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I had a great weekend at the Society of Women Engineers Region i conference in Kansas City this year.

My favorite sessions were about designing sports stadiums, sure... cost analysis of where to put what kind of seats, fantastic time lapse videos and insider tips on how to reserve the fifth largest crane in the world. and then get it OUT of your stadium when you're done!

But another favorite was about reasons why people join SWE, we just went over some discussion points and then told each other stories and I got to hear from some really cool women.

I have two reasons why I'm in SWE.

The quick short one is that women engineers are the BEST crew to drink wine with.

But okay, when pressed, I have my deeper reasons. I'll call this the non-wine reason.

There's a business case for diversity and all the smart people know it. We don't want more women in engineering as a "be nice to women!" initiative. We truly believe that if we want the best technology and ideas, we can't just draw our talent from half the population. Engineering deserves women.

Companies frequently make mistake #1: they ask themselves why there aren't more women in their engineering department, and figure if they've got ONE successful woman she can represent her entire sex alone and tell them what's up. They ask her, "Why don't we have more women, are we doing anything wrong?" and she replies, "Well I just got promoted to director and am having a great time so obviously not." Everybody does the "what's wrong with women" shrug, and leaves with no ideas to solve the problem.

Then some random internet site will kick off mistake #2: they'll ask women who dropped out of engineering why they dropped out, and come out with an article about how engineering is just too mean or hard or weird. Nevermind that plenty of men drop out also and say the same thing, or that women drop out of other fields saying the same thing, they'll just post up the stock "what's wrong with engineering" article. And again, no recommendations to solve this problem, just criticism.

Why am I in SWE?

Because SWE doesn't look at what's wrong.

We are just a collection of bright spots, looking at what's going right. And that's what our conferences, magazines, professional sessions are all about. We've got research to back up what we're doing, and every year they publish a summary of other academic papers to prove we're on the ball. We talk, a lot. And we do a LOT.

We know that young people, both boys and girls, need to to see themselves as engineers. Since there are fewer women in engineering, this is harder for girls. So we get out there and work with kids, it's called "outreach" and it's got some incredibly dedicated SWE leaders working on international, regional, local levels to make sure we're doing the right thing. In my little local section our annual kids engineering expo has gone from a basketball court to Wichita's Century II exhibition center in a few years, and it just brought tears to my eyes this year to see what a few volunteers have pulled together. Lots of kids just need to see themselves as *that engineer*. There's this sad suggestion that women just aren't biologically tilted to want to be engineers. That's a great way to stop all conversations because it only looks backwards, not forwards. And SWE's statistics contradict that idea anyway. If women really are just totally coincidentally hard-wired to seek out the lowest paying jobs in every economy, why is it that with a little outreach and examples of women engineers, girls start mysteriously signing up for math classes?

SWE's membership is growing by leaps and bounds these days. I don't know if it's Beyonce feminism, or John Oliver posting up OUR website when the Miss America pageant tried to say they give away more scholarships to women that anyone (they don't), or just the internet making it easier to spread the word. Either way, we're onto something. SWE has always been huge and influential but this year felt amazing.

I realize this probably sounded like a big SWE sales pitch, so I apologize for that, even us members talk up to about this limit and say "enough! let's open another wine..."

I know that not every woman engineer wants to join SWE. It's a defense mechanism for lots of them, they're trying to be one of the guys and admitting that you network with other women engineers conflicts with that. But SWE is a place where I can help some other woman feel like part of the family, and that's important to me. It's a place where I can reach out to kids and volunteer. And most important: they're asking the big complicated questions. One woman executive in an engineering firm will not solve this on her own.

If the gender imbalance in engineering were an easy thing to fix we'd have fixed it years ago. It's not easy. It requires some experimentation, and lots and lots of questions. But get some engineers together and we love that kind of stuff.

That's why I love SWE.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2015 12:02 am (UTC)
Anytime you can get together with like-minded people, swap stories, and make plans for changes to way things are done, DO IT.

