The agenda was brimming with opportunities as the Society of Women Engineers welcomed more than 16,000 women and men at WE19 — the largest attendance in SWE’s history — to Anaheim, California. Reflecting SWE’s expanding global presence, this year’s attendees represented 33 countries.
With an array of educational sessions at WE19 covering personal and professional development, multiple avenues for networking, and a bustling career fair, the program offered opportunities to live, learn, and lead at every career stage.
Special activities gave attendees a unique opportunity to explore and reflect on the Society’s rich history. A visit to the photo booth treated conference-goers to historic images from SWE’s archives that could be used as backdrops. Using green-screen technology, attendees had their pictures taken and then inserted directly into SWE Founders Day images.
“Let’s Save the World”
Faced with resistance and discouragement from a university professor as an undergraduate, Carol Malnati nearly abandoned her dream of becoming an engineer. In a captivating opening keynote, Malnati, vice president, research and development for Medtronic’s Cardiac Rhythm and Heart Failure business, connected with her audience, declaring, “There’s a power in this room to save the world. Let’s save the world.”
Addressing an early-morning crowd of more than 4,500, Malnati described the day one of her professors tried to shatter her confidence and her plans to pursue an engineering degree. Devastated and on the verge of giving up, with her young daughter in tow, Malnati rode her bicycle home. During that transformative ride, she heard an inspiring quote on public radio that ignited a spark: “Don’t let adversity harden your heart. Let it harden your determination.”
Empowered by these words, Malnati not only continued her studies and received her degree, but she also forged an impressive career path that, among many other accomplishments, earned her this year’s Suzanne Jenniches Upward Mobility Award.
Speaking to another capacity audience, Rachel Hutter, P.E., provided the Friday morning keynote, sharing stories of her path to becoming senior vice president for international facilities operations and worldwide safety, health, and engineering for Walt Disney Parks. In a salute to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge — a new land at Walt Disney World Resort and the Disneyland Resort — Hutter called on inspiration from the women of Star Wars to demonstrate how women engineers can apply their learnings in engineering leadership roles.
Professional Development at WE19
In addition to the educational tracks, WE19 offered seven mega sessions, including “What Works for Women in Engineering: Bias Patterns and Strategies for Navigating Them.” Presented by Joan Williams, J.D., Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, the discussion focused on 40 years of research documenting bias patterns that continue to repeat and how these patterns play out in everyday workplace interactions. Before the session began, FY19 SWE President Penny Wirsing, F.SWE, presented Williams with the FY19 SWE President’s Award.
Williams’ session proved a fitting segue into this year’s State of Women in Engineering presentation, which comprised a review of the current landscape on women in engineering, an overview of SWE’s own research studies, and a comprehensive look at the importance of male allies in combating gender bias in the workplace. W. Brad Johnson, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the U.S. Naval Academy, faculty associate in the Graduate School of Education at Johns Hopkins University, and co-author of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, addressed why men become allies and what women can do to help men understand how to be effective allies.
This year’s career fair boasted more than 410 organizations eager to meet with collegians and women engineers at every career level. Prepared with resumes and enthusiasm, attendees were invited to visit 752 exhibit booths and more than 800 interview booths.
This article appears in the Winter 2020 issue of SWE Magazine.