Female Captains and Girls on FRC Teams

Hi,

I’m a female co-captain of an FRC team that is about 1/3 female.
In the past 5 years of the team history, we’ve had 2 female co-captains, including myself.

I’ve found that a lot of girls who do join the team are less assertive, motivated (whatever you want to call it). There are also far fewer females in leadership positions.
This is of course not always true, there are females who join who are in it 110%. And there are males who join who are also passive.
I have also felt that when I, as a female leader, try to be assertive, I get called bossy or catty.
I don’t want to elevate someone just for being female, but I feel this is relevant issue that my team doesn’t talk about. Out of our mentors, 3 are male and help with building/designing/programming, 1 is male and helps with administration, and 2 are female and help with administration.

I feel like when I go to competitions, I see the same pattern. A handful (at most) of driven females on co-ed teams, and the rest are in supportive roles (not that being in supportive role isn’t extremely helpful and useful). There are also very few female mentors, and even fewer technical ones.

I suppose what I’m asking is, does your team have strong female members?
Any female leaders/captains? mentors?
What is your witnessing the roles of females on your or other teams?
If you are a female on a team, what’s your role, how do you feel about it, what do you want to be doing?

Thanks.

Rachel,
There is/should be no difference between members on your/our team. While our female membership varies from year to year, we have females on virtually all major sub-teams except software. (We need to work on that I think) One year, the electrical sub team was entirely female except one guy that spread his time with another sub team. We have had a female on the electrical pit crew for as far back as I can remember. When you are good it doesn’t matter. However, being a leader takes some finesse. There is a fine line between leading and demanding. Learn to read the faces of those you are working with. Ask yourself the hard questions and answer honestly. You are on your way to being a fine leader.
Al

I really don’t think you have a male/female distinction here. On all teams there is a mix between core members and satellite members. Whether they are male or female in my experience is simply chance. For every group of 20 students there are typically about 5 (this of course is not a rule) who become heavily involved with the team. Motivating more students to become heavily involved is what I consider to be one of the biggest challenges in running a team.

Out of our four student leaders, three including the Team Captain are female(one of them is me). Our team has a 3 or 4:1 ratio of boys to girls, but for the most part the girls are more driven. They would only(typically) join the team because robotics/engineering is their passion. We do have a few exceptions, but for the most part the girls are absolutely dedicated to the team. It’s the boys who are more likely, proportionally, to lose interest and return to athletics. Even the girls who don’t work on the robot at all still have high enthusiasm for FIRST. However, men far outnumber women in the mentor department.

As far as team culture, it seems that no one really considers gender. Last year, there was a boy who was irritated that a girl was being considered for drive team, saying that it was a shame our team was coed(at this point, we had only one student leader and he happened to be male. Not sure how he would have reacted to our current leadership setup.). For the most part we ignored his rude comments, and when he saw that he got no attention from them he eventually stopped. He is no longer on the team, however, and while we’re disappointed we alienated someone those of us who were involved are glad that we give the impression of being a gender-neutral team.

Our team is 1/3 female as well. Our overall team captain is a senior girl and our non-engineering captain is a junior girl (though she started out on the mill and lathe her freshman year). Our engineering captain is a male.

Several of our non-engineering subteams are led by females who have greatly improved that side from an operational standpoint. We are lacking in female leadership on the engineering side (aside from the overall captain, who is the most capable student I have in the machine shop)

Of our 20 mentors, only 2 are female, both on the non-engineering side. This is not for a lack of recruiting, though. It’s tough to find mentors willing to dedicate the necessary amount of time to the team during build season.

We have a good number of sophomore and freshmen girls who are very interested in the engineering side and participate actively – they’re just underclassmen and haven’t had the opportunity to lead yet. Several started out timidly, but are learning to be vocal. It’s really different than in past years of the team where the girls would just try to be “one of the boys” since there were so few.

As far as seeing other teams, it’s not surprising that most are male-dominated. There’s a push for culture change to make it a 50-50 endeavor, but that takes time. We’re on our way there, running programs to encourage elementary and middle school girls to try engineering/robotics. I think you have to hook kids (boys or girls) while they’re young to get them passionate about engineering. The female technical mentors will come, eventually, when the girls who are learning to be leaders through programs like FIRST come back to mentor.

The female CEO of a local machining company that produces parts for large John Deere equipment and sponsored us with $2k stopped by the shop (invited by our female captain who escorted her into the room.)

She looked around the room and expressed a bit of disappointment that she didn’t see more females-- there were maybe six or eight kids total. We pointed out to her that crouched around the robot on the floor behind the work bench were two females with their hands in the bot. – and they weren’t just putting on bumpers.

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 :slight_smile: 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).

