Mark Guzdial wrote an article pondering whether CS teachers might not have a legal obligation to teach differently in order to eliminate bias and potential discrimination. It’s an interesting idea, one that’s been mulled over before, and that mulling never seems to have amounted to anything. This is not an issue I personally have to worry about since all my students are women. But I know that I drifted away from science and tech as a student in part because of bias. I had a biology professor who basically told me to drop the class and not worry my pretty little head about it. I felt intimidated by an all male CS class. I quietly kept practicing my tech skills on the side away from the competition of the classroom. FSM bless my 10th grade math teacher, Mr. Chandler, who, even when I started to flounder, insisted I was good at math and helped me claw my way back to understanding.
As the 2008 article mentions, determine whether a gender imbalance in a class or department is due to discrimination is difficult. And requiring a quota for classes or departments might be damaging. What if you had to turn away 20 male students to keep the gender balance at a certain level? That seems wrong as well in a field where there is an overall shortage of graduates. But I do think, as Mark suggests, that it’s worth examining one’s teaching methods and course offerings and not make the assumption that female students aren’t taking your class because they just aren’t interested in CS. Students talk. They find out before they sign up for a class if you are boring or too harsh or condescend to the girls or never call on them. While I think there are plenty of CS teachers and professors doing just that, there are just as many who probably aren’t.