All Girls Teams, We need to talk

I have noticed a pattern with a lot of all girls teams where they typically are led by or have heavy involvement with male mentors. This is essentially telling every girl on that team that they could not find enough women to mentor their team and all the engineering positions are best held by men. I don’t see how this is a welcoming environment for women at all.

As a woman, the idea that I get from this is that men are needed for a robotics team to succeed. While I do not think this is true the heavy involvement of male mentors in an all girls team is drilling that into the minds of young girls across the nation.

1 Like

Just pointing out the OP is the same user that posted this energy drink thread. While this might be a worthwhile discussion to have, i do not believe the user is posting this thread in good faith based on the previous thread.

59 Likes

As a male mentor of an all girls team we would love to have your ideas on how to improve! I would like to think our team environment is welcoming of women mentors but realize that I can’t really be the judge of that. I know I would gladly welcome an outside perspective/review on how we could get better!

We all agree that we NEED female mentors that can be a role model for our girls. As a newish team I don’t think we have had any past team members graduate college yet, but I am really hopeful that some of them can come back and mentor after college. Just having them show up occasionally especially at the beginning of the year (over their Christmas break) means a lot.

11 Likes

This is a bad take. I don’t think this is a problem. It’s a symptom of a problem at best. Even if it is a problem, what’s the solution?

More girl engineers (that eventually become mentors)? That’s presumably the point of having all-girls teams.

Less male mentors? That doesn’t solve anything.

No more all-girls teams? Need I explain why this one doesn’t work?

Alienating male mentors from all-girls teams is not a great way to promote that style of team.


You can make this argument if there is even a single male mentor on the team.


I honestly don’t like the concept of all-girls teams. I think my argument for why is in the same (unhelpful) category as the argument presented by this post:
I think all-girls teams promote the idea that girls aren’t capable of succeeding in a mixed gender environment. They don’t teach girls how to engage in mixed gender workplaces, or how to be confident in themselves when they are in toxic environments (even if those environments shouldn’t exist). I think they sidestep the real (societal) problems for the sake of an easy feel-good solution.

Does that miss the point of an all-girls team? Maybe, but there are other (potentially off topic) problems I have with all-girls teams and other gender segregated activities.

13 Likes

If this account is secretly a PsyOp to force CD to have discussions about hard topics through strange trollish posts, I think I might be OK with that.

The energy drink thread generated some top-quality advice for teams that definitely have analogous experiences to the one presented in that thread.

9 Likes

What about having an all girls team from an all girls school? I think it make perfect sense. At one time the school team was combined with an all boys team but I think having the team at the school has given many advantages.

8 Likes

Well that one is pretty obvious haha. I don’t have any implicit issues with all-girls teams from all-girls schools.

I don’t like the concept of all-girls schools for the same reasons I have for all-girls teams. Understandably, the problem there wouldn’t really be the team, it would be the school.

Separately, I do have issues with non-community teams (and that concern extends to teams that exclude people that don’t meet certain requirements due to their identity). I wish every team would expand STEM to any interested student. Understandably, there are many reasons why this isn’t possible because the vast majority of teams are school based. I myself mentor a school-based team. (Given the right circumstances, I’d also mentor an all-girls school-based team if the opportunity presented itself.)

For those reasons, I don’t really have complaints about all-girls teams that are based at an all-girls school.


Also, I specifically presented my issues with all-girls teams because they miss the point. The teams (or schools) aren’t the problem. The problem is a toxic socitey/culture/institution that results in people feeling like they need segregated safe spaces.

3 Likes

As a male mentor for an all-girls team, I can say that you are right about the perception. It’s easy to make such an observation when having limited visibility into how a team works. Getting into my wayback machine, I want to tell you how I went from being “just a mentor” to being a mentor and a volunteer.

Our team started in the fall of 2016. At the time, we had about 10 mentors, 3 of whom were female (two of those were teachers at the school). None of us really knew what we were doing, like most rookie teams. We got through the season and graduated about half the team. The following year was much the same, now with half the team having experience and the other half being rookies - but not freshmen. They were almost all seniors. Our third year we basically hit the reset button, this time focusing recruitment more on freshmen and sophomores. That brings us to 2011, the first year I volunteered.

