This article appears in the Winter Issue of SWE Magazine.
Promoting diversity and inclusion in engineering on a global level is one of SWE’s top strategic goals. Two ways we are taking action to accomplish this goal 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.
Through our membership in the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES), SWE participates in WFEO and is the official US representative to the Women in Engineering Standing Committee (WIE). Currently, WIE is working on three themes relative to advancing women in engineering globally: engineering workforce diversity, leadership and empowerment, and engineering strategic indicators. SWE Past President Stacey DelVecchio and I attended the most recent WFEO event in Kyoto, Japan at the end of November where we were part of the WIE team focusing on the first theme of engineering workforce diversity.
One of the goals for this theme 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 called Diversity in Engineering Matters and were developed to promote a culture that honors, respects, and includes various voices in order to help promote a culture with diverse perspectives in the workplace. 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 mobile device.
Our 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 to potentially follow). The second activity under discussion is developing a train-the-trainer type workshop that could be conducted initially virtually and then potentially face-to-face at WFEO member events (or as part of SWE’s global activities) around the world. This work is just beginning but imagine the potential SWE has through this platform to influence employers of all sizes around the globe. This also provides SWE with 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 entitled 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 and led by Beth Michaels of Primer Michaels. The study looked at two critical questions: what factors intensify female attrition in male dominated sectors like 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, we secured a response rate that was statistically valid with reliable data with a respondent total of 3,241 (51% male and 49% female).
At the February 2016 CPC meeting, the results of the study will be disseminated 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 like our participation in WFEO and leading the first ever gender equity culture study in engineering in the US, 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