How Online Education Is Increasing Gender Diversity in STEM

Vinod Bakthavachalam
Mar 8 · 3 min read

By Emily Glassberg Sands, Head of Data Science at Coursera in collaboration with Alan Hickey and Vinod Bakthavachalam, Senior Data Scientists at Coursera

At Coursera, we strive to unlock life-transforming learning and credentials for anyone, anywhere. Seventy-five percent of high-school-aged girls say they are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), yet only 28 percent of the graduates of U.S. STEM degree programs are female.

On Coursera, 30 percent of our U.S. course completers in STEM are female — far from full parity but higher than the share of STEM degree graduates in the country. In honor of International Women’s Day and this year’s theme of #BalanceForBetter, we reflect on how Coursera and online education as a whole can contribute to advancements in gender diversity:

  1. Scale female instructors. The online medium provides a unique opportunity to scale the reach of individual instructors — including those who are members of historically under-represented groups in their fields — and provide broader access to diverse role models. Our research shows that courses with female instructors attract a significantly higher share of female enrollees, even when we control for the subject area of the material. In an experiment varying instructor gender and gender salience through use of first names and gendered pronouns, we further found that the effect of instructor gender on whether or not a learner chooses to enroll in any content in the field is substantial. Female learners who received an email about a Machine Learning Specialization emphasizing a female instructor were 26 percent more likely to enroll in a STEM course on the platform than those who received an otherwise identical email about the same Specialization emphasizing a male instructor.

At Coursera, we are committed to pursuing research, product innovations, and partnerships that enable us to create a welcoming environment for each and every learner. Through testing and scaling initiatives like these, we are making progress toward closing the gender gap in STEM on the Coursera platform directly, all the while building a stronger collective understanding of the strategies that might move the needle across learning contexts.

Coursera Engineering

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Vinod Bakthavachalam

Written by

I am interested in politics, economics, & policy. I work as a data scientist and am passionate about using technology to solve structural economic problems.

Coursera Engineering

We're changing the way the world learns! Posts from @Coursera engineers and data scientists!