Girl Powered: What's Behind a New Injection of Funds for Girls and Robotics?

Robotics, a field still heavily dominated by men, is getting a new boost for gender equality.  

Women and girls continue to be significantly underrepresented in the STEM fields, and robotics, as one of the artificial intelligence-related fields, is even worse, with robotics competitions today frequently having only a handful of girls in the mix. Research on the numbers of girls enrolled in robotics competitions in one Michigan survey, for example, put the ratio at 14-15 percent. 

The lack of gender diversity costs society in myriad ways, first by discouraging women from important career prospects, but also because the growing field of artificial intelligence suffers from the lack of perspectives that girls and women bring -- perspectives that frequently have more of a community and humanitarian focus.  

We've written a lot about growing funder on both these fronts. More grantmaking are lining up behind intiatives that bring more girls into STEM fields and, specifically, computer science. Girls Who Code is one effort that's attracted donor dollars, but there are quite a few others we could mention. Meanwhile, a small but growing number of funders are also giving attention to threats potentially posed by artificial intelligence. It's intriguing to think that encouraging more gender balance in this field is one potential way to deal with these threats. 


All of this is background for considering the news that the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation and VEX Robotics, Inc., recently announced a new partnership called Girl Powered. With this new initiative, the foundation and corporation will partner to get more young women interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through competitive robotics.  

This announcement was kicked off on the UN’s Day of the Girl and rolled out with a series of outreach activities including over 50 events, mostly in the U.S., on October 11. A new online challenge called Girl Powered: In her Words Storybook also made its debut as part of the announcement. Both organizations will also begin offering marketing and online resources “intended to aid coaches, mentors, and parents to further engage young women and girls in robotics.”

Each year, the REC Foundation presents a series of robotics engineering programs, engaging students from kindergarten to college both in the classroom and at after-school competitions that build interest and skills in STEM fields. With more than 20,000 teams around the world competing in the Foundation’s VEX IQ Challenge, the foundation is uniquely positioned to take the field in the direction of improving diversity, both by gender and race.

The REC Foundation has an online resource with information about applying for Robotics team grants broken down by state, and an online application for starting a new team.