That year, our students approached us at the end of the build season with a request - stay out of the pits. We had students who had been on the team for 3 years at that point, and they were much more confident, and the extra time on the team made them more capable than we had seen previously. They wanted to prove to us, to others at the event, and to themselves that they could handle things without male mentors hovering over their shoulder. So, we started volunteering instead.

Today, we have 3 male mentors and 5 active female mentors (a couple more who haven’t been real active lately as well). All of the male mentors volunteer - LRI, Head Ref, and CSA - as does one of the female mentors - Pit Admin. This impacts the perception at competitions.

The real trick is to say… Why do males outnumber females as mentors in FRC? It’s because that’s simply the demographics in engineering at this point. Those are the demographics many of us are trying to change. We see girls start out just as interested in STEM as boys, and then gradually lose that interest as they grow older - largely due to social pressure and advertisements. Did you know that, at one time, most computer scientists were female? And then the PC was advertised as a toy for boys, and all that changed very quickly, almost blocking out girls from the field entirely. But I digress. Even those girls that make it through high school and go to college interested in STEM encounter social pressure. Once they make it into the workforce, they encounter social pressure.

I would love for there to be an equal number of male and female mentors in the pits at competition. I would love even more to see that diversity represented across all teams - the impact a female mentor can have on the girls she works closely with over the course of weeks is going to be so much greater than the impact she has just being seen at competition. Lets try to solve that problem first, and once we do, we can look who should be working with each team. Until then, I welcome every team to find the mentors they need to be successful in their mission, and lead their students onto bigger and better things.

20 Likes

I don’t mean to be harsh but I don’t know why your opinion matters? Are you a girl?

To me if a team feels more comfortable and is better able to fulfill their mission as an all girls team then who are you as an outsider to tell them they are wrong? Have you lived their perspective? I know I haven’t and absolutely can’t make any of the comments you have.

5 Likes

It doesn’t, and I’m not. I am, however, a male mentor that does his best to promote and support the girls on his team.

I am not poo-pooing on the efforts of all-girls teams. They aren’t wrong. I haven’t lived their perspectives.

I will say that my perspectives aren’t informed only by my own experiences (and also I brought them up specifically because they miss the actual problems, but this is already derailing so I might as well lean into it). This year I spoke with my team about trying to be more active in the Women in STEM community (both to boy and girl students). A few of the girls on the team expressed that they weren’t really interested, for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons was that the concept didn’t make them feel empowered, it made them feel alienated.

Understandably, this doesn’t align with everyone’s experiences. As another male mentor, you should be able to understand that excluding men from Women in STEM related conversations simply on the basis that they aren’t women isn’t very helpful to the movement.

Also, without saying too much, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume someone doesn’t identify as a woman. Speaking from personal experience, people may fear transitioning because of the societal biases against their gender identity (in addition to the societal biases against trans people).

2 Likes

OP, I empathize with your mentorship debacle. My former team, while coed, didn’t have a female mentor until my junior year, which assuming we didn’t have one prior to me joining as a student, took 9 competition seasons to have any join our team’s mentor base. I understand the perspective of how hard it can be to see yourself progressing both in FIRST and in STEM as a whole when you can’t maybe directly relate to mentors. I know as a student, having female mentors around helped my mentors feel much more approachable beyond just being a “teaching” resource and I hope, whenever I feel I have the bandwidth to be a mentor, I can be as impactful of a role model as they were on my FIRST experience.

I think many of the points Jon outlined are unfortunately why more of us aren’t mentors per se. Women in STEM make up just 27% of that specific workforce and being that FRC is it’s own niche of STEM, it’s unfortunately no surprise to me at least that there are less of us as mentors. As my own anecdote shows, lacking female mentorship is not just an all-girl team issue, but rather something on the larger scale of FIRST we all can work in improving. One thing I recommend, regardless of the type of mentors your are looking for, is reaching out to your sponsors’ employee base to see if anyone would be interested in helping mentor. Otherwise, if mentorship is too much of a time commitment, see if they are open to speaking about their path to their job and any advice they have to team members considering pursuing STEM.

11 Likes

I keep trying to figure out how to say this politely, but watching a male mentor allegedly conclude what is (ostensibly) “helpful to the movement” of Women in STEM is…discomfiting.

13 Likes

Fair enough, it isn’t my job to determine what is and isn’t helpful for Women in STEM.

But I’m allowed to have an opinion on it, and my opinion is that that particular form of interaction (like your message) isn’t helpful.

