Diversity has never been more important nor more topical than today, but it is something that has always mattered to me a great deal. So, when our friends at World Robot Olympiad (WRO) mentioned that they were keen to have significantly more female participants in their competitions, Juniper Networks saw an opportunity to leverage our partnership to help. The statistics behind this challenge paint quite a stark picture: the average number of female participants in the past five International Finals was just 17 percent. There may be several reasons driving this. Some young women may feel underconfident about their ability in STEM while others may not be comfortable competing alongside young men. Whatever the reason, we knew that this was a critical area to address immediately.
Why WRO is so important in driving change
WRO’s mission is to promote understanding, further proficiency in STEM and ultimately to ignite a passion in young people to use coding, robotics and automation to overcome societal challenges. (If you’d like a glimpse into the magic of this organization and the 75+ country finals, I’d urge you to watch the movie Juniper made which has been short-listed in several film festivals around the world this year).
Many WRO participants progress to an education and then a career in the STEM and robotics space. As the world has gone digitial, these skills are increasingly the touchstone for most countries, most economies and most employers. And the more female WRO competitors there are, the more young women can be inspired and empowered to follow that education and career path.
A side bar to this is that many WRO competitors come from places without extensive STEM offerings in school. Enabling the first steps on a STEM path can help to provide a much brighter future, both for the individual and for the country they represent. Truly, digital transformation!
Positive Action – Girls in STEM
To help achieve our increased participation goals, we decided to hold a competition to drive recruitment of girls and young women to WRO at the grass-roots level. The annual International Finals are the culmination of months of local and national competitions in approximately 75 countries. If we want more females in the International Finals, we need to increase participation at all levels.
Juniper and WRO have devised two parallel competitions for National Organizers (the independent companies who work tirelessly with WRO to run the local and national compeititions in each country). Each competition carries a $5000 USD prize from Juniper. One competition is focused on past initiatives designed to drive female recruitment and already proven to be effective while the other is focused on new ideas for future initiatives with the same outcome in mind. In both cases, we want to promote shared learning and best practices. We will also be looking for creative ideas for the prize money to be re-invested in ongoing recruitment of young women to compete in WRO.
Winners will be chosen by a panel of independent judges with an interest in female STEM education. The competition was recently launched globally and we’ll be announcing the winners in November of this year. And, of course, the WRO has had to pivot to virtual events this year so I’m doubly anticipating some fantastic ideas that we can promote when we hopefully get back to live competitions in 2021.