I realized recently that I would start off my conversations with fellow members of my robotics team with ‘sorry’. Whether it be a suggestion for this year's robot design, instructing teammates to write a log, or calling out the lack of participation of males on the team with ‘non-robot’ parts that have been deemed meant for girls, I would start with saying sorry. And guess what, I’m not. I have every right to assert my opinion as a team member on equal footing with everyone else. And so should you. Whenever I’m at a competition, I see girls being shy and passive, and I myself am guilty of doing that too. We need to stop being doormats, start vocalizing our opinions, and continue to be empowered.
My experiences have been shared with other girls involved with STEM, whether they are in a high level math course or part of a robotics team. I’ve had multiple friends tell me that they are often one of five or fewer girls in their STEM courses or clubs. One friend told me she feels uncomfortable answering questions and participating in her science courses due to this, as the environment is masculine and she feels like any mistake she makes will be quickly brought under the scrutiny of her peers. This causes her to prematurely apologize for being wrong before answering, despite being a consistent high scorer in the class. Another example of the male dominance in STEM was my friend’s personal experience. She went to one of the tech classrooms to gather materials for a home-improvement project. When she walked in, she noticed the room was entirely male, and they immediately starting commenting that she must be one of the student’s girlfriends, because why else would she be there? Even teachers have commented on this environment. One science teacher I talked to said that his male students were confident when answering questions, even if they were to repeatedly get them wrong, while female students were shy and more hesitant when replying. Though, he did say that due to girls’ thoughtfulness, the answers were more concise. For the girls in STEM reading this, know that you’re not alone in your experiences. Don’t let apologies arise from your hesitancy.
Talking about taking action is not the same as doing it. To stop the cycle of apologies you need to start by improving your own mindset. Be confident, because you’re on your robotics team because you deserve to be there; you’re in high level maths because you’ve earned it with your hard work. The advice I have received from my Robotics team captain, Olivia Yao, is applicable here: there’s a reason why you’re here, and it’s not for a diversity effort, but because people respect you and they value your knowledge. So don’t say sorry for voicing your opinion, because your teammates want your opinion. And if they don’t want to hear what you have to say, they don’t deserve your apologies.
Save your sorries for when you need them, because you owe no apologies for having an opinion. Build confidence within yourself and you’ll find that being assertive will come to you, and that most times your male team-mates will appreciate it. Work with all your peers to create an accepting environment for all. Women over-apologizing is common in other male-dominated fields too; as we work towards closing those gender gaps, the louder you’ll find your voice.
Sorry not sorry.
(Special thanks to Jesica Porcelli and Olivia Yao for editing!)
This blog was written by Rachel Margolin, of FTC Team 3415, Livingston Lancer Robotics. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule.