Girls on FIRST teams

This thread: touched on, but didn’t answer a lot of questions regarding the role of girls on FIRST teams. I’d like to start a new thread where teams can share their stories about how they handle having girls without needing to focus on 842 or listen to boys whine about hypothetically being discriminated against. (Boys are welcome to share their insights, or describe actual discrimination, but please stay away from “well, if that happened on my team…”)
I’ll start:
I am one of two girls on team 1418. However, as a result of almost entirely female efforts the robot was programmed, the drive train was designed, the grabber was built and the underclassmen were corralled. We did this without anyone feeling the need to “give us a special opportunity” or “let us work without having the boys in our way” (when we were the only ones in the shop it was because we were the only ones who dragged ourselves out of bed at 10 AM on a Sunday, not because the boys were stepping back to give us a turn).
I, quite frankly, find it patronizing when people congratulate me for pursuing engineering because “there just aren’t enough women in math and science.” It makes me feel like they think my abilities are only noteworthy in the context of my gender, while I would like to think that I would be considered smart no matter who I was.
This is an issue I’m interested in, and I’m curious to hear insights from girls on other teams.

I’m not sure this is exactly what you wanted but I’ll try. We are an all girls team and have found it difficult to recruit members. Many girls at our school are just not interested in engineering. At some of the competitions we have gone to, the predominately male teams have been surprised by our ability to perform well. It is great to see more and more teams with many and all girls. Hopefully we can convince more girls at our school that engineering is not just for guys.

I can understand why FIRST or any other major engineering/science/math specific organization would be glad that more females are getting into the field, but honestly, I say that regardless of gender, as long as you can perform the task, go for it. We have several females on our team (Most are in fund raising division, none in programming, and a few in manufacturing), and I believe them to be equals to myself or other 675 members. In my eyes, there are very few limitations for people (these apply to everybody):

-You must know what you’re doing.
-You must know what certain tools are used for/what tools you need (one of the freshmen asked me what a philips screwdriver was… I forcibly removed him from the shop. And yes, our team does training sessions to try and prevent this).
-You must keep a channel of communication open. (675 has had communication issues in past years, they were minimal this year, which is good)

Oh, and I’m a dude. Not that that should matter much.

I’ve been part of our team for its entire three-year history. The first year, it was just me and one other girl. We gained three girls the next year and all three stuck around this year, so we’re about 1/3 female I guess.

One girl is very involved on the programming team. Myself and another girl are in charge of awards submissions. The other two do a good bit with imagery (buttons and designs and such), and all four of them are WAY involved in our ever-evolving scouting program. We all help a bit with the manufacturing aspect, some more than others.

I’ve been the team’s drive coach since our rookie year (my freshman year), and I’m the team “rules expert.” I personally never had anyone say I shouldn’t do something because I’m a girl (aside from occasional good-natured teasing), nor have I ever had special treatment because I’m a girl. Gender has never seemed to be an issue one way or another on our team.

I don’t QUITE agree with this. Now, don’t get me wrong, when I got into first I knew what a hammer was and what a wrench was for, but if someone asked me about gear ratios or speed in feet per second I would have looked at them like they were CRAZY! I don’t think it’s important to know WHAT you’re doing, as long as you’re willing to learn. AND, I don’t think it matters if you know all the tools you are using, as long as you learn how to SAFELY use them.

As a rookie team in 2003, I was the ONLY girl. And, frankly, it didn’t matter. What drew me into the program? It was the spirit, the energy and the excited faces on the students I had seen a few years back (1999). It wasn’t about the ROBOT, or about whether I was male or female, it was about getting to compete in something that was just SO cool. We have trouble on our team recruiting and retaining girls. Yes, sometimes it’s because of discrimination against steretotypes, but sometimes it’s simply that the girls aren’t as interested. This is stereotypical, but if you walked into a shop class, you’d see 9 times as many boys as you would girls.

Girls have been put on a pedastal by the media; to wear skirts and have painted nails. Not to get dirty and greasy and put together a functioning machine. Yes, we have girly girls in FIRST. Yes, we have girls who want nothing more than to rewire the pneumatic tubing match after match.

If you want more girls, exploit that fact! FIRST is for EVERYONE! Want to get more girls interested in engineering? Bring them into the program because of something ELSE they’re interested in. We got a new student on the team this year that joined because she liked making posters. Now she’s an influential member of our media committee, and I’m sure she knows a thing or two about robots too!

Those first two don’t sound too promising, if you plan to have team members with no prior experience (i.e. most high school students). Being able to satisfy those first two things requires a bit of context, a bit of intuition, and most notably, the ability to ask the right questions. But not having those things at the outset shouldn’t be an impediment to having the opportunity to learn those things.

The freshman needs to know what needs to be done (this is distinct from the idiomatic ‘he knows what he’s doing’), how to perform it, and why this is the case. If he doesn’t know, while it might technically be his responsibility to educate himself, it makes a whole lot more sense to give him whatever assistance it takes to make him understand, than it does to simply kick him out. Think of it as in investment in his future abilities. If you just kick him out every time he asks a dumb question—and is it actually dumb, considering the state of his expertise—what incentive does he have to continue to participate, and what good are you doing for him? Now he’s not just wasting your time, you’re wasting his.

Similarly, even experienced people don’t always know some trivia regarding a tool. If I’d asked you to pass me a 3/8" R8 collet, would you have known what it was? (It’s the thing you use in a Bridgeport-style mill to hold Ø3/8" cutting tools.) Odds are, if you’d told him “a Phillips screwdriver is the one with a four-pointed cross and a tapered tip”, he’d have had both incentive and context to cement that piece of knowledge in his mind. And he probably knew already that such a thing existed, but didn’t know its name. Instead, it seems that he earned a trip outside.

The third point is universally good advice, and probably the most difficult to implement. Communication isn’t just telling the new members “this is a Phillips screw, this is a Robertson screw…”, etc.; it involves responding to their particular questions and needs. If the freshman can’t ask a simple question, then it seems that communication could stand to be improved.

We, as a team, have grown quite a lot over the past few years in terms of female involvement. Awhile back, the team started a female recruitment initiative, and it really paid off. We’re quite proud of our 60/40 male to female percentage. While not all are involved in the mechanical section of team involvement, many have been introduced to the joys of engineering through FIRST.

We are lucky enough to have many female coaches, and an engineer who serve as role models for the girls on the team. I may not have contributed to building the big robot (as I’m more of the single member of the web team), but my interest in engineering was spiked enough so that I bought a VEX kit and work to build rather complex VEX 'bots in my spare time. I now work over the summer with two of our coaches helping teach a robotics class to 8th and 9th graders in an advanced studies program. This would have never come about if I had not joined the team.

So there may still be the view where the women take the homely jobs and the men work in math and science, but that’s changing…fast. Because of FIRST, and similar programs, more and more females are being introduced to these exciting areas. We should never be told we can’t do something because society says so. (We are women, hear us roar!)
We can only hope that this growth in interest will continue far into the future.

I also have to add that we are quite lucky to have these opportunities. Women in the 50s and earlier didn’t have much of a chance to experiment in any scientific fields. In the present, women can be anything they want to be, including scientists, politicians, and even engineers. Wonderful programs like FIRST plant that seed in the young minds of the future. Even if these minds don’t become great engineers, they could cure cancer, discover how cell signaling specializes young cells to make organs and tissue, or help people live longer and healthier.
FIRST is the starting point, the point from which we all start and all make our push towards a bigger and brighter future.

I’ve kind of gone off on a tangent, so I best stop. :slight_smile:

I’m not sure that’s what people mean. I have seen this sort of comment made to girls on my team, and how we’ve always taken it is as follows.

