Closing Thoughts – Winter 2016
This article is from the Winter issue of SWE Magazine.
Promoting diversity and inclusion in engineering worldwide is one of SWE’s top strategic goals. Two ways we are taking action to accomplish this objective are by working with the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) and by conducting the first-ever gender equity culture study in engineering in the United States.
Engineering workforce diversity
SWE participates in WFEO and is the official U.S. representative to the Women in Engineering (WIE) standing committee. The Society’s membership in the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) provided our link to WFEO.
Currently, WIE is working on three priorities relative to advancing women in engineering globally: engineering workforce diversity, leadership and empowerment, and engineering strategic indicators. In November, SWE Past President Stacey DelVecchio and I attended the most recent WFEO event in Kyoto, Japan, where we were part of the WIE team focusing on the first priority, engineering workforce diversity.
To meet these priorities, one of the goals is “to provide employers with information for improving the workplace and workforce diversity for competence, innovation, and engagement.” Stacey and I shared SWE’s recently developed diversity and inclusion materials, which contain the narrated eLearning series “Diversity in Engineering Matters.” The materials were developed to promote a culture that honors, respects, and includes various voices, which in turn will help promote work environments that support diverse perspectives. SWE’s materials also feature the Diversity and Inclusion Knowledge Cards. The intention of the cards is to act as a catalyst for discussion and reflection on how employers can help foster a welcoming work environment. And through the Advance app, both resources are now available via any iOS mobile device (an Androidܢ version will be available this spring).
Our WFEO team was excited to review these resources and consider two outcomes. The first would be to translate the materials into Spanish and Mandarin, with team members devoting their own time to do this work (with other languages potentially to follow). The second activity under discussion is developing a train-the-trainer type workshop that initially could be conducted virtually and then possibly face-to-face at WFEO member events or as part of SWE’s global activities. While this work is just beginning, imagine the potential for SWE to influence employers of all sizes around the globe. This platform also provides SWE a great opportunity to expand the reach of our brand in the global marketplace with both employers and individual women engineers. It showcases SWE as a thought leader in advancing gender diversity in the global engineering workforce.
Closer to home, SWE worked with members of our Corporate Partnership Council (CPC) to conduct the first-ever national gender equity culture study in engineering, titled Culture and Engineering, the New ABCs: Value Gaps that Drive Female Attrition with Strategies for Taking Action. Given the imperative of executing against data-driven strategic priorities, including improving female retention, the short-term goals of the study were: to develop senior leadership’s capacity to change corporate culture in measurable, meaningful ways and to support engineering leadership teams in their efforts to align their corporate cultures with their espoused values.
With input from a steering committee that included leadership from each of the participating employers, the study was developed using the Barrett Cultural Values Assessment tool. The study looked at two critical questions: What factors intensify female attrition in male-dominated sectors such as STEM, and what can we learn from the gender responses to the culture study that might help to identify potential culture change initiatives that could improve female retention. Conducted from May-September 2015, the study secured a response rate that was statistically valid with reliable data, with a respondent total of 3,241 (51 percent male and 49 percent female).
The results of the study will be disseminated at the February CPC meeting, and representatives from the participating employers will be part of a Q&A panel to share both their experiences and how they plan to utilize the results to change the culture within their organizations, thus leading to best practices for all of SWE’s employer partners. In addition, SWE is working with the study lead, Beth Michaels, to explore possible platforms for further disseminating the study results and developing resources that would help employers change corporate culture to increase the retention of women working in the STEM fields.
Through activities such as our participation in WFEO and leading the first-ever gender equity culture study in engineering in the U.S., SWE continues to influence diversity and inclusion in engineering globally and make engineering a highly desirable career aspiration for women, as our pioneering members envisioned 65 years ago.
Karen Horting, MBA, CAE
Executive Director & CEO
Society of Women Engineers