Thank you for your thought provoking question. My thoughts come from the
perspective of fiercely competitive and over-achieving male. I am also the
father of an 8-year-old daughter who I want to see reach her full potential
(especially with regards to her interest in math and science).
It is stating the obvious to say that girls are different from boys. In
order to make our daughters more comfortable operating within the realms of
science and technology there are (at least) two approaches...
Firstly, a laudable goal is to reshape the whole mindset within our worlds
science and technology leaders into something more compassionate,
empathetic, and nurturing. I think that many of our daughters would feel
more comfortable in an environment such as this and be more inclined to
pursue science and technology. I suspect that as a female engineer, you may
see this as a Herculean task. This is not to say that it's not a goal worth
working towards but clearly we were not able to effect such a large change
in time for your daughter and it seems unlikely that we will see a dramatic
change over the next decade or two as my JrFLL daughter progresses through
The second approach is to teach our daughters how to stand their ground and
operate/compete successfully in the current (male-centric) environment that
pervades many scientific and technical disciplines. This approach may not be
as emotionally satisfying to some of you but it is practical and achievable.
Unless dramatic philosophical changes occur in these fields, I need to make
sure that my daughter acquires the skills that allow her to produce
"high-quality work" in an environment of "fierce competition" and "mutual
gain" where she needs to "compete like crazy", "value others", and "add to
society". The other values that you mention; "helping, sharing, discussing,
compromising, teaching, process over product" already seem to come more
naturally to my daughter than they do to my sons. These additional skills
will give her an advantage on the field but in order to get on the field she
will need to understand the rules that the boys play by.
From: First Lego League Discussion [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On
Behalf Of Debbie Brumback
Sent: Saturday, December 13, 2008 5:33 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [VADCFLL-L] Gracious Professionalism. Is there an equal but
somewhat different motto needed for girls?
Is anyone interested in discussing how girls have differed from boys (in
general) within the concept of Gracious Professionalism?
Is it possible that many girls and some boys are too quick to model gracious
professionalism towards other more assertive, self-confident team members?
I'm thinking "innovatively" here, so please be graciously professional with
your thoughts and replies.
Within an FLL team or any other professional group of robot designers,
computer programmers, scientists, etc., gracious professionalism could
easily be interpreted in such a way that the people best able to do a
particular job (or best able to convince the team they are the best) should
be given that job. Other team members are acting graciously when they accept
their role on a team or project, based on their current skills with an
understanding that the ultimate team goal is "high-quality work".
A male mechanical engineering professor of MIT defined gracious
professionalism. Maybe, this definition of gracious professionalism (copied
below) is directed more towards the personalities of guys at MIT, than girls
of similar intelligence at a liberal arts college, even girls that are
interested in science. (Sorry for the sweeping generalizations.)
Within the definition of Gracious Professionalism, I see "high-quality
work", "fierce competition", "mutual gain", "compete like crazy", "value
others", "respect", "kindness", "meaningful life", "add to society",
"integrity", and "sensitivity". However, I don't see helping, sharing,
discussing, compromising, teaching, process over product - characteristics
that I might have specifically included if I, a female, would have defined
gracious professionalism as it might relate specifically to an educational
experience or internal team dynamics.
So, I'm wondering, with as much gracious professionalism as possible, if
there might be additional goals, beyond gracious professionalism, yet
undefined, that would apply more towards girls and also boys who are a bit
more flexible and easy going than perhaps the average engineering student at
MIT, where this definition originated.
Why do I wonder?
First, I just watched my son's Lego team struggle with not always agreeing
on the path taken within their team, as I'm sure all teams experience. My
observation was that the strongest team personalities often exhibited more
of the G.P. characteristics of focusing on "high quality work" and "fierce
competition" while the more flexible members were exhibiting the G.P.
characteristics of "kindness" and "value others".
Second, I recently discovered that my daughter has almost certainly decided
not to major in computer science after one semester in college, even after
successfully taking three computer classes at community college prior to
enrolling at a 4 year college. Just to share one example of things leading
to this decision, she told me that when it was time to divide into project
teams, she decided to "stand up for herself" and make sure she wasn't on the
project team with the two boys in her class that seemed to already know
everything. She said that would have made her project easy to complete but
she knew she wouldn't have learned anything. If any girl could have stuck
with computer science, it would have been my daughter who has sometimes
described her math and cs teachers as being just like her brother (a lego
league member), not to mention that she was raised by two parents, both with
Mechanical Engineering degrees and many graduate level computer science
I understand the concerns she has and actually did not encourage her to
study computer science. But, since it was her interest, I have tried to be
encouraging and remind her that those guys that she thinks know more than
she does actually entered the class already knowing the programming language
they are using. I think my daughter will be happier as a music major, but
that still leaves the world short of one more female computer programmer.
Why is it so hard to keep girls interested in computer science and
engineering in the United States? Maybe the answer to this mystery lies
somewhere within (or outside of) the definition of gracious professionalism.
Please understand that I completely support the objectives of gracious
professionalism. I'm just wondering if there is an equal but somewhat
opposite motto required to balance all the personalities that could exist
within the engineering/robotics community. While some team members need to
focus on gracious professionalism, others may need to be challenged towards
something else, maybe "assertive professionalism", even with the risk of
loss of the peace and harmony that comes from the more flexible team members
sometimes standing firm with their ideas.
Girls are entering medical school at rates equal to men and entering vet med
at a higher rate. This suggest that girls are interested in science and can
be successful at a very high level. The problem is keeping them interested
in engineering/computer science. Every higher level of engineering - BS,
MS, PhD shows a steady drop in the percentage of woman who stay in the
field. Maybe the issue isn't science. Maybe, it's somewhere else, such as
within the social elements of gracious professionalism.
Sorry this email msg is so long. I'm figuring it was long ago deleted by
most people. But, if you are still reading, I'd really appreciate your
Gracious Professionalism - as defined in the FIRST Lego League website
Dr. Woodie Flowers, FIRST National Advisor and Pappalardo Professor Emeritus
of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, coined the
term "Gracious Professionalism."
Gracious Professionalism is part of the ethos of FIRST. It's a way of doing
things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others,
and respects individuals and the community.
With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not
separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but
treat one another with respect and kindness in the process. They avoid
treating anyone like losers. No chest thumping tough talk, but no
sticky-sweet platitudes either. Knowledge, competition, and empathy are
In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful
life. One can add to society and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing one has
acted with integrity and sensitivity.
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