Employee Resource Group: Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups that serve as a resource for members and organizations by fostering a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives. If you want to learn more about ERG’s within SWE, download the PDF here.
This month’s installment of #SWEmyERG features Michelle Andersen of Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company. Michelle is a Systems Engineer in Engineering and Technology in the Rotary and Mission Systems business.
While we already know Michelle as a SWE member, we met up with her and chatted about a recent tweet she sent out on Twitter. Michelle tagged @SWEtalk and she used the hashtag #SWEmyERG. Before we dive into her personal experiences with ERGs, we got to know Michelle a little bit more …
Q: What inspired you to become an engineer?
A: Since I was a kid, I’ve always liked helping people. I loved working with Legos and building things. My dad is an engineer and my grandfather should have been one, so I probably get my interest from them as well. Those things combined – that’s what started it.
I had a high school physics teacher who was a retired engineer. He taught us real-world examples of how he used physics to solve problems. He taught us how everyday machines worked, like cars and refrigerators, and that seemed very useful and interesting to me.
Q: Where did you study engineering at the university level?
A: Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The engineering program was new to the college at the time and the first at an all-women’s college. The Bachelor of Science in Engineering was the only Bachelor of Science the college had at the time. The engineering program had excellent professors and was small, which made for a very personal experience.
Q: When did you first learn about the Society of Women Engineers (SWE)?
A: I attended a session about SWE by some professional members who came to Smith to welcome my engineering class to the profession and explain the value of professional organizations such as SWE. They motivated a few of us to start a SWE section at the college. During my senior year, I was co-chair for the SWE regional conference held on campus which was a great opportunity to showcase the new engineering program and also meet engineering professionals and students from across the region.
My leadership roles in college led to roles in the Hartford professional section, eventually becoming the section president. I will always be thankful that the women of the Hartford professional section dedicated so much time and energy to help us understand the value of an engineering degree and ensure that we felt connected to the larger SWE organization.
In 2015, I won a Society award – The Distinguished New Engineer Award. Winning this award was a catalyst that drove me to develop the #SWEmyERG events we’re talking about in this blog post.
So! Now that we’ve gotten to know Michelle and her passion for engineering and leadership within our organization, let’s talk about her #SWEmyERG programming:
In July 2015, Michelle was approached by a colleague to host an employee engagement event for a group of newly hired women engineers at Sikorsky. They were open to suggestions as to the type of event and wanted to make sure the women felt welcome at the company and within the engineering organization.
Michelle developed a concept and hosted the first event for that group of new hires in August of 2015. The event was a Meet & Greet which included an informal discussion with two senior leaders as well as a few other experienced colleagues at different levels in the organization. She used the #SWEmyERG hashtag on the event flyer and gave a quick overview of SWE at the start of the event. After receiving great feedback on the success of this first event, Michelle pitched a calendar of #SWEmyERG events to her leadership and HR team for 2016. They adopted the program concept and provided logistics support and even lunch for each session!
The SWE-ERG program that Michelle pitched was a series of panel discussions for each of the different engineering disciplines at the company. Every woman in engineering received a personal invitation for one of the events held throughout the year. The events ran from February to September of 2016.
After the success of the first event in August 2015, Michelle, just like the rest of us SWEsters, went to annual conference in Nashville, TN for WE15! She attended the “Lessons Learned” session about the #SWEmyERG campaign to gain more insight on how to develop and run the SWE my ERG program at her company.
“It was great to meet the people behind the #SWEmyERG marketing campaign. We learned about the successful experiences of other companies and I came back energized and thinking about how to apply these ideas at Sikorsky.”
During the session at WE15, Michelle shared some best practices from her experiences in leading an ERG. She came to understand how to properly share SWE’s mission and the intent of the organization with her fellow employees. This was important because resource groups can be a source of the next generation of company leadership. Participation in an ERG offers the chance to gain new skills and leadership opportunities outside of direct job requirements. Michelle is a member of Sikorsky’s Professional Development Network and the Women’s Forum.
“You volunteer at a company if you want to have an even greater impact, so when I learned about the #SWEmyERG program, it seemed like the right fit for me and my contribution to the company,” Michelle said.
Now, let’s get into how the SWEmyERG events are designed at Sikorsky. The Engineering Lunch & Learn included a panel discussion open to all women within Engineering at Sikorsky – not just the new hires.
This panel is a recurring event based on engineering discipline, with new panelists and new invitees each month.
The diverse panelists represented varying skills, experience levels, backgrounds and gender. Each panel had:
- An HR partner
- An experienced technical leader
- An engineer with less than 10 years’ experience
A representative from one of the ERGs (such as: Women’s Forum or the African American Forum)
- A male panelist – typically an engineering leader (The addition of a male panelist came from feedback received after an early event. “One theme we heavily promote at SWE is the benefit of having diversity of thought, so to me, this was a natural progression towards that goal,” Michelle mentions.)
We asked Michelle…
Q: What is one of your favorite moments of this process?
A: After one of the events, a woman came up to me and said, “I renewed my SWE membership because of this event!” (How COOL is that?!)
In conclusion, Sikorsky’s 2016 #SWEmyERG events were a great success with over 250 participants from across engineering. These events provided an opportunity for women in our engineering community to meet and learn from each other. We’ve also educated those attendees and panelists who were learning about SWE for the first time and we helped to promote the value of joining a professional organization to our fellow engineers.”