Over the 10-plus years I’ve been involved with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), I’ve seen a lot of amazing things.
As a judge at this year’s FIRST international championship in Houston, I witnessed something that made me both proud and even more determined to keep doing what I’m doing: I saw many female-only or female-majority teams.
In fact, as I looked around the pits, I felt there were more females under the age of 18 (competing) than over 18 (volunteering).
So that’s why I’m writing this post and encouraging more women to volunteer with FIRST: We need all students to see STEM as a career for men AND women, and for the female students to see themselves as future mentors, coaches, judges and referees. And the best way for the students to see these futures is for them to engage with female role models today.
Good Start. Now, More
I’m 44 years old. When I was in high school, FIRST didn’t exist. I didn’t have the option to be on a robotics team, much less have an all-female robotics team.
I didn’t have the option to meet a real female engineer or learn about engineering from a real engineer. I wish FIRST had existed when I was in elementary, middle or high school. I think of all my friends who might have also taken a STEM career path had they known more about their options and saw more role models who looked like them.
Every day, I talk to people, especially women, about getting involved with FIRST to be the role models these students need. The students need to see us, they need to talk to us, and we need to help them understand what a STEM career looks like, what it can offer, and how they can succeed.
FIRST has the ability to increase the percentage of women in STEM careers, just by having more women volunteers show up and engage with students.
Closing the Gap
With each passing year, we are closing the gap and more girls are interested in STEM. It’s slow progress, but its progress nonetheless.
In less than a decade, when these 18-year-olds are 28, or a seven-year-old is 17, the work we do now will encourage them to mentor teams and judge competitions, so the next generation will see that girls can pursue STEM and they can change the world. In a very short amount of time, we can amplify our efforts.
This doesn’t “just happen.”
It takes personal, community and corporate commitment.
When I spoke to the Society of Women Engineer’s Corporate Partnership Council — this group meets three times a year and shares best practices on recruiting, retaining, and advancing female STEM talent — Jay Flores, my company’s STEM ambassador, and I shared our FIRST stories.
We talked about how our coworkers who are engaged with FIRST have higher employee engagement scores, and we all tell stories of higher personal satisfaction in life because we know we are part of inspiring the next generation that will change the world.
Jay and I encouraged these companies to promote volunteering at FIRST events as a corporate outreach activity, and to especially encourage their female STEM talent to volunteer. Being a judge at an event is a great way to start.
This is where thought leadership truly shapes the future. FIRST is one of the best ways our company – and your company – can encourage every age group (FIRST has programs for children as young as six).
And it’s the best way we can build a STEM-ready, diverse workforce eager to take industry and automation to new heights.
We are inspiring young minds. Join us.