Our Fems and Thems in S.T.E.M.


Dana Falardeau , Journalist

The Patriarchy: we are all aware of its existence, and although steps are being taken to minimize its residual effects, it still lingers. This becomes extremely prevalent in careers that are mainly male dominated such as the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. I will be focusing on engineering using the Ipswich High School Robotics Team as a lens into this pressing issue. 

I have been on the robotics team for five years starting in 2018. In my time, I have worked with three coaches and six captains. Of these six captains, none have been more capable, organized, or dedicated to the team than our current captains, Abi Dixon and Pia Stewart. They are constantly planning meetings and agendas weeks in advance, keeping goals and mind, and actively training newer members. However, I have never before seen the amount of pushback on the things that they say for any other captains from our mostly-male mentors. When they come to a decision they are constantly met with, “Are you sure about this?” and, “Have you considered this?”. I can think of no other possible reason for this increased pushback other than underlying sexist tendencies. Abi tells me, “I feel like every decision I make between myself and my co-captain and the other predominantly female and gender-fluid executives is questioned; we put a lot of thought into these things and we try to consider all the scenarios, and we still make a decision and we’re approached by males on the team or male mentors who are like ‘are you sure you don’t want to consider this idea.’” Stella quickly seconded this idea, saying they have seen many examples of it firsthand as well. 

Photo from Ipswich Local News of Captains Pia Stewart (left) and Abi Dixon (right) with mechanical lead Ashton Flather in the middle.

Upon further interviewing co-captain Abi Dixon, when asked “What discrimination have you faced as a woman in STEM?”, Abi explains, “I wouldn’t say I was discriminated against as much as discouraged or sidelined in favor of more traditional cisgender males in STEM roles. A lot of my early experiences on the robotics team entering design discussions as a naive, eager, and thoughtful freshman involved having a lot of my ideas and the ideas of my female peers steam-rolled over by upperclassmen that are all male and weren’t ready to hear an alternate perspective.”

Stella was asked the same questions in regards to being non-binary. Their response: “I feel like I’ve had a lot of times where I share ideas and they’re brushed off. Then a guy will bring up my idea later and everyone is like ‘oh my god that’s so true.’ It’s hard to get ahead in that kind of environment, and it feels like you have to work twice as hard in some ways to get the same recognition.”

Abi told me of her plans to pursue mechanical engineering. This is just a preview of the challenges she will face in a male-dominated industry. Only 9% of all mechanical engineers nationwide are women (Society of Women Engineering ). Stella will face similar challenges, as being non-binary will put them into a similar minority in Software Engineering where only 22% are non-male according to the the SWE.

From my perspective, a lot of these challenges they will face will come from people’s subconscious. Most people don’t mean to treat women and non-binary individuals in STEM fields any differently. However, we have come a long way with this robotics team. Not only are both captains women, but the mechanical, software, electrical, and business department executives are also all women or non-binary. Our largest sponsor is the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), who have made tremendous efforts to cultivate a safer environments for non cisgender males in engineering. Due to their generous donation of $62,500 over the past year, our robotics team has been able to thrive in the competitive field of engineering. At a turning point where we strive for equality, it is important to create spaces that all genders will be accepted and encouraged to pursue STEM fields.