How do you get tPhe world's fifth largest crane out of your stadium? Haven't you built your stadium around it?

I'll bet you came back all energized and ready to whip your weight in wildcats! FanSee

P.S. First sentence should read, "Anytime you can get together with like-minded people, drink wine, swap stores...."

P.P.S. Sorry for the multiple edits.

Edited at 2015-03-02 12:07 am (UTC)
Mar. 2nd, 2015 01:07 am (UTC)
I've considered renewing my membership though now I am firmly a physical therapist.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 01:53 am (UTC)
That sounds AWESOME! *cheers* *makes note*
Mar. 2nd, 2015 01:54 am (UTC)
that is so awesome!
Mar. 2nd, 2015 01:55 am (UTC)
Are you and altamira16 friends on LJ? because if you're not you should be. She would find this very relevant.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 02:52 am (UTC)
We are friends. Her perspective on these issues is interesting and probably different than mine.

We lose a lot of mid-level people during child-bearing years, and it would be helpful to have more 30 hour week jobs to deal with the fact that two-income households are not easily maintainable.

I was a member of SWE for a year in college. Then I was a member of the Women in Engineering chapter of IEEE for a different year. When I moved to Colorado, I joined Women Who Code, but I may drop that soon too.

I went to a WIE event when I lived in Maryland, and there were mostly men there. People were asking me if I was there with my husband. I didn't remember that part. My husband did. I remembered that engineers had poor hand washing skills and poor food-touching skills, and I came down with a cold and couldn't attend the second day of the conference.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 04:11 am (UTC)
Clearly you're not, at heart, an engineer, or you would have attended despite the cold and sneezed on everything.

Or is that just the people I work with?
Mar. 2nd, 2015 02:29 pm (UTC)
A lot of engineers who do not understand germs. Now I understand why our office manager at that one job was always wiping down doorknobs and telephones. She was the only one who understood germs and how they spread.

At the WIE thing, I skipped the event because I was paying to be there. They were not paying me to be there. I think that is a legitimate way that engineers think about such problems.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 03:18 pm (UTC)
As my epidemiology prof used to say: there are two types of microbiologists, the ones who wipe off doorknobs before they touch them, and the ones who eat food off the floor.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 01:14 pm (UTC)
I support more 30-hour/week jobs! :-)
Mar. 2nd, 2015 06:35 pm (UTC)
I didn't know SWe was global... somehow I thought it was an US thing.

I'm not sure how I feel about it. During university, I didn't join the woman's group, because THEN I felt that there is not really a difference between the boys and girls. But now, even though I had no bad exeriences, I'm not so sure about it anymore.
Mar. 2nd, 2015 10:15 pm (UTC)
*Applause* This is a great summary of all the things SWE does right, especially on the topic of research. I recently visited a SWE meeting at my alma mater and encouraged all in attendance to stay involved in SOME sort of professional organization, and that SWE is an especially good one for networking and soft skill resources.

One point of clarification, as John Oliver said, even taking away all the false statistics from the Miss America scholarship statistics, they actually ARE still the provider of the most scholarship funds to women. He listed SWE as one organization folks to donate to in order to change that stat, and due to the attention SWE got $50k in donations in a WEEK. That's how much they normally get in a whole YEAR. That's amazing! I volunteered to be a scholarship judge again this year because they are getting so many more applications as well!

Believe it or not, the place I've found most hostile to SWE involvement is other large, well-established professional organizations (specifically IEEE). Mentioning SWE turns a lot of people off, which is a shame because SWE is so good about empowering members to enhance their leadership and community service skills. SWE members aren't man-haters or militant feminists (although I have met a few in my 12 years as a SWE member). :-/ I don't know if it's because the demographic in other organizations is so overwhelmingly comprised of older men or if it's something about having competing organizational interests, but it's really disconcerting...
Mar. 3rd, 2015 08:29 pm (UTC)
It's great to know you belong to a community :) Women in engineering and similar fields (computer science in my case) should support each other :)
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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