We’ve come a long way and …

My 16 year old daughter recently participated in the Western Aerospace Scholars (WAS) sophomore program. She spent 3 days researching, learning and designing a rover for a robotic mission to Mars. What fun!

I was curious about the demographics of her co-participants, specifically, how many other young ladies were participating in the program. Reason for my curiosity; her engineering class last year at school had only 4 females to 20 males. So I wasn’t entirely certain if women were starting to go the STEM route. (By the way, how cool is it that Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, Washington offers its students an engineering class??) In WAS, turns out there were 8 – 9 females and 12 – 14 males. That ratio definitely makes me smile.

I’m really glad to see this next generation of women showing a more active interest in STEM. Increasing the number of women in the STEM pipeline is just the beginning. The next thing we need to work on is equality.

My daughter was excited about the content she learned in WAS. But her experience wasn’t all rosy. They had several group activities. In her first group setting, she was teamed up with a couple of males. One assigned her the task of documenting for their upcoming presentation. She politely handed that task off to the other male in her group. The other group activity sported a couple of males that seemed to think it was their role to assign menial tasks (like counting the parts for the rover) to the females in the group while they took it upon themselves to do the actual build.

My daughter was sort of deflated and annoyed by a handful of males that seemed to think they were somehow superior and in charge. She was perplexed as to why they thought her and her female peers were somehow inferior. The rover they built was done without any sort of planning or group think. She said engineers are supposed to sketch out a plan first and felt that the outcome would have been improved upon if there was more input into the design. Her group won the competition but she wasn’t pleased with the results. She knew she would have approached it differently.

She has often heard me ranting about how women are still treated differently in the tech industry. We’re asked to take notes during meetings or are talked over in group settings. She’s always replied to my rants that it shouldn’t matter – boys, girls – we’re all just people. She’s right. And we need to remind our young men of the future that we’re all equal. We can build a better product if we work together as a diverse team.

I want to challenge the facilitators and teachers of our young students to spot and correct any male dominant behavior. Perhaps diversity training should begin earlier in our education system. I challenge parents to have their daughters speak out and support their female peers. Parents should teach their sons to be inclusive and respectful.

The good news is that each generation has improved upon the previous. My dream is that my granddaughters and grandsons will be treated as equals. Working together as a team, we will actually be sending people (both men and women) to Mars. What fun!

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