On our team, females have a huge role…

  1. Our student team president is a female.

  2. Our electrical lead is a female. Matter of fact, 4 out of the 5 members are female.

  3. Our media relations lead is a female.

  4. We also have 3 female mentors.

They aren’t leads because they are “females.” They carry their weight and have proved to the team that they know how to handle business. They are just that good.

I get where you are coming from Jon, but I’m not sure I agree. What I’ve witnessed on 1678 is a strong partnership of male and female leaders in every subteam, with many female team members citing female leadership as the inspiration that encouraged them to take on larger roles as well. While I understand you threw in a “generally speaking”, I don’t believe our situation has to be the norm, and FRC teams shouldn’t throw their hands in the air if they have little female involvement/leadership.

To answer your questions:

We have strong female membership. By the numbers, I think we are about 33% female in membership. However, on every suubteam (technical and non-technical) I can point out a male and a female who are leaders in the subteam. Funny anecdotal note: We just recently acquired one mill and one lathe, and during the build season our most competent students operated those machines. Henry runs the mill, and Nikki runs the lathe. They have been nicknamed “Mill Man and Lathe Lady” :slight_smile:

Our Team Captain is female, and she was our Co-Captain last year. Our Captain last year was female as well. Both of them were on the drive team last year (Captain was the coach) when we seeded first in our division and went to Einstein. Looking forward, I expect the Captain for at least the next few years to be female. Not because they are female, but because they possess the dynamic combination of technical competency, confidence, communication skills and leadership abilities that are required of the Team Captain position.

I wish we had more female mentors! I witness little female mentorship in FRC, and even fewer female mentors in the pits with the technical subteams. I hope this changes, and I’d be ecstatic if some female technical mentors came on board. We’ll see what recruiting we can do from the university (UC Davis is in our backyard). Seeing as many female members on our team have cited seeing other females in leadership as an inspiration, this is important for us.

We hope to host a WISTEM (Women in STEM) conference this spring. Some of our students are putting it together and getting female leaders in various tech and education industries to speak at the conference.

A few months ago, a local regional RPC was debating hosting all female driver/operator/human player/coach exhibition matches between quals and elims at the event. We ran this idea by our team, and the female membership had two qualms with the idea. First, they didn’t want to risk breaking the robot in a match that didn’t count. But more importantly, they wanted to find other ways that in their minds would encourage WISTEM better than an all-female drive team. The conference this spring is a start to that effort.

I can’t take any credit for the strong presence of female leadership in both technical and non-technical areas of 1678. But I can tell you that it has been a privilege to work with the incredibly talented and driven students of 1678, both female and male.

-Mike

Mike - FRC teams can and should encourage female participation and leadership where appropriate. But the bigger problem (females interested in STEM) isn’t going to be solved simply with the students who join the team. Most High Schools (with the exception of gender-exclusive schools) have a roughly 50-50 male to female ratio. Yet female representation on teams is not 50-50. We’d be lucky if we see an overall ratio of 30-70 at a given ratio. The problem is that by the time girls get to High School, way too many of them aren’t interested in STEM because of a lifetime of experience with gender bias. Or they’re intimidated because they don’t know anything about working with power tools while the guys in their class do. Or they’re afraid of going against the mold and being labeled by their peers. That’s the problem I was referring to, and it’s one that we can’t really solve at that point. Starting earlier and changing the mindset of gender roles with regards to STEM is where we fix the problem. If we can do that, then every team will be recruiting 50-50 without even trying.

Got it! Makes more sense now, I definitely read your statement differently then the way you intended. Thanks for the very clear answer!

-Mike

We don’t distinguish between gender because leadership has nothing to do with thee amount of chromosomes in ones body.

Last year, we had a ratio around 3:1 guys to girls. Out of those, five out of seven of our captains were girls. However, many of them graduated. This year, with fewer girls on the team, we have 3 female captains; one is a co-captain (me) and 2 are department captains. I am with fabrication, and I only work with one other girl, which is really sad. I don’t feel uncomfortable though. As far as mentors go, we have only 2 women, and they are both on the marketing half of the team. Maybe when I grow up, I’ll mentor a team on the fabrication side…

Hey Rachel,
I’m a girl and I’m build captain, safety captain, and human player on my team. Our electrical captain as well as all the members of the electrical team are females. Our mechanical captain is female, as are about half the members on the mechanical subteam.
Our drive team consists of three girls and 1 boy, so it is mostly females.
Our team has a male to female ratio of about 2:5, so it’s almost 50/50 but
I honestly don’t think gender has anything to do with how motivated a team member is, I think it comes down to how passionate each member is. The males on your team may just be more passionate/ have different passions than the girls, so that may be why you see them take on stronger leadership roles or work around the robot more.
In terms of your team, perhaps the girls are shy or intimidated by the guys, so maybe team bonding nights (during off-season) could help? That way they could become comfortable with everyone on the team and are more likely to take initiative or step into leadership roles.
Hopefully you can get the girls more involved in the team, but don’t pressure them if they’d rather work on something like business or awards, everyone has a different nook and as long as they enjoy being at robotics, that’s good :slight_smile:

You’ve touched on a really important point here. There is a social stigma against women leadership, especially in STEM, and women ambitious enough to plow through this stigma have to deal with an extra level of scrutiny that men do not. Your earlier point is probably related to this. Women are already breaking the traditional gender mold a bit by joining a STEM club. Seeking out and pushing for a leadership role invites unwanted scrutiny that students, who are still trying to figure out if STEM is right for them, don’t want to deal with.

