The more conferences I go to that are themed around women in science and engineering, the more hopeful I become that engineers are ready to tackle problems of diversity and inclusion head on. The Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) annual conference took place this year on January 26th and 27th in Toronto. It is a society- and community-led conference, as opposed to a research-intensive conference, and it is organized as an outreach initiative. WISE 2019 has been my favourite conference on diversity and inclusion in engineering so far, precisely because of its focus on outreach and problem-solving.
WISE 2019 represents a kind of community gathering that is often missing in engineering spaces. It’s a setting where students, academics, and industry partners come together to talk about careers and resilience. For someone like me, interested in the retention of women in engineering, this setting is an excellent example of what schools and employers should be doing for students and employees. Research into issues of diversity and inclusion is important, but arguably, solving the problems research finds is even more important. The WISE 2019 conference provided several workshops, ranging from technical to personal development. The explicit attention given to work-life balance in the keynotes, presentations, and workshops showed a commitment to engineers’ and scientists’ lives as opposed to just their work. I could see how empowering it was for attendees to have their identities as both engineers and people validated. It made having difficult discussions much easier because there was a mutual trust between everyone in attendance. Validation begets respect, respect begets trust, and trust begets confidence. Confidence brings out the good ideas that might otherwise be missed.
I head a research team that investigates the experiences of and support for women in engineering. As our team has looked more at statistics and asked people about their experiences, it is clear that the collaboration the WISE conference so prioritized is something of utmost importance to everyone in engineering. Opening up spaces that offer explicit, continued professional development, both technically and personally, is a way to support not just women but anyone that is recruited into engineering to continue growing as engineers and as people.
– Natalie Mazur, Research Associate, York University