Girls and boys should have equal opportunities, however, they should not be treated the same. Girls and boys think differently, have different learning styles, and process information in entirely different ways. Being in a room with a mixture of male and female engineers, and our female students, you can tell that they approach problems differently. I went from a co-ed middle school to an all-girls high school, and there is a marked difference in the learning styles. Our brains are different. This being said, a huge part of what my team tries to do in inspiring girls with this program is to not only give them equal opportunity, but to bring the different thinking, the different processing into the open. We believe that boys and girls can create really cool things separately, however, it’s when both processing styles, both brains come together that you can create something truly amazing. We take the comments such as “there just aren’t enough women in math and science” as compliments, that we’re needed, our brains are needed. I don’t think it has anything to do with basing intelligence only on comparisons with your own gender, it’s a positive assessment of your choices and how you’re bettering society by bringing a female perspective to a male-dominated field.

I’ve always loved my team for their female involvement in the team. Every year we’ve had atleast one female captain (me this year) and not becuase we made sure of it but becuase they were just always voted in that way. Also every year that team 166 has been around the faculty advisor has also been a female.

We prided? ourselves in past years for our 19-20, male-female ratio. The last few years have been hard to recruit new females seeing how the group of us on the team now have been friends since elementary school so, um, all of our friends are there already. We still try to recruit new friends we meet but most of them just think we’re crazy for wanting to get our hands a little greasy.

A lot of people look at my life and at the life of the other captain on the team and claim that FIRST takes up too much time. This also makes it really hard to recruit new girls. A lot of times though we’ll have people visit our shop during build season and they’ll see how much the girls on our team actually do, we have some in every aspect of the team except Pro-E which consists of two males.

I also have a different view on FIRST than most people. See I don’t want to be an engineer. I want to own a daycare or be a first grade teacher. FIRST is actually helping me to do that in some ways. You meet a lot of different people at competitions and other things the team might do and you have to be able to get along with these people. As a teacher you meet different types of students and you need to be compatible with atleast most of them. The leadership skills that i’m learning from being captain also play into if I actually succeed in owning a daycare i’ll have to be able to control the environment and the other workers I may hire.

I try to explain FIRST in those ways to other girls but no one else seems to get it.

Tiffany George
Team 166

My team has more girls than boys (this is our rookie year) but it seems as if the girls are so much more passive and the boys do most of the build. The girls however are the only people who program and they control the robot and won’t let us put on the sensors we need for our defensive autonomous

I’m part of team 1002, the CircuitRunners, from Marietta, Georgia.

This year was my first year on the FRC build team (I’m a sophomore). Also, there are two other girls on the team, also on their first year. Last year, I got into FRC after being on another build team fall semester, and being allowed the opportunity to spend Championships in the pit area (doing Chairman’s interviews). However, I had a lot of chances over those days to observe the build team (and help with some quick fixes before matches :smiley: ). So, the next year, I applied to be part of the build team.

First, I’d like to say, I go to a magnet school for math, science, and technology, so my perspective may vary from others, given that we already have a more “male-driven” environment. True, engineering and science have been predominately male fields. However, there’s no reason that girls can’t participate.

I’m all for encouraging females to participate in the FIRST program at any level. However, I do notice that sometimes females are given special treatment. As a girl, I do not like this practice. I feel that things like this should be merit-based. Even a person has no experience, if they have a willingness to learn, that’s whats really needed. Also, girls sometimes think differently, and can provide different perspectives. Equal opportunity should mean equal opportunity - it should be up to the individual to decide whether to take that opportunity. However, I do not see the point of “forcing” girls to be interested in science and technology. It’s fine to offer opportunities to girls, but asking one to do something that one isn’t really interested in…maybe the statistics get higher, but it this really what we’re going for?

Since all of the girls on our FRC build team were new, we didn’t have a lot of experience. We had some introductory sessions, but they were mostly concepts and theories, and working with the FVC kits. This year, I was a programmer, and worked on a little mechanical. I had little prior knowledge, such as using a bandsaw, and the little C syntax I learned at the sessions. When I was done with my part for the day in programming (either we had written code and didn’t have anything to test on, or another programmer was working), I would go to the mechanical area and inquire about what they were doing. I think I did well for my first year in trying to understand the broad fields of mechanical and programming for FRC.

