This letter is a response to Tom Green’s article in the June 5, 2015 edition of Robotics Business Review: “Why are Too Few Females in Robotics? Could it Be the Robots?”
I am female and I participated in the DARPA Robotics Finals. I was on the Degraded Communications team, a part of the infrastructure, not one of the robotics teams.
There were more women on the teams at the DRC Challenge, about 20 months ago. I asked some of the team leaders where the women had gone. Many of the women had accepted positions in industry. The two women I met from Boston Dynamics were scooped up in the Google acquisition.
While it would be great to have senior female roboticists mentoring junior women, the field is relatively new and practical applications for the technology seemed distant until just recently.
To accelerate female recruitment to robotics, some incentives must be put in place. For example, DARPA is headed by a female PhD, Arati Prabhakar. Arati could advise all the DARPA Program Managers that as part of their tenure at DARPA, each year, they are required to engage in an outreach program to female engineers. Since Arati’s responsibilities go beyond the robotics program, she would be creating outreach to women in multiple areas. For Robotics, Gill Pratt, the DARPA Robotics Challenge Program Manager, could have marshalled the required resources and done more outreach to women. I think everyone was so busy with the actual work of pushing autonomous robot technology forward, that these issues were not considered.
I do not feel that the actual appearance of the robots was a material consideration for women to participate. Afterall, RoboSimian from JPL does not look human and is the favorite robot of the three year old daughter of one of our staff members. The CMU robot looks more like a chimp than a human. This provides evidence that the robots did not all resemble human males!
Studies show that female computer scientists want to work on practical applications in environments that value collaborative cultures and they want to understand the end goal. Can we look to the senior male roboticists to encourage and mentor the junior women with this in mind?