IEEE Women in Engineering Affinity Groups Are on the Rise

Leadership training, technical workshops, and STEM activities fuel the growth

22 April 2016

IEEE Women in Engineering affinity groups around the world have been growing steadily since the first two were established in 1999. Today there are more than 600. The groups, formed in IEEE sections and at IEEE student branches, give female engineers the opportunity to network and expand the IEEE Women in Engineering program, which has more than 17,550 members. The groups hold conferences, seminars, workshops, and outreach programs to young women.

Almost 45 percent of the groups are in Asia and the Pacific. Approximately 20 percent are in Latin America; 18 percent in Europe and the Middle East; 14 percent in the United States; and 4 percent in Canada.

More than 80 groups were formed last year alone, up from 37 established in 2014. During the past five years, an average of 48 groups were established each year.

“Our affinity groups have been growing quite rapidly,” notes IEEE Senior Member Nita Patel, chair of WIE. “Their level of engagement with their members is also at a higher level than in years past.”

The secret to fueling interest in WIE affinity groups is holding a variety of activities, Patel says. The award-winning WIE affinity group in the IEEE Panama Section and the WIE chapter of the IEEE student branch at the University of Engineering and Technology at Taxila, in Islamabad, Pakistan, showed how this could be done. They were named 2015 WIE affinity groups of the year based on activities held in 2014. They each held at least 20 events that were a mix of hands-on technical workshops, forums that featured prominent female engineers, and outreach programs to get girls and young women excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

ENERGETIC SECTION

The WIE affinity group in the Panama Section was named Affinity Group of the Year for, according to the award’s citation, “incredible work to empower women in engineering and other STEM fields, provide inspiration for future generations, and create national and regional outreach activities that inspire girls, young women, and established female professionals throughout their lifetimes, especially when pursuing careers in STEM fields.”

Membership in the affinity group, which was established in 2008, has been up and down for the past few years. According to IEEE Member Min Chen, the group’s chair, many women simply did not recognize the value of joining.

To clearly add value for its members, the section’s officers in 2014 established a strategic plan with three goals: encourage women to enter STEM fields, provide inspiration for future generations, and create regional and national outreach activities.

Among the 20 events the group held in 2014 was a forum for young as well as established professionals on science and technology. Some of Panama’s most influential women and men from the STEM fields spoke about the role of women in science and technology education, opportunities for women in research, and national labor issues that affect women. The forum attracted 120 people.

The group had a booth at the annual Festival Abierto, or Open Festival, which showcases Panama’s education, arts, and science programs. About 30,000 attended the one-day event, with visitors stopping by the booth to discuss STEM careers with WIE members.

The WIE Panama group also produced a video in which women were interviewed about their lives and engineering careers. The group also launched a website and a newsletter.

Over the course of 2014, its membership increased to 48 members, from 30, Chen says, adding that as long as the group follows its strategic plan, it will likely continue to attract more members.

“Our most significant accomplishment,” she says, “has been to revitalize the WIE Panama affinity group and send a clear message that these activities are just the beginning of a series of orchestrated events.”

INDUSTRIOUS STUDENTS

The WIE chapter of the IEEE student branch at the University of Engineering and Technology at Taxila, in Islamabad, Pakistan, received the IEEE WIE Student Branch Affinity Group of the Year Award. It was recognized for its “dedication and commitment to inspire, engage, and support more female engineering students and keep them motivated in their field through numerous events and activities.”

The affinity group was established in 2014 “with the sole purpose of encouraging women to participate fully in the engineering profession and to promote women engineers,” says its chair, IEEE Graduate Student Member Kiran Abbas.

The group held 24 events in that first year of existence. Several hands-on workshops taught students technical skills; one on designing a printed circuit board attracted 90 students. About 50 students attended a session on the basics of microcontroller programming, and a 10-day workshop trained 90 students in the use of programmable logic controllers, a human-machine interface, and supervisory control and data acquisition.

The chapter held nontechnical events as well. Nearly 120 students attended a workshop on freelancing as a way to earn extra money. Many of the school’s students would like to study in Germany, so the WIE chapter held a seminar on completing the study-abroad application. That seminar, which attracted some 120 attendees, explained how to overcome challenges the students might face. A seminar on personal development and effective communication drew 60 students.

The group also organized several competitions that involved, for example, the solving of quizzes and puzzles. Hundreds of students participated. Chapter membership quadrupled in 2014, growing to 24 members from 6.

This article is part of our April 2016 special report on women in engineering.

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