I skimmed the thread that was linked at the beginning, and the issues of confidence came up. One of the judges asked me this question when we were just casually talking right before awards ceremony. He asked whether it was hard being in this kind of environment. I believe that working in a co-ed environment was better for me. I was very shy the beginning of my freshman year, and even though I didn’t know much, I worked on knowing the rules and started speaking up. I do have some comments come up from people on the team and those outside of the team about how odd it was for a girl to be interested in this, all good-natured. However, some girls may need a little push to get them to speak up and bring their own perspective to FIRST.

I’m not the main part of the team. They will not ‘fail’ if I, or the other girls, or any individual member does not participate. But I believe that when girls are more active, there is a better mix of perspectives. Chairman’s, Build, Engineering Inspiration, Technical team…It’s all about doing what you’re interested in. Attitudes also can change.

As a reply, yes, it sometimes bothers me when I’m only compared to other females. But one just has to strive to be the best they can be.

please excuse the rambling. It was a spur-of-the-moment, just-let-the-thoughts-flow thing :slight_smile: ]

My opinion/story. I’d love to hear more, this is an interesting topic.

i believe that it should not matter the gender of a person but rather their ability. I also think that their how advanced their ability is should not be based on their gender. i find it incredibly annoying when they say that a woman was the first female to do something because someone already did it and in my mind just by mentioning that they were the first woman to do it is degrading their accomplishment.

and overall i thin kfirster are generally accepting toward this.

just my 2 cents


In my six years in FIRST my team has always leaned towards having more girls than boys but this year was the first time we had more boys than girls.
We encourage all of our kids to work on the robot. To help with the promotion of th eteam. To participate in team spirit and to reach for any goal they think they can achieve regardless of race, creed or sex. The last couple of years our coaches have been girls but the last girl driver we had was Adrienne back in 2002. The Lopez boys just have a stranglehoild on the job. Can’t argue with results.
I cannot think of any job that is geared towards the students (leadership roles and finances are handled byt he adults) that is denied to any of them. You cannot inspire them if you don’t enable them.

A 10th grade girl on 696 designed the frame, wheels, and drive system, and performs routine maintainance and inspection and the occassional repair on it as well.

Speaking for myself, I know that it probably would have taken me longer to find out about the robotics team at the high school, had it not been for the invite I received to participate in VEX at the IRI over the summer of 2005. As soon as I walked into the room, I was excited. I had never heard or seen anything like it before. I love math and science anyway, so I was intrigued. The point of this, however, is that I know I would have finally wanted to join at the high school, but it certainly would not have been in my freshman year.

After the summer VEX, I joined for the pilot season for the team they decided to start at our middle school. I was in eighth grade. Our team also invited some of the members of the VEX team to observe during the FRC build season at the high school. I was privileged to be able to take advantage of this opportunity. I knew I loved it and I was able to learn a lot, simply by having that time to watch, and feel out what everyone was doing.

All of these things made me feel more comfortable in this area and I had no problem adjusting to the high school team.

I think that if robotics and the FIRST programs were introduced to girls before they got to high school, they would at least want to investigate it and see what it is all about. Not only girls; it would benefit everyone to be informed about these programs beforehand. I know that it helped me and I’m sure there are others that feel the same.

Despite these efforts our team has made, we still have about 8 girls and 26 guys. I don’t feel under-represented or anything, simply because our team doesn’t treat the girls any differently when it comes to being involved with the robot. I am appreciative of this; I have never been one to like special attention, especially the boys and girls thing, because I don’t feel like either gender has an advantage over the other. We all learn, and have the opportunity to learn. Boys aren’t naturally born knowing all about math and science, and girls don’t come into the world educated on fashion and style and those types of things.

Of course, I’m not the girly girl, but still, I know that it takes the will and desire to want to learn to accomplish anything. It just depends on what you’re interested in, what you’re willing to learn, the time you’re willing to commit, and opportunities you’re willing to take.

I don’t think the girls on our team share your opinion of patronism, but Katie is almost certain to be captain next year. (We’re having our election tomorrow cross fingers)
While not involved in the actual building of the robot most of our girls exemplify the other aspects to a robotics team. Katie is currently the head of our Scrapbooking sub-team and continues to make fantastic documentations of our year. They work with talking to judges and organizing some community events.

While they are not actively involved in the robot itself they are almost solely responsible for our image and representation of our team (along with one other female mentor)

They don’t find it demeaning when commented on, but also don’t see their role (and neither do we) as really separate from the team or as if we have allowed them any opportunity. They simply saw what they wanted to do in our team and made it happen.

The girls of 842 have commented on their experiences on the differences between when they attend regionals as a co-ed team and a regional as an all girls team.

This thread has brought out some interesting things as well.
Take care All.

I’m the chief mentor to 1311 Kell Robotics in Marietta. We are the team just down the street from the well known 1002 CircuitRunners of Marietta.

I could write a book on the issue of girls in robotics but I will try to hold it to a few key points. I also think the Kell - CircuitRunners (Wheeler High) scenario is a great study in two perfectly valid, yet very different ways to run a team.

Wheeler is an engineering and science magnet school. They draw students from all over the district, including our school, Kell High School. Their students are more likely to enter a team with some technical background and experience. Many FRC teams are like this, with experienced members working hard to do most if not all of the robot design and build, and the students take great pride in this. And rightly so.

The team I mentor is managed a little differently. A poor comparison would be like how a Habitat for Humanity build site is managed. If you have ever done H4H, you will see that you really don’t have to know anything about building a house, in order to build the house. There are people working to make sure that the volunteers get to work immediately upon arrival.

We do several things to recruit and retain girls. First we talk about retention. Once they arrive in the shop, we immediately put them to work building or creating something. It is important that the senior team members, team leaders, and mentors keep the ball rolling so this can happen. You are trying to create a member that is “vested”. If they leave that first day having built or contributed something, they are much more likely to return to make sure someone doesn’t screw up their work, plus the general satisfaction of having really made something cool and different probably for the first time in their life.

Doing all this requires a few things of mentors and senior members. They have to allow the newbies to make some mistakes and burn up some material. They have to really be on the ball and provide bite sized tasks for the students to accomplish daily. It is also helpful to pair up mentors and high experience team members to mentor to the newbies and let the newbies do the work. That can be a little tough for high experience members to do.

You have to allow that you may not make the perfect robot. After all, what is your goal? To make the perfect robot, or have an impact on peoples lives? There is a tendency to make the robot the goal of this exercise. The robot is a lot of fun, but isn’t the real reason FIRST exists.

I have to tell you a story here, a very important story. Because of our team goal was to seed 10th or higher at the regional. We also chose to not be a super bot, but just do something, anything well, and we also choose to spend time focusing on other things.

Because of this, we built a simple reliable rampbot. We seeded 9th, and was a regional finalist. It was because of the KISS principle. It required zero maintenance during seeding and during the elimination. The only thing done was we riveted a simple stiffener bracket between seeding and eliminations. The robot was so simple, we could not hang tubes. So it was do nothing and be a ramp, or try some defense. We tried defense, and got so good at it that we shut down some very awesomely powerfully tube hangers. We had a tube hanging gizmo but threw it aside 2 days before shipment. If we had kept our tube hanger on the robot we would have fiddled around with that piece of junk and distracted ourselves trying to play offense and wound up not doing anything well.

But back to your point, what started as a group of well mentored atomic operations executed by totally inexperienced newbies evolved into a well disciplined high performing team. The team leadership is entire girl. The robot is 2/3 built by girls., as is the team membership.

Closing back to the top of this posting, we started with the goal of immediate engagement, by having newbies start out building or doing something simple, and step by baby step, moving forward until we arrived as a regional finalist, with a Chairman’s Award, and the UL Safety Award. It is a form of project management that gets you there. Don’t overwhelm newbies with inexperienced newbies with challenges way more difficult than they can handle. The senior members/mentor need to handle that but always with the goal of raising up newbies into new senior members.

