You Only Got In Because You’re A Girl … Right?

On the nuance of diversity initiatives and a level headed discussion from both sides of the conversation

Carolyn Wang
9 min readApr 27, 2024
Random rooms and hallways generated using the BSP algorithm — Iteration 1

“You only got into Berkeley CS because you’re a girl.”

Growing up, I never quite understood the purpose or necessity of quote-on-quote “gender diversity” programs. I found merit to be precisely the best — and most fair—factor in evaluating whether someone was qualified or not (and for the most part, still do). Why did so many programs bother to differentiate between whether I was a girl or not? Why was it so necessary to tailor specifically towards my gender, a part of me I couldn’t control?

In that sense, I grew up lucky: If you’re in a well-balanced school with well-balanced STEM classes, or even unbalanced classes that foster friendly and encouraging environments, there never really is a connection between merit and gender. You and the guy next to you are on equal grounds when it comes to who gets an A on that paper and who gets an F.

The equation was simple. Produce better work? Get the higher grade.

I naively believed the real world to work in the same way. And that’s where I went wrong.

Random rooms and hallways generated using the BSP algorithm — Iteration 2

“You only got into Berkeley CS because you’re a girl.”

Rewind Conversation—> June 2023

“Where are you heading to this fall?”


“What major?”

“Computer Science.”

“Oh, my son didn’t get into Berkeley because he’s not a girl.”


“Oh, you got into Berkeley CS, but that’s because you’re a girl. [My son] didn’t get into Berkeley CS because he’s not a girl.”

I was visiting my former elementary school friends’ high school graduation, and vividly remember my face going completely slack — that primitive freezing reaction you get when you’re highly uncomfortable — as I watched these words tumble out of the mouth of a former classmate’s dad. (Last time I saw him was when I was 11? 12?)

There was no question of my credentials. Not even the inkling of critical thinking that maybe, just maybe, I happened to have much higher grades and done quite a bit more than his son ever did throughout high school.

But none of it mattered, because I was a girl. Which was why I got in, and his son didn’t. Nevermind the GPA difference, the olympiads, the extracurriculars, the fact that I went to a completely different high school and had a much stronger profile. The answer was clearly binary in his eyes.

I was a girl. No wonder.

Until then, I didn’t comprehend, didn’t even fathom that anyone would have the thought of correlating achievement with gender, particularly when differences in achievement were clear as day. And so while he continued talking, I just nodded and looked visibly straight faced until my former classmate’s mom awkwardly chimed in, re-directed the conversation, and said:

“Right — Congrats by the way.”

Random rooms and hallways generated using the BSP algorithm — Iteration 3

“You only got into Berkeley CS because you’re a girl.”

Throughout middle and high school, I’d always had a small vendetta against using girls to fill diversity quotas, mixing merit with gender, and attending gender diversity programs —I’d wanted to be evaluated for the work I put in; not for something I, nor the guy next to me, couldn’t control.

Recently though — I’ve grown to realize that (1) diversity programs, and (2) gender quotas and gender considerations within meritorial contexts, are not the same thing.

Gender diversity programs are tailored to establish a supportive and encouraging community space in settings that often lack such camaraderie and support.

Mixing merit-based initiatives with gender quotas, on the other hand, is a double-edged sword. Do gender quotas and merit-based changes foster more diversity and inclusion?

Well … that depends on your perspective. Maybe the gender ratios become more even. Maybe it encourages more girls to enter traditionally male-dominant disciplines. But it does so at the expense of fairness and merit. It creates the perfect tool for fostering resentment.

So I argue, no.

The prime example that pops into my mind is a conversation I’d overheard from a former high school classmate who had been discussing the more famous AMC / AIME / USAMO math olympiads. I forget the exact details, but the general idea was that she and her brother were provided the same resources and had similar scores in one of the math competitions, but she qualified to the next round while her brother didn’t simply because the cutoff was lowered for girls during one isolated occasion in order to encourage female participation.

She didn’t think it was fair for her brother.

And I agree.

It’s where, “look—my achievement, my grades, my hard work!” backfires, and it’s where resentment grows and has the potential to undermine both parties. It’s also where, “You only got XYZ because you’re a girl” becomes a half truth.

The reasons driving these merit-based adjustments and diversity quotas are something I wholeheartedly agree with: We should encourage girls to go into traditionally male-dominant STEM disciplines and increase the diversity of perspective in the field.

I just don’t know if I agree completely with the implementations our society currently has in place to systemically tear down barriers to entry. Nor do I have a clear answer for a way to fix it.

Not to mention, this topic is further complicated by the question of whether environmental factors generally encourage more boys to enter STEM fields than girls, which could potentially be a reason for the disparity in the first place.

Who knows? Either way, it warrants deeper, critical discussion than a lot of blanket problem statements and surface-level solutions I see today.

Random rooms and hallways generated using the BSP algorithm — Iteration 4

“You only got into Berkeley CS because you’re a girl.”

Now, back to the aforementioned quote.

