black woman in silver dress with glasses smiling behind a MacBook

On being a woman learning robotics

[Photo credit: wocintechchat on flickr.]

It’s a truism: Robotics–well, STEM in general (science, technology, engineering, and math)–is dominated by boys and men.  I knew this intellectually: men and boys are the ones in the news, nearly all the time, and the pushback in some circles to women’s and girls’ involvement in tech is loud enough that it reaches even my tech-unsavvy ears. I didn’t really get it on a gut level, though, until I started this project of learning electronics.

Being the only woman in the room during techy events and gatherings is something I notice, but don’t particularly mind, because like most people, I’m used to thinking of these things as guy things, and I just shrug it off. My parents have always nurtured my geeky side–my mom hit the roof when I chose Jazz Ensemble over calculus, and my dad is this guy. So I push back with humor, tolerate the mansplaining, and move on with what I want to learn.

Then the “make me a sandwich” jokes start. Again, I am not emotionally scarred or anything, and I push back with humor, again, but it sure makes me think that if I were a new young tech-loving girl, I wouldn’t feel welcome in those spaces.

There is good news, though. Tech in general and robotics in particular are getting more attention from organizations and individuals who see the obvious benefit to not excluding the majority of humans from such a dynamic and fast-changing field.

There are some great movements and orgs out there that make me happy to be a newbie woman in tech. Here are just a few:

IEEE Women in Engineering

Women in Technology (based in D.C.)

The White House’s Women in STEM initiative

And here are a few recent articles that talk about this phenomenon:

Robohub: 25 Women in Robotics you need to know about

STEM dolls for girls

All-girl robotics team

Robot clubs draw girls into science

Let me issue a gendered challenge to you:

Men and boys: Invite a woman or girl along to the next geeky STEM event or club meeting you go to. Don’t assume they don’t want to learn or play along with you.

Women and girls: Go to a local robotics club, makerspace, or electronics expo. Go alone or with friends of any gender. Learn a lot. Blow the world away.

Nonbinary folks: Get out there and learn to make things great, and support women, nonbinary folks, and people of other genders who are in STEM, learning and making and doing.

And if you’re in Southern California, let me know and maybe we can do some of this together! Just fill out the contact form below and we can be each other’s partner in making women in STEM a normal thing rather than a remarkable phenomenon.