At the beginning of our build season, much of the team didn’t even know what a crimp connector was or the difference between a bolt and gear. At midseason, they stopped and spent a 14 hour day mentoring to another team to build their robot and get them caught up equal to us at that midpoint. No chalk and talk, but hands on intensive learning. Our students were mentoring to students from another team.

I’m getting way off point here, but we are giving a presentation at the FIRST conferences in Atlanta this Thursday at 12 noon in Room C307 on the issue of recruiting girls into robotics and engineering.

From the conference notes, here are a things to think about:

VESTING: give newbies an opportunity to go home that very day and say “I made something really cool” (it has to be cool in their mind, not yours)

THE JUNGLE: like the jungle guide might say, when you invite a girl to attend a meeting, tell them they might get to see a real nerd, but don’t worry, they are harmless

GUEST DAY: Invite girls to participate in a wide range of no-obligation one day team efforts as guests or affiliates.

MENTOR/COACH: Mentors need to make sure that newbies are not swept aside or ignored. Much like H4H, make sure that newbies do something rewarding and constructive.

ASK: Asking a girl to try robotics sometimes works. Putting the robot in the school lobby is not an recruiting effective tool.

SCHOOL SUPPORT: Ask the school to have a different teacher attend the build session every day, so that a lot of teachers will see what is going on. Teachers can be effective career influncers and motivators for some students.

NUMBERS: In a typical high school music program like band and orchestra, only 5% enter college with intentions of a music related major. Many robotics organizations recruit by inviting students to be an engineer. That is a little like asking a girl to marry you when you should be asking her out for a 1st date to go to a movie. My point is stop trying to turn them into an engineer at first contact.

You want to get them involved at a level they can be comfortable with. At best maybe they will get a PhD in engineering. If you do this right, maybe at worst they will have a total blast, and become a lifelong supporter of FIRST and education as it relates to science and math, etc.

Let’s run some numbers. If you have 20 members on a team, the most you can get is 20 engineers. If you treat these 20 members as future career influencers, the effect is exponential. Each member will statistically influence 2.3 to hundreds of kids in the future, potentially creating hundreds of engineers.

TRIBALISM: Considering using the brand image of the school to support the team. With all due respect to our friends at Wheeler and many other schools, Kell has draped itself and promotes the school brand image. Same mascot, colors, cheers, etc. Just like football, soccer, and all the other sports.

Checkout this link:

sorry for the rambling essay but it’s late.

I want to EMPHASIZE one thing here. I and the other mentors didn’t not build the robot. We taught, and mentored and discussed and argued and cajoled and use the Socratic method and the Flowers method and the Barker method, but the students built this robot.

We don’t claim to be experts in anything but you are welcome to attend the FIRST Conferences at noon on Thursday. There is a fee to attend and tickets are available at the event from FIRST.

The roles that you described are what our girls do traditionally as well and have been outstanding at doing it. In our “little experiment” we wanted the girls to try all the roles. It has been expressed to us over the years, that while they liked doing their “traditional” roles, they wanted to try something else. So we did and we learned a lot!!! Basically co-ed teams are not treated the same as all girl teams by many people, at least that was what we observed.

Hmmm, sounds familiar (happened in my own life!) However, do you think they may gain an interest in building the robot if they were given the chance? Also, if they don’t accept the offer… “encourage” them to get involved in some design aspects? Girls are not likely to argue with guys over design, they want to help out where they can, but think… they joined a ROBOTICS team. They are already so close, don’t let them miss out on the chance to discover themselves.

Not picking on you specfically, see my posts in the other thread. As a “marketing/program” girl in FIRST for five years, only now discovering that robot design and machining is fun and my design ideas are original and worth something… my new purpose is to make sure the girls on FIRST teams also get the chance to be inspired, and don’t sell themselves short like many women in this world do.