I am team leader on FRC team 3216 (MRT 3216). To be brief, our team has always had a culture that encompassed white males, and we are not sure why the team has drifted towards that. We have always welcomed people from all backgrounds. In the past, our team has tried diversity training (presentations and videos), but from observation, most do not pay attention. We also have recruited female mentors not only to help the team, but to provide role models for females (not directly however). Many of our female mentors are very involved in the team.
Is there a good way to start rebranding and shifting our team to encompass all, and not just white males? Our team wants to diversify, advertise that we are diversifying, and that we welcome everyone and all their ideas (especially during these times). We don’t just want to recruit women, but also those of the LGBTQ+ community.
Our team is far from perfect but are pushing to be more diverse.
Something that we did over the past year to try and help with our gener diversity was recruiter more female mentors, specifically those in STEM fields. I think this was a really positive thing, because it gave our female students a role model and example.
I did want to say that we have female mentors, and have had them for quite some time. We are looking to rebrand our team, and create a dynamic that encompasses all. We will look to recruit more however.
It’s always lovely seeing when folks are looking to be more inclusive on their team. It’s fairly common for teams to gradually shift to represent the “STEM demographic” you outlined given the perceived lower barrier to entry, ignoring the comparatively higher one for others who don’t fit that falsely stereotypical “mold”. Any team willing to admit that things aren’t ideal and need to be worked on is taking the right first steps.
Could you go into more detail as to what that has entailed? It sounds like you’ve potentially got a good start there already, and I’m curious to see how your work on that might’ve diverged from ours.
It could be a question of how you are presenting the team to the student body. Robot demos might be fun and entertaining, but for many people with limited experience with tools it can look like “something I could never do”. As a result, they don’t sign up and find out that it’s something they can learn.
Making a bigger emphasis on “no experience needed” can help with that target audience. This audience includes girls, who typically don’t spend much time building bird houses in Boy Scouts or helping their dads with repair projects around the house - activities that would make them feel comfortable using tools to build something. It includes families where the parent(s) may work two jobs or second shift and thus have difficulty doing some of that hands on stuff with their kids. And best of all, it doesn’t push away people who would have joined anyways, because even they will be able to recognize that they have something to learn in order to build a robot!
Building a low-commitment option to get them in the door can help, too. We run a summer camp each year. You aren’t signing up to be on the team by attending, and it’s 100% aimed at people who don’t know what they’re doing. Everyone goes through and spends time with each sub team (electrical, mechanical, programming, and business) and does a project with that sub team. The projects are designed to introduce them to the tools we use and get them comfortable working in that area - essentially, to break down that “I could never do that” barrier. It helps students find what they like, see that the team has a helpful and welcoming atmosphere where they can learn to do anything. And then they join up for real in the fall!
Well it sounds like you have quite an awesome crew of mentors then. That said, there still are going to be situations where subconciously we say or do things that “other” people. Consider what a new student might hear or see at a first meeting that might alienate them, with the understanding that the things that make you feel unwelcome may not be what make others feel unwelcome.
As a hypothetical, let’s entertain a:
Say in a “first meeting” of some imaginary team, I saw a bunch of students using power tools and generally keeping to themselves. I’ve never been in a robotics shop before so I want to ask questions if this is the right place, stuff that the flyer didn’t make clear. If the people in the shop kept not looking me in the eye and being evasive, would I feel welcome and want to come back?
The answer is of course not, but that’s fairly clear. But with more nuance, what if I’m the one girl on the team and everyone keeps talking about it as an all-boys team, or “the guys”, etc. I’d feel fairly forgotten, even if it’s many small things compared to one blatant one. A culture is both the individual and the sum of your actions, and they accumulate like stains on a painter’s shirt.
Can you think of situations you’ve seen where people on the team have been “othered” and made different or separate from the rest of the team? That’s a really good starting point, but a difficult one for sure.
Jon raises a very important point. At it’s core making the space more accessible to underrepresented demographics of any kind is always about breaking down barriers to availability. That includes culture, it includes how your team is perceived to outsiders, how your team reacts to newcomers, cost barriers, conflicts with other activities, and generally just availability of those individuals you want to make the team friendly towards.
