New Year’s Resolution: let’s celebrate more women in drones

It’s a problem all too common in the tech world. There is an embarrassingly minuscule number of women in tech.

David Cohen says it’s a pipeline problem, a sentiment echoed by many, often men. As Jon Evans wrote in TechCrunch, “it’s disingenuous to turn a blind eye to the fact that many women who doenter the industry subsequently drop out of it.”

Clearly, the drone industry isn’t any better than the other tech realms.

Let’s just look at the employee makeup at some of the world’s major drone companies, based on bios from company websites.

You get the point. Clearly, the drone industry has a lot of work to do.

So why do women drop out? Maybe it’s because the same guy who successfully landed a drone on a comet wore a shirt covered in bustiered cartoon ladies during media interviews.

Science writer and editor Rose Eveleth summed up why this leads to basically no women in the drone community perfectly.

Of course, a collective of men on the Internet respond to that tweet with not-so-encouraging comments like this.

I’ve seen it too frequently.  I’ve experienced major instances of sexism, but also tiny instances, like someone saying, “you fly really well for a girl!” Is that a compliment, really? Or are you putting down my entire gender for implying that women shouldn’t actually be good pilots? A well-known robotics executive once told me on the way to lunch, “I don’t believe women can be both beautiful and smart.” Really? So which one am I?

If we’re going to get picky here, even the term UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) or UAS is a bit sexist, no?

It’s not that all drone companies are suffering from a serious gender diversity problem.

San Francisco-based startup Drone Deploy recently hired Gretchen West, formerly of AUVSI. One of Matternet’s cofounders is a woman, Paola Santana.

And it’s not that there are no successful women in drones. It’s that women aren’t inclined to work in an industry that is sexist. They won’t work in an industry if they don’t have other role models who are like them. They refuse to be objectified, seen as the token woman, and constantly scrutinized for every mishap, question they have or decision they make when operating a drone.

That’s where I’ve proposed a New Year’s Resolution for the drone industry. Let’s support women in drones. To the companies listed above, be conscious of this when hiring or promoting in the new year. To people in the drone industry, be conscious of how you treat a woman, whether she is new and curious about getting into the industry or a better pilot than you.

And as for myself, I need to be better about celebrating women in drones too. That’s why, this year, I’m going to regularly feature Q&As or profiles of women who have done great things for the drone industry.

There are so many badass women in drones. They just need to have a voice. And you’ll hear it here, on The Drone Girl.

13 Comments

  • This is probably the age-old chicken and egg problem…not something we can remedy with quotas, charts, put-downs, etc.
    A lot of guys did the model rocket stuff when they were kids…and otherwise tried to blow things up, fly things, etc. etc.
    Parents didn’t encourage their female children to do the same.
    If you walk into a toy store today you’ll likely still see certain types of toys marketed toward one sex and others to the other. That’s where it starts.
    I was into Ham Radio, CB, explosives (fireworks), Rockets, etc. and it was quite rare for any of the girls (teens or adults) to express much interest. I don’t think these pursuits intentionally kept out women, just that it “was the way things were” back then. Now that so many women are in engineering and science and other tech, let’s hope they teach their children well….because it’s not going to happen without starting in the home.

    • Sally French says:

      You’re right, a lot hasn’t been done until recently to encourage girls to pick rockets over Barbies as children.

      But the point I’m trying to make here with this article is, we have a lot of talented, smart, driven women who know engineering better than many men, but get discouraged and drop-out when their bosses tell them “I don’t believe women can be both smart and beautiful” or their coworkers wear shirts with half-naked cartoon women on them to press events.

