MIT Press Classics: Unlocking the Clubhouse

Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher’s 2003 book Unlocking the Clubhouse, is a seminal work in the study of women and computing. In order to understand familial, educational, and institutional influences on the gender gap in computing education and professions, the authors conducted hundreds of interviews and collected data over a four-year period. Unlocking the Clubhouse was among the first books to demonstrate that, as Gregory V. Wilson wrote in Dr. Dobb's Journal, "by viewing computer science from different angles, we can attract a broader cross-section of society."

And yet, the gender gap continues to grow. In 2003, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, women made up 27 percent of graduates with degrees in computer science. As of 2015, the number dropped to 18 percent. Unlocking the Clubhouse is an essential guide to understanding how institutions and individuals can pursue practices and policies that invite more diverse voices to the computing field.


“Why should it matter if the inventors, designers, and creators of computer technology are mostly male? At the most basic and individual level, girls and women who have the necessary talent and inclination but do not become engaged in the technology are missing the educational and economic opportunities that are falling into the laps of computer-savvy young men. Computing salaries are high, jobs plentiful, and entrepreneurship opportunities unbounded. Furthermore, a command of information technology is an asset in many contexts outside the field itself. Since so many facets of education and the economy are driven by technology, an understanding of the workings ‘under the hood’ can be invaluable.”

Takeaways from the book:

  • There is no single factor that prevents women from entering and remaining in technology programs. In order to enact change, we must consider admissions, course design, program culture, teaching, faculty-student relations, peer relationships, the experience gap, and academic confidence.
  • Not having women as part of the computing industry negatively impacts men, as well. The culture created, as is with society as a whole, can harm everyone, creating certain expectations that no one can or should be forced to attain.
  • Institutions, educators, and industry leaders need to be more active and aware of their responsibility to diminish the barriers to women in technology. Over the course of the research project, female enrollment in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University [CMU] increased from 7 percent to 42 percent, a figure the authors attribute to the institution’s efforts to enact serious change.
  • Contrary to the belief that the factors that affect female interest in computing are rooted in early adolescence and cannot be remedied, CMU showed that intervention can be enacted at every level of education, and that it’s not too late at the secondary level to make the necessary changes to encourage women to pursue technology.

Margolis and Fisher end their research on a note for the public, “We hope society will benefit from an open conversation, involving women and men of all backgrounds, on the best and highest uses of computing technology.”


Purchase the seminal work in the study of women in computing if you are eager to learn more: