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2020: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Practice Curiosity

2020: Looking Back And Looking Ahead

To meet the magazine’s production schedule, I am writing this article just a few weeks shy of the end of 2020. Like most of the world, I will be happy to see this year end. This time last year, I was with our partners, affiliates, and members in India conducting roundtables and planning for our WE Local conference that was to take place in Bengaluru in late April. All part of my normal travels for SWE. Who could have predicted that in just a few short months, we would all be grounded and dealing with a global pandemic?

The world changed and the Society responded! Though the year was a roller coaster of emotions, as I reflect on the many pivots we made to meet the needs of our members, I am filled with pride when I see all that we accomplished during such challenging times. In March, we postponed our remaining WE Local events globally and our eXXec program planned for June, all with no financial penalties for SWE. As large conferences scheduled for later in 2020 began to pivot to virtual, we started planning for a hybrid annual conference. As summer drew closer, however, and there was no end to the pandemic in sight, we made the difficult decision to host WE20 virtually. For those who were looking forward to gathering in New Orleans, we have good news: We plan to be there for WE25 — beignets and chicory coffee for everyone!

Though the year was a roller coaster of emotions, as I reflect on the many pivots we made to meet the needs of our members, I am filled with pride when I see all that we accomplished during such challenging times.

But how about WE20? It was SWE’s largest conference to date, with 18,825 participants. There were more than 200 workshops and panels, engaging mega sessions, and inspiring keynotes. I loved seeing the dynamic chat conversations during the live and semi-live sessions. Attendees were sharing best practices, offering advice, and making connections. Well, that sounds like a typical SWE conference! Since we could not host physical banquets to honor our award recipients, instead each keynote recognized a set of awards and respective recipients. Then we got really creative and developed the virtual Awards Hall. To date, there have been 8,100 visitors from 34 countries who have left more than 2,700 comments and notes of congratulation to our honorees. If you have not visited yet, I encourage you to see this amazing group being recognized this year at And don’t forget: The WE20 content is available for a full year. That means there is still plenty of time to take advantage of all the great content.

A community of support

To better understand the impact of COVID on women in engineering, SWE conducted two studies, one in the U.S. and one in India. Here are just a few of the issues we saw from the data: Nearly one-third of SWE collegiate members who had summer job offers had them rescinded or postponed. Similarly, almost a quarter of the students who graduated in the spring of 2020 had their job offers rescinded. And for our professional members, more than 37% expressed concern about losing their jobs within the next six months due to the pandemic, and 70% expressed concern about the ability to find another job if they were to lose their jobs in the near future. To see the full reports on both studies, visit

To further enhance support for members, following a successful pilot in June we rolled out a full implementation of an online mentoring platform. This is a great way for members at all career stages to connect with other members for advice and career coaching. Conducted as cohorts throughout the year, we encourage our late-career and retiree members to sign up as mentors. You will build meaningful connections by supporting other members. We also collated all the terrific content we have available for both mentors and mentees. Visit to view all the resources in one place.

Lastly, in late November we unveiled an updated membership database. If you have not yet logged in to the member portal, I encourage you to do so. All you need is your primary email address that SWE has on file and you can log in and reset your password. As part of this system upgrade, we have eliminated access to some member data to strengthen our data protection practices. But if any SWE leader needs additional data, it can be requested from headquarters via a link in the leadership portal. With any new system, we are still working to troubleshoot. With a streamlined join process and better data protection, however, I am confident this system will help us better serve our members.

To support SWE sections and affiliates, we added the ability for these groups to obtain a G Suite account. This is available at no cost and provides a platform for local groups to meet and maintain engagement with members and leaders.

Best wishes

As the first wave of the COVID-19 vaccines roll out across the globe, I am hopeful that 2021 will be a safe, healthy, and more prosperous year for all of us. Gathering in person will likely resume, and folks will return to schools and offices. But I don’t need a crystal ball to know that SWE will be here, providing a community of support and responding to the changing times as we have for the past 70 years. Be well and happy New Year to all.

2020: Looking Back And Looking Ahead

Karen Horting, CAE

Executive Director & CEO