By: Julia Reid
B.R.E.A.D. Robotics has worked hard at building robots, but now they need to work at shrinking their gender gap.
The December 2017 opinion piece titled “Club’s Gender Gap Needs To Go” caused quite a bit of argumentative discourse in d.tech’s robotics community. The article brought up some good points concerning the ratio of females to males in two of d.tech’s largest clubs: d.Leadership and Team 5940 B.R.E.A.D. Robotics. While points about both clubs were discussed, the majority of the article focused on the robotics team. The gender gap in STEM and related fields is a well known phenomenon, and not exclusive to B.R.E.A.D. While industry statistics mirror the gender disparity in B.R.E.A.D., this does not excuse the team’s lack of effort in solving this issue.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 24 percent of STEM workers are women, despite women making up 48 percent of the workforce. d.tech’s robotics team has 50 male and 15 female members.
That seems like a very reasonable statistic on the surface, but here’s the issue: only a fraction of members actually show up to the robotics work sessions. In February, the tail end of the build season, around 15 males came regularly, compared to only 3 females. This means that only 20 percent of the active robotics members are female. But this statistic isn’t the real problem – it’s that the robotics team isn’t doing anything about it. When asked if anything is being done to improve the gender gap, senior robotics member David Boles said “We haven’t done anything about it, we haven’t even talked about it as a team.” In the original article, Robotics Coach Wayne Brock stated that an effort was being made by the team to bridge this gender gap and that it was a “high priority”. However, if the team itself has no knowledge of the efforts being made, then clearly those efforts are not going to reach potential female applicants.
“We haven’t done anything about it, we haven’t even talked about it as a team.” -David Boles
Some members of the team are flat out ignoring the issue, or dismissing it as something that cannot be fixed. The team’s head of Human Resources, junior Cyrus Kanga, said “People on the robotics team are saying the gender imbalance is being corrected, but in reality nothing is being done.” He professed to thinking that the battle is pointless, because ultimately you cannot force people to join a team. Others believe the issue stems from a more overarching problem. Junior and Finance Lead Asa Bensaid stated “The core issue is that our team is bad at recruiting new members, regardless of gender.” However, the fact remains that there are far fewer females than the ideal 50 percent, or at least 40 percent to reflect d.tech’s overall demographics.
B.R.E.A.D. and other robotics teams, as a smaller organizations with a more direct impact on its community, should be the ones to take the next step in encouraging young women to explore STEM. As senior logistics lead, Sofya Shatlalova put it: “From a recruiting perspective, it would have been beneficial for our team to recruit more females, not only in order to gain a better reputation on that front, but to encourage more [female] members to join”