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The 26%: Leading Roboticist Highlights Glass Ceilings, Blatant Misogyny in Tech (Video)

"They're not going to move out of the way, but why should I stop going?"

Tyler Pina for Re/code

This summer’s DARPA Robotics Challenge finals, a major matchup of leading engineers from around the world, was designed to push forward the field and highlight its possibilities.

But it ended up underscoring a serious problem for the discipline as well: Among 24 teams composed of some 444 competitors, only 23 were women, an imbalance that the Washington Post and other publications highlighted.

While gender diversity in tech is a serious problem, with women representing less than 30 percent of the workforce, the 5.2 percent of female competitors in the DARPA finals suggests an even bigger issue within robotics.

There are notable exceptions, of course, including prominent women like Cynthia Breazeal at MIT, Helen Greiner of CyPhy Works, Leila Takayama at Google X and Melonee Wise of Fetch Robotics.

For Re/code’s third installment of “The 26%: Women Speak Out on Tech’s Diversity Crisis,” we sat down with Wise to discuss the issues that women face in the field.

She was previously the lead roboticist at pioneering robot company Willow Garage, where she helped develop the low-cost personal robot Turtlebot, the popular open source robotics operating system ROS and control systems for the company’s flagship PR2 robot.

Wise subsequently co-founded Unbounded Robotics and more recently became chief executive of Fetch Robotics, which is developing warehouse robots that can autonomously fulfill orders. The company recently secured a $20 million investment from SoftBank, Shasta Ventures and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures.

But along the way, Wise witnessed and experienced serious obstacles facing women in the male-dominated sector, from low glass ceilings to blatant misogyny. In the video above, she describes those challenges and how she has stayed on track despite them.

Read all the stories in “The 26%” series:

[display-posts tag=”26percent” posts_per_page=”20”]

Update: This story has been updated to clarify Melonee Wise’s role at Fetch Robotics.

This article originally appeared on

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