Overcome sexism in technology, bring robotics to girls

Career By Emily Larson June 8, 2018

Women Political Leaders (WPL), the global network of female politicians, is teaming up with Western Union, a leader in cross-border, cross-currency money movement, to encourage more girls to get involved in politics, with the goal of increasing female representation in political and government roles and driving greater diversity of thinking in policy making and governance.

Boas is one of just 20 women selected by G(irls)20 — an organization that places girls and women at the center of the G20 economic decision-making process — sponsored by Western Union to attend the Women Political Leadership Summit, the foremost gathering of female political leaders in the world. This year’s summit took place in Lithuania, June 6-8.

By: Lorenna Vilas Boas

I’ve known I’ve wanted to use technology to lift up my community since I was six years old.

I grew up in a city outside Salvador. My family didn’t have a lot of resources, but I got a scholarship to one of the best local schools. It used Lego robots to teach math and engineering. To get us engaged, the teachers challenged us to solve a real problem in our lives.

As a kid, I was always so sad that I could not go out on a bike or play in front of my house because it was on a highway and there was no way to cross. So I suggested that we use robots to build a bridge. We really researched the project and did a great job with the design and we got a lot of attention. The bridge never got built, but I learned that I could change the realities of my community just using technology.  I ended up going to an excellent technical high school and got degrees in industrial automation and electrical engineering.

While I was there I started a robotics team. At first, I didn’t realize it, but so much of robotics is surrounded by sexism and male chauvinism. When I started going to robotics tournaments and scientific fairs, and also on the classes me and my team were giving, most of the attendees were men and frequently I was the only black woman at those tech environments. So, with the help of my mentor, we began giving robotics lessons to girls in the local Bahia public schools. That was when I was 14.

I’ve been doing this now for six years and I teach hundred of girls through my old high school; at the college where I am getting my degree, and through two coding program that I serve as an ambassador for.

I am glad we reach so many girls, but I’d like to scale up and really increase our impact. That’s why I am so excited that Western Union sponsored me to attend WPL.  I want to learn from the experience of female ministers: How do I build on my vision and really scale up? I am looking for advice on funding and on policies that I can promote. At WPL I will get the advice and wisdom of women who have done similar things. I know we can grow faster if we have international support.

I used to think that being a politician was the last thing I’d want. Now I realize that politicians can make a difference for all the people and I can imagine being a minister someday in my country and supporting this kind of broad technology training for all children who desire it.