      • The women engineers I know (including my daughter) would not get discouraged…in fact, they would be very unlikely to even be in a place where their boss said stuff like that. But I guess that’s your point. Bad bosses, unfortunately, cause a lot more harm than this. Luckily the current economy is more and more of a meritocracy and those with the chops can advance.
        Speaking of the same – I wonder what the situation in China is because that’s where 90% of the drone industry employees are? It’s anecdotal, but I don’t see a lot of female DJI or other employees answering questions, etc.
        You’d have to study the situation further to come up with real data. For example…to see whether there is a instinctual bias (as there may be for hunting, risk taking, etc.) to certain vocations (space flight, etc.).
        So, yeah, I think you have something when you say that many women would not seek work in a place with locker room mentality. At the same time, the fact that most females in our culture didn’t grow up playing with rockets and fireworks means perhaps a shortage of candidates for now.
        Just for fun, you should check out Space X and see what the deal is there with their rocket scientists….

  • kevin empting says:

    You want to know why women aren’t in the industry. ..read your own post. .whining, complaining of sex ism because of a damn shirt.. companies should be Able to hire who they want whether they be black, white, brown male or female.
    Ist stupid posts like this that confirm our decision to stay within our comfort zone of hiring. …shut the hell up once in a while and maybe you will see more diversity. You don’t see men crying on twitter that Estee lauder or max factor won’t hire men….geez give it a rest.

    • Sally French says:

      Thank you for your insight. Actually, Estee Lauder doesn’t seem to have a problem with hiring men at all; their executive leadership team is about 70% male. http://www.elcompanies.com/Pages/Our-Leaders.aspx

      • Kevin Empting says:

        That was mere example I was trying to make a point about all the whining woman gender equality proponents spouting off versus their male counterparts. Most women would find it degrading that any other women would let a shirt deter them from something they wanted to. The shirt btw was made for Dr. Matt Taylor by a female friend. Nice job by you and your nut job extremist friends make what should have one of Dr. Matt Taylor’s very large and significant accomplishments, take a backseat to your ridiculous whiny ass protests of its sexism inference. My god you wonder why people don’t take you serious. Don’t kid yourself, if CEOs could speak freely and not have to worry about your social media blitzes, they would say exactly the same thing. Yeah yeah they’ll get on here and condemn by straightforward comments as sad and contrary to their mission statement, but let the hiring statistics speak for themselves. Keep your head down and work hard, and good things will come. Getting something for nothing isn’t going to do anything for anyone. Quit worrying about shirts and half clothed cartoon characters and let the important stuff take center stage….like a damn probe landing on a asteroid traveling 85000 mph. That’s the real news, not your whiny ass what about his shirt. How pitiful for you and your cause.

  • Well, what I can say is that I hope we can celebrate more women helping developing and sharing the drone, both hobbyist and professionals. It is true what you say about the men/women ratio in the top drone companies, but things might be looking up when I found this blog so easily (I was looking about drone websites and blogs, and this one was one of the best and one of the first that I found).

    Of course you women have some setbacks like education (building and driving machines are activities that parents encourage their boys to do, leaving the barbies and house chores to the girls), the hiring policy of this companies, and so on, yes. But if you keep publishing reliable posts, making great aerial videos with the drones, and all that good stuff, there is no doubt that things are going to change in no time.

    So, keep doing!

  • There are about 20% women in engineering schools, which should be enough to create a decent pipeline of female executives later on. Unfortunately, there are evidences that those women engineers get little support in the workplace. A study shows that “… nearly 40% of women left the field after earning an engineering degree, many due to hostile work climates, unsupportive supervisors, or limited opportunities for advancement.” Source: http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2014_08_15/caredit.a1400210

    Celebrating and supporting female founders will be an important part of the equation to make it change. Great that you will do more of it here!

  • […] This is the first in a series of Q&As with other “Drone Girls” — in other words, incredible women who are doing great things in the world with drones. […]

  • […] With high drop-out rates come very few female leaders in the industry. 100% of the executive leadership at venture-backed companies 3D Robotics and Skycatch is male, I wrote in an earlier Drone Girl piece. […]

  • […] While women should participate in the broader drone community, they are still a minority. 100% of the executive leadership at venture-backed drone companies 3D Robotics and Skycatch is male. […]

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