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News & Notes

Inclusivity is a Must in the Robotics and Drones Workplace

An op-ed by the Women of Commercial Drones organization

August 10, 2017

By now, many of us have heard the alarming statistics that speak to the difficulties women face in the tech industry. We know that women occupy approximately 11 percent of executive positions in Silicon Valley companies and that fewer than six percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. We know that young women in tech earn 29% less than their male counterparts. A recent study reported by TechCrunch showed that 1.4 million jobs will open in computer science by 2020 and less than three percent of those jobs will be filled by women.

Women in the robotics and drone industries live this reality every day. Indeed, we are so vastly outnumbered by the men in our industry that a friendly, supportive alliance among us has flourished through the common bond of being different.

But while we’re grateful for this kinship, we worry that the lack of women leaders in robotics is ultimately detrimental to the cultures and bottom lines of the organizations that we’re privileged to serve. Put simply and starkly, we are part of a burgeoning industry that is being developed and driven without enough meaningful input from women. Further, too many of us have been on the receiving end of hostile behavior from men in our industry, such as belittling comments regarding women in our industry that are circulated on social media and other public forums.

Therefore, we call upon our peers in the robotics and drone industry to act now to create the inclusive workplaces that the women of our field all deserve and need. Here are some suggested starting points:

First, organizations must ensure that talented women of all backgrounds are given meaningful opportunities to serve in technical and leadership roles within their organizations or on corporate boards. Of course, companies should seek out women with technical computing and engineering backgrounds — more than half of college and university students are women, and the percentage of women entering STEM fields is rising, except for computer science. But while we work to encourage more young women to pursue this education in the first place, companies benefit from placing women with different and non-traditional skill sets in technical and quasi-technical roles.

For example, many roles in tech companies – especially leadership positions – are particularly well-suited to women who have a background in finance, communications, law, and even the creative arts. The leaders of our industry must have the courage to recruit women from across different parts of the organization, provide them with the right encouragement and training, and even allow and expect women to fail as they learn. Managers must ensure that women of all stripes are given opportunities to lead important meetings, speak publicly on behalf of the organization, and to otherwise begin to see themselves as leaders.

Second, organizations must encourage their employees to form and maintain support networks that enable them to thrive. Employee resource groups that are supportive of women in tech not only provide an opportunity for women to congregate and provide each other with much-needed support and morale, they also send an important message from leadership to its employees: Diversity is our priority.

Small companies that do not have the infrastructure or resources to create employee resource groups can nonetheless encourage women to join and otherwise support external networking groups, such as the Women of Commercial Drones organization, which works to help mentor women in their career growth, encourage younger generations to engage in STEM-related academics, and create opportunities for women through a scholarship campaign.

Third, and perhaps most important, organizations must make significant investments in creating a pipeline of talented women to fill tomorrow’s leadership roles. For example, this summer, Turner Broadcasting partnered with the non-profit group Girls Who Code to welcome 20 high school students for a seven-week computer science immersion program at Turner’s campus. Additionally, Trumbull Unmanned partnered with BP, Microsoft, and the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership to create a free Drone Camp, which introduces girls and boys from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds to the world of robotics and drones.

These examples just scratch the surface of what is possible — and necessary — to fulfill our obligation to developing the next generation.

In short, it’s not enough for companies to simply assert the value of gender balance and a diversified culture. We have to take concrete steps towards the achievement of this goal in order to produce meaningful changes to our workplaces. We, the women of the robotics and drone industry, believe that our organizations can demonstrate their trust and respect in our leadership by giving us new opportunities to serve and grow, and we believe that we all must have the faith and conviction to invest in the next generation of women leaders.

Lisa Ellman

Dyan Gibbens

Gretchen West

Emily Avant
Featured image: Dreamstime