Robotics week begins at home, building geek stuff with my kids and visiting Tech Shop and the Homebrew Robotics Club open day. However, bringing up the next geek girl generation is a troubling responsibility. Is there really a future for my daughters in technology?
The reality is not so bright AND it’s not changing any time soon. Across the board, the number of women in most of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) has actually been declining since a brief flurry of feminism in the 1970s. The areas which have achieved parity are math and the bio sciences. While there is a drop off of both male and female interest in computing/engineering, robotics is a growth industry and the gender disparity is still huge.
At this point, it is customary to point out the successful fantastic women who are in the industry. Well, keep looking. Marissa Mayer, the pin up girl for business engineering success was quoted last week as being optimistic about the future of women in technology.
“It’s important to send the message that you don’t have to give up your femininity to enter a space like technology,”
This week, she’s been dropped from the inner circle of Google. Which sends the message endorsed by Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook recently on TED, that women have to change in order to survive. This troubles me. I remember that Nicola Horlick, the British SuperWoman financier who had it all together did eventually lose it all. She’s now struggling with a start up film industry fund. Gartner research has long told us that ‘work/life balance’ remains a career obstacle for women.
What does this have to do with robotics? Child pictured is an engineer born, who plays well with robots, dogs, boys and girls. Middle child is only 11 but refuses to be seen dead in a robot shirt. She understands already that being a geek girl is social anathema, even though she loves designing (note the change of job title!) habitats, buildings and vehicles. This is different to the nerd angst of boys. Boys may still aspire to go from geek to billionaire.
So robotics, it’s time you changed! Women Unplug from the Tech Industry is a good starting place for an overview, duly referencing Maria Klawe and all at Anita Borg org, who’ve devoted a lot of time and thought to this complex issue. I have also written a summary and some proposals for building a gender equitable technological skills base from an Australian perspective.
Robotics week might begin at home but we’re aiming to change the world. Together.