I’m a fifth-year FIRST participant. This is my second year on my high school’s FIRST Robotics Competition team. I spent three years in FIRST Tech Challenge, one year in FIRST LEGO League, and was part of FIRST Global Team USA in 2018.
My role is primarily non-technical—in FIRST Robotics Competition, I’m part of our Business subteam, responsible for fundraising and outreach; in FIRST Tech Challenge, I ran the outreach program, engineering notebook, and awards-related endeavors.
And, especially over the years in FIRST Tech Challenge, I am intimately familiar with gameplay and strategy...but in that arena, I am all too used to being overlooked.
As almost any girl or gender minority in the robotics community will tell you, at tournaments—particularly high level competitions like the World Championships—we are all too often subject to the assumption that we aren’t as technically or strategically inclined as our male team members. And it’s incredibly nuanced: it’s the little things, like when a representative from your next round alliance partner comes to your pit to ask about strategy, but approaches a male team member in your pit first; it’s when in a meeting with your elims alliance, you propose a strategy that is dismissed with merely a condescending look but is then, five minutes later, asserted by a male member of your team or another...and then it’s discussed.
So what does this do? To the girl who enters robotics from a very young age, this implicit sexism becomes internalized, to the point where even in a wholesome and supportive team environment, she becomes the one marginalizing herself the most. She equates her value to what others perceive it to be, which is often not what it truly is.
To gender minorities participating in robotics: know that you are not alone in your experiences, and know that this is not a climate that should be normalized. And if you feel like you don’t have people around you who will support you if you try to discuss challenges you’ve experienced, I can be your people; FIRST Ladies can be your people.
To the gender minorities in this activity who speak up for equity: a large part of my understanding of sexism in the robotics community comes from your advocacy. Thank you for all you do to promote active discourse and understanding.
To the gender minorities on drive teams: you have all of my respect for holding your own on a technical level both within your own teams and in front of other teams, who continuously question our competence.
And to our femxle coaches and mentors: thank you for being positive role models. You are a beacon of light that illuminates the path to achieve success in a male-dominated environment.
This blog was written by Anika from FRC 449 The Blair Robot Project . If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule!