This past weekend, I got the opportunity to go along with 27 other women to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Local Conference here in Salt Lake City. There are seven local conferences worldwide each spring, and one national conference each fall. We were super excited that one of this spring’s conferences was right here at the Salt Palace, which meant the U’s SWE chapter could send more of us ladies to attend! This was my first conference, and it was a great experience that I learned a lot from! The conference was a mix of keynote speakers, breakout sessions, a career fair, and networking events. Here were some things I learned, or may have already known, that I felt were important to share!
Women can be more than just engineers
I already knew this concept and have for a while. But early on in college, I felt like I was the only girl who experienced this. I didn’t feel like I belonged in my major because I had other interests or liked to do things that weren’t at all related to engineering. In this field, it seems that women are always criticized for doing anything different. I knew there were other girls out there that could relate, but at this conference, I got to actually hear from them. A girl who spoke during one of the lunches was an Aeronautical Engineer, a member of the LGBTQ community, and competed in pageants. She described how difficult it was for people to see her as all three. This isn’t an uncommon instance either. Another women had a passion for sailing, and was unsure how others or her employment would react to her taking time off work for a sailing trip. Why can’t girls be more than just engineers? Especially to be interested in things that are the complete opposite. Men don’t seem to be questioned about their other interests, no matter how distant they may be from engineering.
Women in STEM should speak up
While it can be incredibly difficult for female engineers to speak up in situations, it is critical that we do so when given the opportunity. For the most part, female engineers are in positions where we should be listened to and respected because we know our stuff. There will always be men who try to make you feel small and make themselves look more prominent. However, if they feel like they need to make you appear that way, they’re dealing with their own issues. It is critical to speak up if you are in a position to do so. Whether this is in a meeting that involves you, a project decision you are part of, or simply offering a new idea or approach, it’s important that you let your voice and experience be heard.
Find an ally in your crowd
Finding an ally or friend in every situation is a great way to be better heard and understood. Whether that’s someone in your work department who can back up your ideas, a friend in your field at another company, or someone from school. That’s another reason why SWE is a great organization to be part of. You have allies all around the world who have similarities to you through engineering. Many companies even have SWE workplace groups. In addition, the engineering life is hard to relate to. Having other ladies who have my similar lifestyle has been super beneficial!
Overall, my experience at WE Local was amazing and I’m very grateful I was selected to go! I learned a great deal and am glad I got to meet women from other colleges as well as women who currently work in industry. If you are a woman in engineering or computer science looking for an organization within your field, I would definitely recommend joining SWE or checking out our events!