more advanced. In the beginning classes, "you don’t get these super macho students who raise their hands all the time and know the answer to everything all the time," computer science department chair Ran Libeskind-Hadas told eSchoolNews. "That’s not a very welcoming atmosphere for less experienced students."

The school's efforts to increase women's interest in computer science has paid off: 40 percent of majors are now women. Of course, there's plenty of work to be done—female computer science grads still face steep obstacles breaking into the boys' club. But any college serious about ending the brogrammer culture should look to Harvey Mudd for advice.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Phillie Casablanca

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