More than 300 women, including recent graduates and high-level executives, gathered in San Francisco in May for the first IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) International Leadership Conference. There they learned tips for how to succeed in the workplace and how to support one another in their careers.
The conference, held from 1 to 3 May at the Westin San Francisco Market Street hotel, focused on empowerment, engagement, inspiration, and enjoyment. It included skills-building workshops, inspirational presentations on achieving career goals, and discussions on how to reduce stress, build confidence, and find a work-life balance.
“The theme was how to own your career,” says IEEE Senior Member Nita Patel, chair of IEEE WIE. “No one will do it for you. The idea behind all the talks and presentations was to help attendees figure out what they wanted and how to find the help to get it.”
MOVING ON UP
Some 80 percent of attendees hold mid-level posts—which puts them in a prime position to help other women get hired and promoted in their fields, Patel says. In one conference session, attendees brainstormed on how to triple the number of women in leadership roles in science and engineering within the next three years. Ideas included educating companies on the value of hiring more women, creating more awards for women in engineering, and investing in companies founded by women. Participants each pledged to act on at least one of the ideas in the next year.
“An idea that I thought was particularly helpful was to encourage female employees to seek out mentors within their company as part of their performance goals,” Patel says. “This might give women more incentive to build relationships with higher-ups that could lead to bigger opportunities.”
Several speakers discussed the importance of seeking both male and female mentors. In her session, “Advancing Women Leaders: Engaging Men as Champions,” Deborah Campbell, director of global services at Catalyst, a nonprofit in New York City that seeks to expand opportunities for women in business, encouraged attendees to form partnerships with male colleagues and managers to support, rather than compete with, one another. Campbell said women should not consider men as obstacles to success but as advocates. “It shouldn’t be about us versus them but about how we can work together,” she said. “Men have to work through similar challenges, obstacles, and fears that women do.”
Attendees had the opportunity to meet with hiring managers from several high-tech companies including Apple, Cisco, and Qualcomm. “Representatives from these companies were in awe of the energy and the high quality of talent that was present,” Patel says. “It was a great way to bring women face-to-face with some of the most competitive companies in the world.” Several companies held networking events during the conference.
Participants were invited to attend the graduation ceremony for students of Code Camp, held at the headquarters of Square—a company in San Francisco that designs credit card readers for smartphones and tablets. The eight-month program, led by Square employees, teaches computer science skills to local high school girls. The students were required to attend two lectures per week and participate in hands-on lab projects, as well as complete their homework assignments. For the final project, student teams built Android mobile apps.
“It was just as cool of an experience for the graduates to see so many women in technology as it was for attendees to watch what could be the next generation of female engineers take a big step toward entering the field,” Patel says.
Patel hoped to keep the momentum going after the conference by fostering communication among attendees through e-mail and social media. She is connecting them with IEEE volunteering opportunities, speaking engagements, and other professional opportunities. Some women have registered to participate in a series of IEEE WIE online live chats and have volunteered to help write IEEE e-books on topics related to women in engineering.
“This conference made us feel like we are part of a team—a community—that shares the same goals and the same challenges,” Patel says. “It felt like we could understand exactly what the person next to us felt.”
Visit the conference website to participate in next year’s event.