Sundays have become my day to sit down and do any needed writing. It is a day I feel fresh and optimistic about the week ahead, and so this morning started with coffee in my favorite mug and “CBS Sunday Morning” on in the background, as most Sundays at my house do. As I sat down at my laptop, I reflected back on our Society of Women Engineers board meeting on March 14. As we all prepared to head to the airport that afternoon, we hoped that we would see one another at WE Local in Des Moines the next month. Would the pandemic have subsided, and would we be able to meet in person? Well, we all know how that turned out.
As the months passed, any hope of holding a face-to-face component of our WE annual conference in New Orleans faded and, like many other organizations, we pivoted to a virtual conference. With the theme “Practice Curiosity,” WE20 will provide a host of opportunities to do just that.
WE20 will be unlike any SWE annual conference in the past 70 years because we will not physically be together. And, it will take place over two weeks instead of the usual one week. We have also added a SWE leadership week prior to the start of the annual conference. We know that virtual meeting fatigue is real, so we are spreading out the content and also providing access to the content for a full year following WE20. The SWE headquarters team worked hard to find a platform that best accommodated the key features our conference attendees look forward to each year: robust professional development, networking, and a dynamic career fair.
Much like every other WE conference
Yet, in many ways, WE20 will be like every other conference we’ve held. There will be four inspiring keynotes from women leaders in engineering and technology. Each keynote will have a live question and answer session conducted via the session chat and moderated by SWE staff and/or SWE leaders. The best part? There’s no need to get to the general session hall early to get a seat or risk missing out. You can be inspired right from the comfort of your favorite chair, without the expense or hassle of travel!
We know that virtual meeting fatigue is real, so we are spreading out the content and also providing access to the content for a full year following WE20.
Let’s not forget five incredible mega sessions. From learning how to optimize our health and well-being with Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., to addressing microaggressions with Gloria Cotton or learning about new body language rules in the digital age with Erica Dhawan, everyone, regardless of career stage, will walk away with learnings they can apply immediately. There will also be more than 160 workshops spanning six tracks that will be either prerecorded, semi-live, or live, along with tech talks and employer information sessions.
Not to be missed is the annual State of Women in Engineering session. Hear from one of the SWE Literature Review authors as she frames the discussion and points to the current research landscape regarding data on women in engineering, gender bias, workplace culture, and more. Expanding on the research shared in SWE Magazine’s State of Women in Engineering 2020 issue, Michelle Brown, COO for Pinsight, will share findings from Pinsight’s recent report, “Repairing the Broken Rung: Overcoming Bias in the Leadership Pipeline.”
Networking lounges, hosted by SWE’s affinity groups, volunteers, and SWE leaders, will take place over the two weeks. The lounges are chat rooms with features to invite others to a direct chat room and engage with video or one-on-one conversation. Though not the same as a face-to-face event, it will provide attendees a chance to connect with one another and meet someone with whom they might not have connected during a face-to-face event. Lounges will also extend beyond the U.S. time zone to provide our global members a chance to connect as well.
Adding to the fun is morning yoga for women engineers, led by women engineers turned yoginis; a meditation lounge; a virtual tour of SWE’s archives at Wayne State University; and an awards hall, which is a novel, new way to recognize all of our award recipients. Finally, in a nod to our intended location of New Orleans, we have a few fun surprises planned. But you will have to register and participate to find out what we have in store for you!
Like all of you, I will miss seeing everyone in person, and I pray we will be together next year. But let’s embrace this opportunity to Practice Curiosity! Join us for our first-ever virtual annual conference. I promise you will not be disappointed.
Karen Horting, CAE
Executive Director & CEO