I’m an ally to the girls on my team. I want them to feel comfortable in STEM and feel valued on the team just as much as any of the boys on the team.

I don’t think the way to make that happen is by using someone’s gender to tell them that they shouldn’t have opinions on something.

5 Likes

So regardless of OP’s intentions, I think there’s good things to be chatted through here.

Disclaimer - I help manage a team of people from very mixed backgrounds. I can’t speak to the specific case of “all-girls team”. But…

For anyone to feel welcomed in a community, they need to see clear examples of how they can join and become productive members of a community.

A really easy way to make sure this example exists: have people that look and act like them actively participating in the team already. Easier said than done.

A secondary option? Have people who, while not the same as the folks you’re trying to attract to the team, can interact well with them, associate with their common fears and concerns, and still establish themselves as behavioral examples of how to participate in the community.

How to address issues of participation? First, identify your team goals - who are you trying to attract? Then, find the existing mentors (or recruit new ones!) who can best model how you want those “attract more” groups to interact in your community. Have them act as role models to be the on-ramp for others.

The good news - it’s a exponential growth equation. If you can seed the team with a few on-ramp examples, they’ll attract a few more. Who attract even more. Who attract a lot more. Your efforts multiply. The bad news? It’s hard to seed it well. It takes a very excellent individual to be an on-ramp for others in an otherwise alien environment.

Find those excellent individuals, and keep them around. That’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.

15 Likes

why? I don’t think it’s reasonable to let gender bind the validity of someone’s thoughts especially when it can be fluid. To the extent that men have no say in the happenings of an all-girls team, should all AMAB people despite identity also be silenced because they did not grow up the same? Assigning identity to the value of someone’s thoughts is exactly what the idea of an all-girls team is trying to dismantle…

3 Likes

As a mentor it quite literally is your job

1 Like

Hard disagree on that one. It’s my job to work with the girls on my team to figure out what’s helpful for them, leaning heavily on what they want and think will be helpful to make them more comfortable and successful.

5 Likes

FWIW I shared a lot of these reservations as a student. For context, I was a student on multiple coed FIRST teams, and now I mentor an all-girls team from an all-girls school. My experience with my most recent team has completely changed my thoughts on this topic.

I don’t think I can adequately describe just how much of a positive impact the all-girls format has on the empowerment and confidence of my students. The difference is profound and I have been very shocked to witness it. In hindsight, seeing the difference has led me to re-evaluate a lot of what I internalize as “normal STEM culture”. The difference is so stark that if I were ever raising a daughter and they were trying out a new interest in STEM, I’d be hard pressed to put them in coed programs over girls-only alternatives. And that’s coming from a place of wanting them to be comfortable and successful; I think a certain amount of base confidence is required in today’s world to put up with and survive (let alone thrive) in STEM as a woman, and from what I’ve seen all-girls programs are a great mechanism for providing that to students.

18 Likes

Pretty sure the identity-based valuation of an opinion started back here, actually:

If the statement had been, e.g. “I feel that excluding male opinions wrt Women in STEM simply for being male is inappropriate, but what do you think?”*, I would’ve concurred, as long as they don’t drown out marginalized voices, which systemically they will without intervention. That was my intervention, because the statement wasn’t presented as an opinion; it was a conclusion (a correction, even) of “fact” — and one based on a conversation between two men, specifically based on being men. I found that to be hindering, and considering women are outnumbered like 2-to-1 in this thread, I said something.

*Or much better even, this, so I really have no problem with @Aidan-Mundy in sum:

4 Likes

Finding a place for an appeal to a common identity is hard, especially when that is an identity of privelege. It can be valuable when done properly.

Particularly in this context, I try my best to think “as a person” in my head rather than “as a man” (and then follow that up by removing it completely from my statement because affirming that I’m a person is somewhat redundant). I clearly failed here.

Saying “as a man” excludes people with other experiences, and does exactly what I’m preaching against: provides value to an opinion on the basis of gender. Not to mention the very true note that, without pointed intervention, priveleged voices will drown out those of marginalized groups.

It’s clear that “as a man” is not, and was not, an appropriate turn of phrase in this discussion. I will do better next time.

Conversely (inversely? transversely? I can never get that right), saying “as a woman” is appropriate in this context because it is an affirmation of lived experience, rather than purely using the associated identity as the support for the argument.

Thanks @Siri for seeing that my heart is in the right place.

1 Like