“Are you a student?”
On a flight headed home, I turned to regard the African American woman sitting next to me, who up until speaking, had been marking-up a document in a heavily loaded 3-ring binder.
“Not currently,” I replied. She arched her eyebrow and gestured to the stack of notes I had been reviewing. “Oh, I just left meetings with SWE and I am reviewing my action items and learning points.”
She smiled, it turns out she is an established professor in journalism, so of course she had great questions …
“What is SWE and why are you passionate about it?”
I answered that SWE is the Society of Women Engineers, a non-profit organization comprised of individuals passionate about supporting women in STEM. This group of global, extraordinary women has been a major influence in shaping me since starting my engineering career.
She said she was pleased to meet a female engineer since women and minorities are underrepresented in so many industries, including her own. “And what do you do with SWE?”
My alignment with SWE’s mission and vision inspired me to grow from a volunteer for single day outreach events to local officer roles, leading small international teams, and now I’m taking on my biggest challenge yet and serving on the SWE Board of Directors as the Director of Diversity & Inclusion. I just finished orientation and officially take office on July 1st.
My traveling companion nodded and a short time after we both went back to our work.
Our conversation got me thinking about the universal struggle to contribute to our full potential when we are bogged down spending our energy on being accepted and, with any luck, included.
So, I’d like to change my answer.
I am a student.
Lack of inclusion is a problem, but when enough people act, even the most complex problems can be solved. Let’s use the ideas behind diversity and inclusion to explore better ways to reach common goals through empathy and commitment of seeking to understand diverse perspectives. Along with this process, let’s consider ways to make everyone feel safe enough to share their points of view.
When my SWE career began over a decade ago, I never dreamed I’d be here, side-by-side with the most extraordinary people and sisterhood, making a difference for women in STEM.
I need your help solving this problem. Let’s take the next step together as students of Intentional Inclusion to Live Out Loud. The diversity and inclusion journey is one that never ends, but I know we can make headway on solving this problem, and I am very excited to share this leg of it with you.
Please join SWE’s D&I journey via this blog – tell me how you are a student in the comments below.
Cheers to the journey,
SWE Director of Diversity & Inclusion
Natalie Vanderspiegel serves as the Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). She works at Solar Turbines advocating for a team that builds and tests robust overhauled natural gas turbines around our world. Natalie lives in Dallas, TX with her wife and their dog. Her educational background includes degrees in Ceramic Engineering and Engineering Management from Missouri University of Science & Technology.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Society of Women Engineers and/or Solar Turbines.