Another Society of Women Engineers conference is now in the rearview mirror, which gives me pause to reflect. Once again, more than 14,000 women and men, from 35 countries, gathered to network, learn, advance their careers, or simply reconnect with old friends and make new friends. In 1951, SWE held its first national convention — as they were called at the time — in New York City, drawing 112 attendees to that first official event. Clearly, the event has grown exponentially. But at the core, it is still about the same thing: connecting with like-minded women who share a passion for their engineering profession.
I often tell our SWE HQ staff how one 50-plus-year member shared that she used to sit in the lobby of the “convention” hotel so she could see all her friends as they arrived to the hosting city. Given that we often have 15 or more hotels housing attendees, that just isn’t possible now. But, more than ever, we are working on ways to help members connect with their existing networks or build new ones.
One way we are working to facilitate connections is through our SWE affinity groups. Affinity groups are small groups within the organization where individuals sharing a common element of diversity work collaboratively. The program is growing, and we now have nine active affinity groups with champions who want to connect with you and establish a network within SWE. Affinity group members share knowledge, concerns, and experiences among themselves and allies and mutually support one another. In addition, they advise and educate SWE on issues affecting the specific group and serve as a resource to SWE members regarding the specific group’s interest. The groups also enhance and promote networking mechanisms for connecting members and increase understanding and commitment to the value of diversity and inclusion as an integral part of SWE culture.
During WE18, in addition to the affinity group meeting and luncheon, a number of affinity groups hosted meetups so that members could meet face-to-face to connect and share ideas. Attendance at these activities was terrific! The affinity groups have created Facebook groups so that you can join, share information, and get connected. You can find these groups at: SWE African-American AG, SWE Latinos AG, SWE Native-American AG, SWE LGBTQ and Allies AG, SWE Global Women Engineers AG, SWE Small Business AG, SWE Women in Government AG, and SWE Entrepreneurs AG. Interested in starting an affinity group? Contact SWE’s director of diversity and inclusion, Natalie Vanderspiegel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of our newest community-building efforts are the direct result of the senior member engagement task force that just wrapped up its work in October. The task force was established about a year ago to provide recommendations on how the Society can better engage longtime SWE members and ensure their perspectives are included in Society activities.
Recommendations included: targeted communications, short-term opportunities for engagement/giving back, increased or new channels to provide feedback to the Society, greater recognition for long-term members, and more programming for retired members (or those nearing retirement). To help facilitate networking and two-way communication, we will be launching an affinity group shortly for our seasoned members, and we have already started to develop and deploy targeted communications. In addition, check out the member recognition story also from the Winter Issue of SWE Magazine, where we celebrate anniversaries.
While the week of annual conference is a whirlwind of meetings and events, I get energized watching connections form. I like to listen as attendees start a conversation about navigating the skywalk and end the conversation swapping career advice, or see SWE ambassadors from across the globe meet at the Spark Center to share best practices and take photos, or watch as groups of collegiates meet for coffee to swap interview tips and gush about the dream job they just interviewed for during the career fair. I encourage all members to leverage the programs, services, and tools SWE provides to get or stay connected. SWE is your community! And the community is richer when all are engaged.
Karen Horting, CAE
Executive Director & CEO