Mallory Tayson-Frederick, M.Eng.
Senior Platform Integration Engineer
As March comes to an end, we close two important months of the year – Black History Month and Women’s History Month. While this is a time to remember and celebrate both the Black Americans and women who came before us, it is also an opportunity to take inventory of the hurdles all minorities still face, especially in STEM fields. Although representation of minorities is increasing in STEM fields, there is still a severe deficit of both people of color and women. In robotics engineering specifically, only 9% are women, 16% are Asian, 9.5% are Hispanic or Latino, and 4% are Black (source).
At Outrider, we also struggle with representation in technical roles: 10.2% of our engineers are women (1% are women of color), 10% are Asian, 1% are Hispanic or Latino, and 0% are Black. But, this doesn’t mean we’re not paying attention. At a meeting recently, Bob Hall, our Chief Operating Officer, said that the lack of representation of women and racial minorities at Outrider is an “existential threat to the company.” For startups like ours, the biggest risk to success is a lack of variety in ways of thinking and perspectives – something that can only be achieved through diversity.
I couldn’t agree more with Bob; I’m encouraged to hear the problem recognized with such emphasis and priority. It would be easy for Outrider to maintain the status quo when it comes to minority representation and focus only on technical progress. Instead, we’ve consciously chosen a diverse workforce as our path forward, knowing it will elicit the creative solutions required to deliver the first-of-its-kind robotic system for automating distribution yards.
Working hand-in-hand with diversity is inclusion. Having a diverse workforce doesn’t achieve much if minority groups feel they have to assimilate to the culture of the majority in order to advance, or even to fit in at all. Inclusion is achieved when people of different demographic groups feel comfortable and empowered to bring their whole selves to work. It’s only then that the workforce and the business really benefit from diversity.
As a woman in engineering, I’ve walked a delicate balance of assimilating to the majority and staying true to my authentic self. I’ve only recently begun to truly value and exert my unique perspective and way of thinking, which has paid off. I feel an increased sense of belonging in the industry in general and at Outrider specifically. Everyone in a workplace should feel valued and included, and companies benefit when they do. In a study performed by BetterUp, high belonging at work was linked to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days.
In June 2020, we set aggressive objectives to increase our diversity and strive for an inclusive workplace. Taking into account all current employees and new hires, our workforce of 174 people is 21% Black and minority (an increase of 6% since these targets were set) and 14.4% women (up 1.5%). This trend is encouraging: 15.3% of current employees hired since June 2020 have been women, and 25% have been minorities. However, we know we still have work to do, so we’re taking concrete steps to continue to increase the representation of women and minorities – specifically in technical roles – at the company by:
- Including at least one woman on all on-site interview panels for new hires
- Including at least one woman as part of all promotion considerations
- Implementing company-wide trainings on implicit bias and allyship
- Participating in at least two minorities in STEM forums per year
- Increasing referral bonuses for diversity hires
Robotics development is entering a new phase, one which is no longer only about one-off, proof-of-concept research projects to show technical feasibility. It’s also about bringing robotic automation, at scale, into the world where it will have an immense impact on the quality of our lives, whether that’s on our safety or our ability to spend more time on the things we love. Because robotics will have such widespread significance for humanity, these systems must be designed by engineers and technologists who represent the world for which they’re being designed. I’m encouraged to see Outrider acknowledging the importance of this issue because our very survival as a company depends on it.
Mallory Tayson-Frederick, M.Eng., Senior Platform Integration Engineer
Mallory drives the design, build, and integration of vehicle platform systems at Outrider. She has extensive experience with a wide range of advanced robotic platforms, including teleoperated dexterous robots for surgery and bomb defeat, bi-pedal walking robots, and wearable robotics. Passionate about making and learning in all forms, she believes diversity in technical fields is the critical path for the future of those fields.