I don’t want to elevate someone just for being female, but I feel this is relevant issue that my team doesn’t talk about. Out of our mentors, 3 are male and help with building/designing/programming, 1 is male and helps with administration, and 2 are female and help with administration.

One of the effects of social dynamics, the “leaky pipeline” in STEM, etc. is that by the time professionals make it to the workforce, there are disproportionately fewer women in STEM. This makes the challenge of finding female STEM role models to mentor your team very difficult. I can tell you that having a confident, assertive female engineering mentor can make a world of difference in inspiring certain female students.

I feel like when I go to competitions, I see the same pattern. A handful (at most) of driven females on co-ed teams, and the rest are in supportive roles (not that being in supportive role isn’t extremely helpful and useful). There are also very few female mentors, and even fewer technical ones.

I definitely notice this trend too. It’s been a problem on my own team as well. We want to definitely be as welcoming as possible, and from what I can tell our work environment and attitudes aren’t particularly hostile to women, but few end up joining our club. All of our technical mentorship is male, as has every person who has ever been on the drive team. One year, our team didn’t have any female students at all. This year, we have two women on the team, both freshmen, who are some of our most driven and promising new members. I hope we continue to improve.

Teams may be surprised to find that their work environment is more hostile to women than they would ever expect. It doesn’t take a lot, honestly. Tolerating sexist jokes, a lack of role models, an over-willingness to push women into the “administrative” roles (media / PR / etc) are all culprits.

By the way, check out this thread. It’s a very eye opening look at the way female students are treated in FRC: http://www.chiefdelphi.com/media/photos/28120

You can’t just erase the effects of gender on FRC team dynamics because you don’t want to see it that way. This is the kind of thing you have to actively keep an eye out for, as it’s really easy for an organization to subconsciously become exclusive.

Gender doesn’t either? You’re thinking of genetic sex, which is a different thing.

While leadership ability doesn’t depend on gender, the social norms and attitudes that affect how different genders are treated matter. Your team isn’t immune to these.

857 is one of those teams that has had big swings in female membership, and it’s always (well, as long as I’ve been around, anyway) been light (never swinging past 50/50 to a male minority). We’ve usually had a mostly-to-entirely male mentoring group. The numbers are a bit better this year with 3 girls on the team to about 15 guys. Back in 2010?, we had 5 or 6 girls, and the driver/operator pair was two sisters.

Having more girls might be nice, but we can’t fight every battle (inspiring any students, regardless of gender, can be hard enough!).

Males and females have the same number of chromosomes.

On our team, 1939, two of our 3 captains, marketing lead, videography lead, graphic designer, safety captain, driver and drive team coach (who took us to championships) are all girls.

Don’t get me wrong, boys still have prominent roles as well, but essentially every girl on our team has taken a leadership position. They earned these positions, and they do a great job. As with any group of teenagers, there can be drama at times, but everyone on the team generally values the dedication and contributions of others. I just hope we can maintain a strong female presence on the team. We have some good female mentors, but I really have to recruit to keep the numbers close to balanced between boys and girls. As it is, we are about 35% girls now, but a couple of our female leads are graduating this year.

This is actually something my team is super proud of. Female involvement in our team is very high. We’ve had a history of female captains, of course a majority of our history is male captains but this year the girls are really stepping up our game. I’m one of 5 captain on our team, 3 of us are girls. 8 of our sub team leaders are girls too. 26 of our 58 members are girls were really close to 50-50. Our team hosted a girl scout program to get young girls involved in FIRST and STEM. My team never really lets gender get in the way of things. Sometimes there have been arguments that a girl may get a leadership position because they needed a girl to balance it out, but generally my team is super chill and unbiased when it comes girls in leaderships positions. One of our head coaches is a girl, so there’s hope. Our operator his year is a girl, but i have seen a lack of representation of women on drive teams, even if girls are way better a driving :p. If there is a lack of girls being represented it would be in the drive booth.

Unless you have a certain disease.
It doesn’t matter if you’re XY or XX, you’re all the same.

We only have 2 girls on our team, it’s rather awkward because of the amount of men. Testosterone and time constraints don’t go well together. Late nights and lots of work make you really on edge.