Like many women, I did not grow up with a strong background in STEM. And yet, two years ago, I began as a communication manager at a local makerspace. I soon realized the the communication needed to go both ways, not only telling the world about the makerspace but explaining the community’s needs to the engineers.

The makerspace celebrated the perspective I offered and gave me the confidence to value my unusual contributions. Before long, I was the co-founder of a tech startup, asking important questions like, “Yes the technology is efficient – but is it ethical?” or “Don’t you think a consumer would go for a simpler design option?” I had a valuable, diverse perspective in my education, experience, and – not incidentally – my gender.

For me, and for many women in e-NABLE, we did not grow up with access to information on technology and making. It wasn’t our fields, yet because our diversity was valued, we found points-of-entry which allowed us access to male-dominated spaces where we could broaden our technical horizons while we contribute. So, we’ve learn from others as we contribute our own knowledge and skills.

Diversity is important in makerspaces, and makerspaces usually recognize and seek this out with interdisciplinary projects. Yet, the reality is that women compose 18% of the maker community, according to a 2012 Maker Market study, which mimics the breakdown of representation in major tech companies (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). Twice as many men attend maker events than women (MAKE, 2013).

Although no formal study has examined the gender breakdown of e-NABLE volunteers, a quick sample from the Google+ community reveals that the e-NABLE community may do slightly better than other maker organizations with gender diversity; and yet, women are outnumbered by men approximately 3:1. With the maker emphasis of diverse contributions and accessibility, wouldn’t you think there would be a higher representation of women? Here are a few things that we as a community can do to continue to help women enter our organization:

  1. Lift barriers to entry: Help women get access to the materials and information involved in 3D printing.
  2. Mentor young women: Women ranked lack of mentorship as the number two challenge in entering tech spaces, according to a 2014 Intel study.
  3. Ensure safety: One in 14 women say they do not feel safe going to Maker Faires and workshops hosted by makerspaces, according to Intel.  
  4. Encourage and value them: Women may be less confident in traditionally male making-practices, such as 3D printing, according to Intel.
  5. Accommodate the “second shift”: In most homes, women have the primary responsibility of childcare, in addition to their day jobs, leaving them with less time for creative hobbies such as making (Hoschild, 1989). Ask the women in your life how you can make participation easier for them. Perhaps bringing their children along could change the game for these makers.

Importantly, every woman’s experience is different. These are just a few of my ideas based on research and years of study in psychology, and do not necessarily reflect the views of e-NABLE or the women interviewed for this article.

I’ve had the pleasure of calling a few women for this article, and I’d like to share their thoughts about what it means to be a woman in e-NABLE.

Jen Owen

Jen Owen, one of the founding members of e-NABLE and owner of enablingthefuture.org

“Being part of e-NABLE has completely changed my life. I have been called “The Mother of e-NABLE” and honestly, that is how I feel most days. With e-NABLE Chapters in over 100 countries and covering just about every time zone, I feel like a mother who can never put her phone on silent for fear that I might miss a message or “emergency” call from one of the volunteers who might need me at any given moment! It is a huge responsibility and one that I am proud and honored to have.

I do not get through a single day anymore without happy tears. My social media feed is full of beautiful images and videos of recipients who have been gifted e-NABLE devices and it is all because of the global e-NABLE family that I have helped grow over the years and that I love so very deeply.”

Sarah Haight

Sarah Haight [left] and her son Cam, founders of “Different Heroes” in North Carolina.

“I feel like more women should get into this field if they want to. It seems scary, but once you get it, it’s not hard. And it’s fun. It’s encouraging to little girls to see women doing things that are more male-oriented.

If more women would get into this, I think 3D printing prosthetics would get into schools and media more, and maybe it would help boost that energy.”

Zeynep Karagöz

Zeynep Karagöz, Turkish entrepreneur extraordinaire.

“In Turkey, math and science are dominated by men, more so than in the western world.

I was empowered by my all-girls school to be a powerful woman, to stand on my two feet, to be free of all agents, and to take care of myself. The way we were raised in school was very good, and less than one percent of the culture has access to that education.

I feel like I have this mission in the past few years that more women have to come into STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts, and math]. I believe that women are more capable of multitasking, and it’s a very good aspect that they can use to their advantage. The culture is that mostly men are steered into engineering, while women are more in management.

I’ve been giving talks and lectures in universities for the last few years, sometimes about e-NABLE, sometimes about charity, sometimes about STEAM education, always encouraging girls to be a part of this.”


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