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Society of Women Engineers Conference - Long Beach 2009

Figure 1

Gelys Trancho and Angelic Ebbers at the SWE Conference

Figure 2

The careers fair at the SWE conference

The Society of Women Engineers held its annual conference in Long Beach California during October of 2009.  Gelys Trancho, Systems Engineer at Gemini South, and Angelic Ebbers, Software Engineer at Gemini North, represented the Gemini Observatory.

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is a not-for-profit educational and service organization that empowers women to succeed and advance in the field of engineering, and to be recognized for their life-changing contributions as engineers and leaders.

Gelys and Angelic said they were, "amazed" and "impressed" at the sheer scale of the conference. Over 5,000 Women engineers and students attended alongside hundreds of employers from all sectors of the economy. The conference itself had over 100 sessions discussing topics from diversity/outreach, through management skills, stress management and life/work balance, which all provided tremendous social interactions and networking opportunities. The 'high-value professional development track' at the conference included topics on: Managing Stress, Work/life Balance, Controlling Emotions, Mentoring, Leadership, etc., all of which were very inspiring.

One key theme from the conference was “Living & Implementing Diversity." Several of the speakers stated that diversity is a necessity for corporate success and that a diverse workforce is needed to meet the demands of a diverse community. To be successful, diversity should start from the top down. When the management team is not diverse the workplace is not attractive to a diverse talent pool. Research demonstrates that women will be influenced in job selection by the diversity of the existing workforce/management team.

On how to implement diversity there were a number of suggestions put forward: establish a baseline of current staffing levels, include diversity in mission statements and objectives, assign a committee to lead the diversity initiative, and consider job rotations and talent management.

There were also several recommendations on changing the diversity culture which include: openly discuss issues, create the culture to attract and retain the next-generation of engineers, address unique benefits needed by women/families (i.e., maternity/paternity leave, benefits). Expose hiring managers to conferences/initiatives/diversity culture, watch out for attrition rates (signs of problems), engage staff in the program and use a mentoring system!

The recommendations for promoting engineering careers for women centered on: educating the public/families, adopting an industry-wide approach, partnering with engineering schools, and supporting national and local programs.

Gemini is partnering in an initiative to start Hawai‘i and International sectors of the Society of Women Engineers. This will support local programs and provide increased networking opportunities in Hawai‘i and Chile. Following this highly inspiring conference we are looking forward to even greater involvement and participation at next year’s conference.