Perhaps you’re sorry I, and so many people I know, have had to hear that at some point in their lives. Don’t be. As I mentioned earlier, I understand where the potential resentment comes from, and why.

Perhaps this is a hot take that few are willing to express, but I acknowledge — this gender stuff really isn’t fair for anyone.

I know neighbors, good friends even, who didn’t get into their desired XYZ program, while other less-qualified candidates have, on the basis that they were males and thus less favorable in the selection process. In this sense … yes — in fields with traditionally less women—a girl might be chosen over a boy to encourage diversity, given they have similar qualifications. I’d throw my hands up in exasperation too.

But again — double-edged sword. Nothing really is fair.

I have yet to hear a case where my male counterparts have been told that they only got an achievement “because they’re a boy.” When they achieve, no one will question whether gender played a role. Yet because of pre-defined notions of females having it easier, some people isolate, ostracize, and downplay any and all merit-based achievement from the opposing gender. It’s certainly not the majority people that do this of course, but it’s enough people where it becomes a problem.

I recently chatted with a friend of mine, who was warning me about a Berkeley tech club that I had just joined (the name of which I won’t disclose). She was on its project team at one point, which handles coding projects for clients, and told me how the project lead never took her seriously — let alone even let her touch the computer or allow her to explain her ideas. He’d ignore or interrupt her whenever she had something to say.

Then funny enough, one day her boyfriend came with her to the project meeting, and the project lead listened, respectfully, to every word he said.

To put this into perspective, her boyfriend had far less CS experience, no clue what was going on, and was actually just there to say hi.

My friend, meanwhile, is a Regents & Chancellor’s Scholar (top 1%), and now conducts NLP research at the Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Research Lab (BAIR) … as a freshman.

The specific case my friend shared above was ridiculous, rude, and it sucked — most people would probably not experience this outright. But it’s an unfortunate reality that manifests in more subtle, subconscious ways.

A study in 2012 by psychology and cognitive science students at Princeton (graph shown above) illustrates that given the exact same resume with names changed to reflect male versus female-sounding names, both male and female professors rank female-sounding names to be lower on average in terms of competence, hireability, and mentoring capacity.

Are these subconscious biases the reason why things like gender quotas exist? Or are gender-quotas and other societal constructs fostering these subconscious biases? Or is it a gray area, with causation going both ways?

And perhaps more importantly — how do we combat it?

Random rooms and hallways generated using the BSP algorithm — Iteration 5

“Oh, my son didn’t get into Berkeley because he’s not a girl.”


“Oh, you got into Berkeley CS, but that’s because you’re a girl. [My son] didn’t get into Berkeley CS because he’s not a girl.”

I often replay this conversation I had with that one parent inside my head, and think of all the things I should’ve said in my response to—in colloquial language—roast the hell out of him.

Oh, are we really playing this toxic mindset comparison game?


Let’s both pull out our academic transcripts, SAT scores, awards, whatever else you need for your little college rat race ego, and compare. Based on what I’ve heard from my old elementary school friends, I already know who’ll have the last laugh.

But would that one instance have mattered, if in so many real-world contexts outside of the bubble that is school (and sometimes even within it), we have to make double the effort to prove that we’re capable in the STEM space just because we are perceived to have an advantage?

Random rooms and hallways generated using the BSP algorithm — Iteration 6

“You only got into Berkeley CS because you’re a girl.”

Most people I know are lovely folks, and this lousy correlation of “because you’re a girl” → merit is a silly, one-dimensional concept that’s generally, wildly untrue, not even worthy of permeating into normal everyday conversation.

And I’m so grateful for that.

But just know that in the real world, these microaggressions happen. All the time. Often in different flavors of course, like the different iterations of rooms and hallways I’ve been generating through this article. But every random room and hallway generated up until this point hasn’t really been random — there‘s an implicit, quite systematic method of creating them. Just like how every offhand comment really isn’t that random or separate. The microaggressions are interlinked in this one common umbrella we call human bias.

And it’s why (1) gender diversity programs exist in the first place, and why shared spaces are needed, and powerful, regardless of whether you agree with the concept of (2) diversity quotas and mixing gender diversity with merit or not. (I certainly don’t agree with the latter concept.) It’s why I voluntarily choose to help run programs like CS Kickstart — a community I absolutely adore.

Because in the real world, when you’re a girl, everything you do in environments like the tech space might be undermined by those few bad actors who tell you—and if you’re not careful, subconsciously ingrain into you—the idea that:

“You only got into [XYZ] because you’re a girl.”

And it’s important to have community spaces that are consistently, wholeheartedly there to remind you otherwise.

Thanks to S.A., C.P., D.K., E.G., & A.C. for their lovely feedback on this piece. Credit for the random room generation implementation goes to my awesome project partner S.A., myself, and CS61B’s Build Your Own World Project Spec.



Carolyn Wang

CS, Stats, + PPL @ UC Berkeley. Writer, musician, triathlete, & explorer. More about me: