Innovation is widely viewed as the engine of economic growth, so much time and effort are focused on how to spur innovation and invention. It’s important to remember that a key component of innovation is workforce diversity.
Diversity brings different perspectives based on our experiences, thereby expanding how solutions are approached and developed.
“You design out of your own experience—it’s what makes us human,” says Dr. Ayanna Howard, chair of the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech and the chief technology officer of Zyrobotics. A reliance on a homogenous engineering team without diversity can result in biased systems and limit innovation.
While diversity can refer to the inclusion of a variety of viewpoints from different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, socio-economic statuses, and a multitude of other factors, in this article we will look primarily at the importance of gender diversity and the role of women in robotics.
The State of Gender Diversity in Robotics
While overall the number of students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in computer science has been in a decade-long decline after peaking in 2003, the number of female graduates is trending upwards. The number of female graduates in university computer science programs has actually surpassed the 2003 peak and looks poised to continue breaking records.
Despite these academic trends, , only 29% of the science and engineering workforce are women, with a majority of the female scientists in occupations like social science, biology, agriculture, and environmental science, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP).
Since men and women have different viewpoints, ideas, and market insights, a gender-diverse workforce enables better problem solving.
“Without a range of perspectives, we limit our ability to understand and design for our customers, and undermine our continued relevance and growth as an industry,” notes GlobalMindED Technology Track speaker Dr. Patty Lopez. “Not only is including a more diverse group in the design process, and the workplace at large, the right thing to do, it’s just good business.”
Gender diversity in a workplace means that men and women are hired at a similar and consistent rate, are paid equally and are given the same working opportunities with the same promotional opportunities.
While society has made great strides towards gender equality over the last century since the ratification of the 19th Amendment, disparity remains in fairness and equal opportunity. Unfortunately, one of the sectors where gender disparity is easiest to spot is the tech industry.
According to The State of Women in Tech 2020:
- Only 26% of computing jobs are held by women.
- The turnover rate is more than twice as high for women than it is for men in tech industry jobs — 41% versus 17%.
- From 1980 to 2010, 88% of all information technology patents were by male-only invention teams, while 2% were by female-only invention teams.
- 12% of engineers at Silicon Valley startups are women. Only 11% of executive positions in Silicon Valley companies are held by women.
Women are making strides in tech, however, and particularly in robotics. Across the globe and across industries, women are more and more impacting technology and specifically robotics, helping to create a more diverse voice for the industry and innovations more reflective of our society.
Innovation Begins with Exploration
Research tells us that getting kids — boys and girls — engaged in STEM from an early age is the key to creating lifelong learners who are passionate about science and technology. For the robotics industry, one of the most prominent organizations to have taken up this mantle is First for Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST).
FIRST® inspires young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs. One of their most popular programs is FIRST Lego League, which offers hands-on, real-world experiences known to increase interest and engagement in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and inspire today’s kids to build tomorrow’s leaders.
Among the FIRST teams making an impact is Girls of Steel Robotics℠, which was founded in 2010 at Carnegie Mellon University. IAM Robotics proudly supports Girls of Steel, which is an all-girl FIRST team based in Pittsburgh. The team initially consisted of 24 girls, then tripled their numbers by the second year and have continued to grow over the past decade.
Programs like Girls of Steel and a similar one at Sewickley Academy are so important because research shows participation in these types of programs is impactful on kids and particularly young women. Young women in FIRST have significant gains in all STEM areas including STEM interest, career interest, activity, knowledge, and identity. Moreover, FIRST female alumni are more likely to declare majors in engineering and computer science than their peers and are more than three times as likely to take coursework in engineering and five times more likely to take courses in computer science.
In addition to FIRST Lego Leagues, there are a variety of organizations at the university level working to engage students in robotics and engineering. Among those that IAM Robotics is proud to support are:
- International Aerial Robotics Competition
- Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition
- Georgetown University Technology and Engineering Club
- Penn State Autonomous Robotics Competition Club
- Gannon University Robotics League, and its IGVC Team
- University of Pittsburgh
- Carnegie Mellon University
IAM Robotics Commitment to Diversity
At IAM Robotics, we are interested in addressing complex and technically difficult problems. We believe our solutions disrupt the supply chain industry and create better, more productive e-commerce fulfillment processes. Our company culture pursues transformative innovation, and we understand that a diverse team is an essential component to this pursuit.
“At IAM Robotics we strive to bring together a diverse group of people to contribute to our success,” says Tom Galluzzo, founder and CEO. “Our people are truly our secret sauce. Everyone brings a fresh perspective and keeps our innovation moving forward.”
We combine our support of various robotics and engineering organizations that specifically promote diversity with internal operations that encourage diversity in all aspects of our company. According to Dr. Lopez, removing systemic bias from operational processes, including recruiting, pay, promotions, and the day-to-day activities of the business, helps to drive inclusion and equality.
We also work to match people’s merit based on their skills and ability rather than gender, race, ethnicity, or other factors by:
- Changing the wording of our job descriptions to be gender “neutral”
- Building diverse interview panels
- Asking the same interview questions of all candidates
- Set evaluation criteria in advance
- Restrict evaluations to work-related considerations
- Source a diverse slate of candidates
We believe this is the way forward in robotics and in our communities as a whole. We would not be leading the way in robotics without our diverse group of team members who are passionate about their work and committed to making a difference in the future of robotics. And we are just getting warmed up.