To answer your questions directly…
Yes. Our team has several strong female members - one who won dean’s list at Lake Superior last year and one we nominated this year. They both completely deserve it, and they’ve made robotics their entire lives (seriously… first week of build there were two days where school and team meetings were cancelled. The two of them went to other team’s meetings and spent over 30 hours together working on team-related stuff at home!)
Any female leaders/captains? mentors?
All of our student leadership (and membership, for that mater) is female. It helps that we come from an all-girls school We also have 3 female mentors - two who work on PR/admin, and one who works with programming. That’s along with the 5 male mentors we have.
What is your witnessing the roles of females on your or other teams?
I see a disproportional number of females involved with presenting Chairman’s, I’m not really sure why that is. I certainly meet strong female members from other teams every year.
Now that the questions are out of the way… There is a long, cultural difference between males and females that has nothing to do with their abilities. Young boys grow up playing with LEGO’s, building model cars and airplanes, and helping their dad’s around the house. They join cub scouts and boy scouts where they get to use tools (saws, drills, tape measures, screw drivers, etc) to build birdhouses and such. In short, young boys are encouraged throughout their childhood to build and create. Young girls, on the other hand, are given dolls and play kitchens and such - they are encouraged to become mothers and to care for their family.
That stereotyping and cultural difference is something that is changing, but it’s changing very slowly. It’s never more evident that we have a problem than the hype surrounding the new STEM Barbie or the new female LEGO character when each was released. Don’t get me wrong - having them is great and awesome… but it shouldn’t be something that is surprising or celebrated because it’s something totally new after those companies and toys have been around for 50 years.
This difference our culture has imposed on our children is the reason we see so few females entering the STEM field. It’s why I can count on one hand the number of females I went to school with (including those in the years ahead and behind me) who were studying Computer Science like me and the few hundred other males in the department during those years. It’s why we have so few female mentors holding technical roles on teams. And it’s a why we have so few female members on teams.
No one should get ahead on their team because of gender (this applies to both males and females!). Everyone should serve their team based on their merits - technical ability, passion, and leadership skills. By all means reach out to females for recruitment, though - both of the girls I mentioned in the first question started high school thinking they would end up some sort of English Major in college, and they’re both now completely dedicated to engineering (one electrical, one mechanical) due to their experience on the team. They were exposed to something totally new and different from what they previously knew, and they loved it.
But we can’t fix the problem (generally speaking) in FRC. It’s too late at that point. By the time kids get to high school, gender stereotypes have been beaten into them over 15 years of their lives. To really fix the problem and give equal opportunities to everyone, we need to get to kids when they’re younger. Get the girls involved in FLL and Jr. FLL, and continue to support them all the way through FRC into college. Support companies like GoldieBlox, who create engineering-oriented toys aimed for young girls (Disclaimer: I have no relationship with the company, although my team is trying to find a way to partner with them in the future).