For more than 65 years, the Society of Women Engineers has worked to help give women a voice in the male-dominated engineering industry, and now one of the organization’s newest local sections has been formally launched in Memphis.
In the wake of becoming an official Memphis Professional Section – the group’s way of describing local chapters – it’s organizing a charter event at the East Memphis DoubleTree celebrating the accomplishment.
The event, “Celebrate SWE Memphis,” is set for Feb. 23 at 5069 Sanderlin Ave. from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The agenda calls for a social cocktail hour to kick things off that includes interactive demonstrations of SWE Memphis K-12 STEM outreach, collegiate outreach and professional development events. After that will come the dinner and a round of speakers, with the goal of the event being to celebrate the progress SWE Memphis has made so far and to raise awareness of the events it wants to tackle this year.
Smith & Nephew engineer Bhavya Vendra, networking chair for the new SWE section in Memphis, said the upcoming event also represents a good networking opportunity, as the group is inviting many top engineering executives to attend.
The group’s mission?
“The Society of Women Engineers inspires women to achieve their full potential as engineers and leaders,” says Vendra, adding that it does so through networking, professional development and programs to inspire younger women to pursue a career in engineering by expanding their understanding of the profession.
Speakers at next month’s celebration include SWE president Colleen Layman, who’ll talk about the group’s mission, goals and progress around key strategic initiatives. Also set to speak is Medtronic vice president of R&D Tommy Carls, who will talk about his experience with SWE as a partner in hiring, developing and retaining diverse engineering talent.
Abundant need still confronts the group. According to stats from SWE, only 7 percent of mechanical engineers are female, compared to 18 percent of industrial engineers and computer hardware engineers. The group says the computer industry is a little better, though females are still not well represented there either.
“Our goal with the upcoming event is to create awareness that Memphis has a Society of Women Engineers section to create awareness among women engineers in the area,” said SWE Memphis section president Sharon Rozzi, a senior director of operations with Medtronic. “We also want to create awareness among executives at engineering companies in the area, because SWE has a long history of helping engineering companies recruit diverse talent as well as develop and retain diverse talent.”
She said one way the group pursues its mission is by encouraging girls in middle and high school to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. And the section’s members serve as role models and mentors to those young girls.
“We try to break the myth that these are men’s roles,” Rozzi said. “We also support diversity in the engineering field by reaching up to our SWE collegiate members at the University of Memphis and Christian Brothers University. We mentor them, we’re role models for them, and we encourage them to stick with it and how to navigate and advance in what’s currently mostly a male field.”