You’ve captured a fairly important thing about diversity training - unless people want to change, they won’t. That’s why culture has to be ingrained and not an addition. To put it more bluntly, the culture of team has to reflect inclusivity in everything it does, it just has to be ‘the way the team is’, not distinct from it.
Trying to give people a chance on the team isn’t one massive change, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by even asking the question, it’s many smaller ones. Given all of that, some food for thought:
How can you make the team more inclusive without potentially tokenizing people?
What pre-existing habits, cultures, or behaviors may alienate or other those who want to join the team, or push them away once they’ve joined? Is anyone being relegated to a stereotype, unintentionally or otherwise?
What barriers may exist to keep those who are different out that may not have been considered yet?
Where do you most “lose” people in the recruiting process, and can you put more effort into that part to increase odds of success later (like Jon’s example of the summer camp)?
Our team is thinking about the best way to recruit, and this is extremely helpful! Our team welcomes anyone who is willing to learn.
Our team has been thinking about doing summer camps. We have had a lack of funding, and we have not been able to put one on. However, in the future, this may be a great opportunity (especially without COVID).
What sort of demographics are represented in the non-robotics friends of the team members? Are they also mostly white males? Often, people join the activities their friends are taking part in.
I have noticed that it is not just girls who often don’t have experience making things with their hands now. The “no experience needed” approach that @Jon_Stratis suggested would be a good starting point. A similar angle would be for team members to say “I never knew how to do X until I joined the team”.
Not all of your team members need to be on a path for STEM careers. One of my sons and several alumni of local teams have gone into business school. One of my best friends from high school and university went into business and restores antique cars for a hobby. On one of my sons teams, there was a student who wanted to become a doctor so learning to build an program robots was not something he did to help him on his career path. The school did not have any of the traditional shop classes and he wanted to be able to use basic hand tools and power tools. The robotics team was the most convenient way for him to gain those skills.
Our summer camp is two weeks long, for 3 hours in the evening mon-th. It actually doesn’t take much to hold - $20-30 per person. We make use of scrap material to help keep the costs low, and keep the projects small.
Do you have a team mission statement and core values? A mission statement tells your team what you are doing, while core values tell you how you do it. I haven’t seen anything to help with developing a mission statement, but one of our MC’s, Yoji, holds core value workshops for teams. You can learn more about those here: https://firstuppermidwest.org/training/core-values-workshop/
For what it’s worth, my team’s mission is to “inspire girls of all ages to incorporate STEM into their lives and to revolutionize the perception of women in STEM”. our core values are curiosity, integrity, compassion, perseverance, and confidence. We have examples and definitions that get presented to the team each year of how we fulfill each part of our mission, and how our core values impact us individually and as a team.
Image and brand are how you look, and while that can impact how you act, it boils down to language, behavior in and out of the shop, and fighting internal biases at every turn, and being willing to as a whole admit blame if you slip up to keep improving. For example, using “y’all” instead of “guys and gals” to be inclusive to potentially closeted nonbinary students, not pushing people of a given gender into any subteam or activity on the team, not making jokes that may seem funny to you, but could definitely be found hurtful by others are all potential improvements you may be able to make. Hopefully if you’re leading by example, hopefully others change their behavior too. This is part of why I asked about your mentors, as it’s entirely possible that bringing the topic up with them may enable them to help you set the tone and conversation in a way the rest of the team relates to and understands better.
It may be a useful exercise to ask “How would this conversation have gone if this person was the total opposite of the person I spoke to”. I remember the first time I was aware of that I presumed some girls on the team were on the business subteam the guilt that ensued. It ended up being correct, but only because they have previously been boxed in like i had done to them, and they deserved better.
I mean, the only comparison that matters would be the makeup of your team versus the makeup of your school. If, for example, 80% of your school was White, I wouldn’t really fault you or your team at all for having a large percentage of White members. If your team was even more diverse than your school, that would be great, but it could be very hard to achieve. If you want to expand the diversity of your team, I would suggest approaching some of your friends or people you know that aren’t on the team who would enjoy being a part of it while adding diversity.
You also should make it known to everyone that FRC Robotics is about more than, well, Robotics. Maybe you could recruit more members who were interested in design, business, teamwork, and other important aspects of FIRST was well.