Engaging women in FIRST

I have been reading the posts in the “Girls on Teams” and it has got me thinking. There seem to be a lot of teams that have a good male to female mix and who also do a good job of engaging the women members and providing a nurturing and rewarding experience. However there also seems to be some teams where that is not the case.

From what I have seen of FIRST teams in my short time as a mentor, I cannot really believe that this is because of some active attempt to keep women out, or force them into stereotyped roles. However, a robotics team of all or mostly guys could be fairly intimidating to new women members and might easily become a self sustaining situation without an active attempt to turn things around. And I doubt many teams in this situation are likely to have much of a clue what they really need to do to change things.

Perhaps we can work to turn this around by sharing some best practices on engaging women students (and mentors, coaches, etc.) into FIRST. What has your team found that that helps? Or have you found things that should really be avoided? What have you found to be the best practices in encouraging women to get involved with FIRST and making sure they get the most out of the experience.

Here is one thing to get started. Last week our team had an open house at the orientation for next years Freshman. As I watched the interactions between the students, I noticed several women stop by our information table who looked like they might be interested, but when asked said they did not know anything about robots and were not really interested. At that point if a male student tried to convince them to sign up, or told them how great robotics was, they seemed to have a low success rate. However, if female member of our team said “you should really at least try it, I didn’t know anything about electronics or robots when I started, but no one does at first, and you learn a lot,” that seemed to make a big difference.

So, I did not get a huge number of data points, and I do not know if that technique was what made the difference, but who knows. In any case, have other teams found good ways to help break the ice so to speak in getting women involved in FIRST, or making sure they have a positive experience?

Did you try having a male member of the team say this? I’m curious as to if it was successful because it was a female saying it or because of what was said. I’d imagine a female member saying it would make it more relatable, but I’d also think that having a male member saying it would put some girls at ease and maybe break some assumptions in the process.

When I was on the team, I’ve seen attempts to get female members involved in areas populated by males (certain subteams, for instance). The attempts I’ve seen weren’t too successful, as the females either weren’t interested in the position or there was simply someone who was better suited for it, but it had nothing to do with the fact that they were females.

In terms of joining the team, I’m not really sure. We’ve always had a pretty decent ratio.

Are you asking about getting girls specifically to join the team or getting them involved in the mechanical/design/STEM etc facets of the team?

In terms of specifically joining a team, I think this thread is a great example of showing why some girls on CD initially joined:
The funny part is, my response in the thread is only half the truth. I honestly joined mostly because I had a crush on a boy…yeah that’s right I said it. I’m partially still involved because I have a crush on a boy…but that’s a different story.:rolleyes:

I think having a girl at the recruitment events is certainly key. I remember attending one a few years ago and meeting two of the greatest and brightest high school students I know. They told me the first year on the team seeing me at the robotics table was enough to take the “intimidation” factor away.

Whatever my reason for joining or sticking around, that is not the reason why I am obtaining a degree in Mechanical Engineering in May and working as an intern at Walt Disney World’s show control engineering department. What got me engaged was the environment created by my mentors. I came up with projects on my own that I had ownership of, regardless of what else was going on with the team. Because I had that internal drive to lead a team of students to do something mechanical, like build a drive train in the off season, and work on the robot’s end effecter my senior year, because there was a particular ownership of the project I felt like my contribution was valued. I think there is a 50/50 balance between individual and the culture of the team.

A few years ago myself and another ME student from my school attended a “girls night out” at a local school where only the girls from the team attended, and they got a chance to learn about drive trains, the design process, what its like being a female in “the real world” and they got to take turns driving the robot. Having one night just to themselves was enough to ask questions without feeling stupid or intimidated.

This thread, although started for a different reason, about all girls teams, has A LOT of good insight about women on FIRST teams, all girls or not. I learned a lot from many people I look up to, and you could certainly gain insight:

I know not a lot of teams have the capacity to do this, but I think 842’s example a few years ago regarding “leaving the boys at home” was a great way to let the girls take the reigns and get more involved with less “pressure”

I might be biting my words soon here, but I think one of the most detrimental things to engaging new girls on a team is…well…other girls. I remember being a freshman and being openly bullied by the senior girls on the team. It was bad. Instead of there being an open and encouraging environment, it was territorial because we girls wanted to be “the girl” and not just “one of the girls”…If that makes any sense please bear with me.

Ultimately I think its about the culture that we foster. Find a skill that a girl is particularly interested in or good at, give her her own project and let her run with it. If shes genuinely inspired, she will succeed. That can be said about any new student though. :slight_smile:

Actions speak louder than words. It helps a lot to have female role models - this could mean female mentors or older female students in roles of responsibility. If younger students see older women being taken seriously and treated with respect, it makes it much easier to envision themselves in that position. Even if a team is not actively excluding women, they still send a certain message if they have few or no women in prominent roles.

Wow Kim thanks,

Those links will keep me busy for a while.

