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Viewpoint: A Pathway to Leadership

With governance changes underway, SWE committees are more important than ever as a resource and pathway to leadership. Here, a member of the nominating committee shares insights and describes the nomination process.

As a 16-year SWE member with local and regional leadership experience, I wondered whether Society leadership was something I wanted to do someday, and, if so, how would I get there? I watched webinars on SWE’s Advance Learning Center to learn more about our Society leadership structure and SWE’s leadership competency model. I also talked to friends who had held Society leadership positions and asked about their experiences in these roles. That information was great, but I wanted to see for myself how SWE’s leadership competency model is practically applied to the nomination and slating of our Society leaders. I nominated myself as one of the last region representatives to the Society nominating committee and won the FY19 election (I’ll address how nominating committee members will be elected without regions later).

One of the committee’s first tasks in FY19 was to update SWE’s Election Manual based on the Governance Structure Implementation Plan and comments from the board of directors and the FY18 nominating committee. While our Society bylaws define the formal duties and eligibility for each elected position and standing committee chairs, the Election Manual outlines policies, procedures, and best practices from the nominating (and other) committee’s collective experiences. Meanwhile, we prepared the call for nominations and discussed desired skills for each position based on the Society’s needs, mission, and goals. That call for nominations went out to members in fall 2018. These tasks opened my eyes to the amount of work that goes into each email members receive from SWE headquarters!

The Nomination Process

Once the nomination deadline closes, each nominee is contacted to schedule a recorded video interview and provide their professional resume, SWE service resume, and headshot photo. Then, SWE HQ sends the call for nominee feedback to SWE members. Nominees are also encouraged to solicit feedback from their professional peers and supervisors who may not be SWE members. This year, the committee asked reviewers to evaluate nominees against each of the five SWE leadership competency model categories. This information helps the nominating committee get a broader idea of the nominee’s skills, accomplishments, and performance from external sources. It’s very important that we seek outside perspectives as some nominees may not be well known to the committee, and a lack of renown should never be a disqualifier.

Next, the nominating committee begins the vetting and slating process. We take the aforementioned inputs, consider nominees individually, then discuss as a group which nominees are best qualified for each position’s responsibilities, according to the leadership competency model and against the other nominees for that position. Additional candidates may be sought if no nominees are qualified for a position, or nominees for other positions may be asked if they would serve where SWE needs them most that year. Eventually, each nominee is either slated for one position, or not slated for that year. At the end of the vetting and slating process, the nominating committee provides feedback to nominees based on the SWE leadership competency model, regardless of whether they were slated or not. Information about individual candidates and their evaluation is strictly confidential. Finally, the nominating committee presents the completed slate to the board of directors, and the ballot is prepared for distribution to SWE members in the spring.

Contested/Uncontested Positions

In the past, a slate with uncontested positions created a perception that the committee deliberately presented only their first-choice candidates. The truth is, the committee would love to see each position contested so that SWE members select who would best serve in that role. Unfortunately, there have not always been enough qualified nominees to slate multiple candidates.

The one exception is the position of president-elect. Due to the public-facing nature of the role, the arrangements that need to be negotiated with employers to fulfill the two-year commitment, and to avoid having a high-profile SWE leader sit out of other elected leadership roles for an entire fiscal year, the role of president-elect is currently slated as uncontested. The nominating committee understands the significant responsibility entrusted to us to make this selection on behalf of the Society. We engage in extensive deliberations and often seek expanded feedback to come to a consensus on this selection.

Previously, when each nominating committee member was a representative of their region, there was also a perception that committee members should advocate nominees from their region. Today, nominating committee members determine the candidates who are best prepared to serve the Society’s needs and goals, regardless of where they live. With the growing number of SWE roles vetted by the nominating committee, this process takes a long time! During the height of vetting and slating activities committee members can expect three to five hours of conference calls per week, plus about 10 hours per week of individual evaluation of nominees in preparation for vetting calls. It is a huge commitment and one that is taken very seriously. The committee strives to do what is best for the Society.

It is rewarding to see all the nominees’ accomplishments and their willingness to serve the Society. The first year on the committee can be intimidating, but, senior members are paired with junior members to help newbies get organized and understand expectations. Consider the nominating committee for your next term of SWE leadership service! The call for new SWE committee members, including the nominating committee, will come in the spring. FY20 nominating committee members will be vetted by the FY19 nominating committee per the criteria established in the Election Manual. The committee will provide a recommended slate (consisting of at least five members) to the board of directors for review.

Shelley Stracener is a senior electrical engineer in Abbott’s neuromodulation division. She holds a B.S. in electrical and computer engineering from Baylor University. She served as the FY17 and FY18 president of the SWE Dallas Section and is a member of the Society nominating committee and the editorial board.

Author(s) Information

  • Viewpoint: A Pathway to Leadership committee

    Shelley Stracener

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