By the way, I was asking only to see if there were new ideas out there for improving engagement. But I do not think our team has any particular problem. We have many women on the team, several hold key positions, and they do not seem to get segmented into non technical areas. But of course you can always do better and should always be looking to share good advice.

With our team, recruitment primarily happens through our summer program. It’s a two week program with 8 meetings, where new and old students get to come to the build space, learn about what we do, and build something they can take home (usually a kit of some sort). We take the time to draw up precise instructions that include investigation stuff to help them understand what they’re doing, and focus a lot on helping them through it so they don’t struggle too much. Once they have that experience, they’re hooked and want to come back for more.

It’s a nice, low pressure way to get them involved without asking them to sign up for a major commitment like the build season right off the bat.

Our team has tried several programs to get more girls involved in FIRST.

Probably the most successful way that I’ve seen is starting girls in robotics in elementary school. We had a few all girl or mostly girl FLL and JFLL teams last year. I started robotics when I was ten and have followed FIRST from FLL to FTC to FRC. This year we’re considering doing a sort of “summer camp” and hopefully we’ll have a nice turnout of girls.

Another reason girls join teams is if their friends (usually girls) who are on a team push them to join. When I’ve tried to convince my friends to join I’ve always tried to point out the different roles on our team. Even if a girl doesn’t start out in an engineering role she may be inspired by other girls on the team to go into engineering (as was the case for one of my friends).

Of course there’s always the possibility that a girl joins a team because she has a crush on one of the guys or her boyfriend’s on the team, but from what I’ve seen girls who join for this reason usually turn out to be valuable members (even if they don’t go into engineering).

Most of my friends that I’ve talked to about joining my team have said no mainly because “I just don’t think I’ll fit in” or “I’m not smart enough” or “I’m not into engineering” or even “It’s more of a guy thing.” I’ve always tried to point out that there are many different roles. Although our main goal is to encourage engineering there’s always something to do on our team. No job is too small and all members of our team are appreciated.

Excellent point. And I do know that our team needs to do more outreach. We are lucky to have several female students right now that make excellent role models. It would be a shame not to take advantage of that.

So in response to your idea that having girls at recruitment, I definitely think that in our culture, having a mix of both guys and girls is crucial. Generally, girls tend to give off the vibe that if they can do it then so can you, regardless of your gender. Also, I think that women have an easier time connecting to other women because they just want to fit in, whether they are still in high school or are coming on as a mentor. Once you get a girl talking, the CRITICALLY important point is making them feel important and wanted.

For example, when I joined the team, the one thing that I DIDN’T want to do was mechanical. Guess where I ended up? I didn’t really have any friends in that subgroup, nor did I really have too much desire to build things with my hands. However, the lead mentor at the time made it his mission to make me see what I was missing by banning it based on the gender who dominated it. He succeeded. One of my friends had a very similar situation with electrical.

Just having a mentor call you over and genuinely be interested in your skills and teaching you things is vastly more important than anyone’s gender. A girl is the worm on the emotional hook, but what will always reel someone in is applying to human nature’s need for acceptance and recognition.

In my opinion, this is exactly the case. Few / no teams actively actually ban women from joining, but it’s a subtle, cultural thing one should be constantly aware of.

So, I did not get a huge number of data points, and I do not know if that technique was what made the difference, but who knows. In any case, have other teams found good ways to help break the ice so to speak in getting women involved in FIRST, or making sure they have a positive experience?

842 did something pretty extreme back in 2008 and 2009 - for one of the three regionals they attended each year, they only brought female students. I’ve always thought it was a novel idea, though not necessarily the kind of thing one would want to directly copy. Here’s a CD thread about it.

Try not to become a team that has “the girls” stick to the non-technical tasks. It’s really easy to go “I don’t know this stuff so I’ll just do Chairman’s”, for a boy or a girl. But as a mentor, as tempting as it may be, I think it’s a good idea to mix things up a bit with students and to get them to abolish their preconceived notions. After all, when I started FIRST I was convinced I wouldn’t touch the robot and I’d just type code. Yet now I’m more passionate about mechanical stuff.

I feel very negatively towards an all girls robotics team. Either it’s what I experienced before or whatever, but all girl teams tend to get really clique-y, especially if it the best-friends doing it together. I am happy with a mixed team because it forces you to work with other people and it was really fun because to work with people I never thought I would’ve. It might have just been the girls on the team too, but it was a bad experience altogether.

Getting more girls on the team, is hard. Really. Everyone is just low on self esteem and when you introduce robotics… it’s just a whole new concept that’s too hard to grasp. I basically just bug people I know to join :smiley: and if they have a good reason not to be on the team, them I leave them alone, but otherwise, they have to give it a chance.

We’ve always had 30%-50% female student membership on our team, but haven’t done anything specific to garner it. Our recruitment philosophy has always been one of, “find geek (or aspiring geek), give wrench, disregard gender”. Perhaps it works well because we’re a very small town; not sure on that one.

Want to get girls in the shop? I’ve noticed that treating them as competent individuals that are no different from boys works pretty well.

One of my mentors from 1675 once said to me “I don’t see you as a girl and I don’t see them as boys. I see you all as team members.”

This method works pretty well, as I was involved with non-stereotypical roles. The team I currently mentor also used the same idea and the only girl on the team is heavily involved with the robot. She was the one who wired up the entire thing.

“you should really at least try it, I didn’t know anything about electronics or robots when I started, but no one does at first, and you learn a lot,”

Being from an all-girl team, I do not have much experience with recruiting boys, but I have been part of many a conversation where a version of the quoted line is the ONLY way to convince girls to even considering joining.

My question to you is: Why should girls feel comfortable when joining a robotics team? Especially FRC, one of the most, if not the most, technically advanced high school competition out there. Many of my fellow team mates were raised with barbies, American Girl dolls, and ballet classes as the ideal. Many girls that know very little about FRC will see it as amazing, but out of their reach, because they have never been given any method of achieving something like it.

The above quoted line works, because it is the start of girls seeing that it is possible to join the team with no previous knowledge. I would suggested going on to mention how EXACTLY new members are shown the ropes. That way the idea becomes more tangible and possible in the recruit’s head.

I feel very negatively towards an all girls robotics team. Either it’s what I experienced before or whatever, but all girl teams tend to get really clique-y, especially if it the best-friends doing it together. I am happy with a mixed team because it forces you to work with other people and it was really fun because to work with people I never thought I would’ve. It might have just been the girls on the team too, but it was a bad experience altogether.

I cannot say that my team is perfect, but I can say we are not clique-y. With 22 girls on the team, we started off barely knowing each other and end the season like sisters. It all has to do with the team.

Though we are an all girl team, and I cannot emphasize this enough, girls graduate the program being confident with speaking and working with many different people; the image that stands out to me the most is of one of our smallest, quietest members discussing design with a very large burly machinist. Being from an all girls school, we do not have any other option than an all-girls team. FRC is a chance to work with boys at competition, while hosting rookie build sessions, and by working with male mentors. We are exposed to new people, perhaps not always during build season, but at the VERY least for the ~10 days we spend at competition each year: better that than nothing.

Sorry for the long post, but being a girl within FIRST has changed my life. I have worked with everyone from teenage boys to machinists and professionalism welders to company executives. I dread the thought of a girl not joining because the wrong things were said during recruitment.

Here on 88 we have an abundance of female members. I think we have 21 this year which is awesome. For us getting people involved is pretty simple, we have a whole pre-season training period where all the rookies can learn how to use the tools properly. A lot of the girls on TJ are well versed on all of our power tools. I have found if you ask “do you want to learn” the response is yes most of the time. So I would say getting girls involved is easy just make the initiative to ask.

Very good point, and it is something we have been doing this year that seemed to make a lot of difference. However I would hardly say it is easy. Many teams only have one or two mentors and they are likely to get extremely overworked during the regular build season. Trying to sell much of a pre-season can be quite hard in that case.

This year we have a great coach who has been successful in getting us a few more mentors so we have the resources to do more outside of the regular season. We had a much more involved off season than previous years and I think that really helped all of the incoming students. However at the mentor thank you breakfast I got a chance to talk to some mentors from teams with only one mentor with no engineering experience. I would really like to also find some advice to offer teams in that situation as well.

This thread has been interesting to read as other peoples perspectives and experiences help shape ideas and add detail to ones understanding.

I have been asked to participate in a Women In Technology panel discussion on “Energizing the Next Generation” as a result of my participation as a mentor in FIRST FRC over the last 14 years. It would be nice to show up prepared with real data on the impact of programs such as the ones from FIRST.

Does anyone have or know of any data collected on the FIRST programs showing participation rates, college attendance, or other metrics over the last few years to show the impact of these programs? If the data had a break out by gender that would be good but not required.

Perhaps someone can point me to the right person at FIRST who might have such information already assembled.

As a mentor my focus has been on inspiring the next generation independent of gender. Although, over the yeas there has been some focus on encouraging different communication styles as impacted by gender. For instance, teaching the students how to seek deeper understanding of other’s points of view before making their own points and suggestions. Additionally, the use of the Socratic method to help others understand your points and concerns instead of using words that would put others on the defensive instead of collaborative approaches. And how to be aware when you may be trying to make your point through assertiveness and dominance instead of clear concise and factual communication.

So I will put this out to this group:

What has your team done to inspire women in technology?
What are the benefits and drawbacks to female only teams?
What actions have you taken to increases communication based on gender differences and what was the impact?
What challenges have come arisen on your teams do to gender, how did you deal with them and what were the results?

In short what experiences have you and your team had that the attendees to a panel discussion on Women in Technology - Energizing The Next Generation be interested in?

Thanks in advance,
Joshua Lynn
Engineering Mentor
Team 423 - Simple Machines
Wyncote, PA

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