18:30 PM

Building a better workplace for women, by women

Women’s+ Plus Networking Conference seeks to improve careers of women in STEM

Community partners and University of Pittsburgh students, staff, and faculty gathered at the Swanson School of Engineering to discuss creating an equitable workplace at the Women’s+ Networking Conference on Nov. 12, 2022. This year’s theme focused on the power of saying no to aid in one’s advancement in their career, particularly in STEM.

The conference featured a keynote speech from Lise Vesterlund, Andrew W. Mellon professor of economics at Pitt and co-author of  “The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead End Work.” Vesterlund spoke on the common issue of non-promotable tasks (NPT), a term in the book referring to work assigned that is outside of or below a professional’s expertise – giving them unmanageable workloads and work that isn’t rewarded by superiors. Vesterlund’s research found that women, particularly women of color, are more likely than their male colleagues to be assigned and agree to complete an NPT. 

“This is not a question of “fixing” women,” Vesterlund said. “This is an opportunity to improve organizations.” 

Attendees, including undergraduates and seasoned professionals, agreed they experienced a similar bias in their environments and worked in small groups to discuss strategies found in Vesterlund’s book to reject or renegotiate an NPT.

“Going forward, I’ll definitely be more aware of what I’m saying yes to,” Stephanie Liu, a graduate student at the Swanson School, said. “I’m more likely to consider what I’m being assigned and negotiate what I’m agreeing to if I accept it.” 

Women-focused student groups then addressed the audience about their mission and activities for the coming academic year. Participating groups included Engineers without Borders, Pitt DIVA, the Engineering Graduate Student Organization, Society of Women Engineers, Phi Sigma Rho, and the Graduate Women in Engineering Network.

The event ended with a networking brunch allowing attendees to reflect on the day’s topics. Being the first conference since 2019 due to Covid-19, leaders of the event emphasized the need for unity – both in and out of the workplace. 

Mary Besterfield-Sacre, Nickolas A. Dececco Professor of Industrial Engineering, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, said she was very excited to see a large, diverse turnout, despite the event’s Covid hiatus. 

“This is about being together,” Besterfield-Sacre said. “Whether entering or advancing in the workplace, women must learn that sometimes rules and requirements like NPTs are inherent biases. As today’s workplace continues to evolve post-pandemic, this is another opportunity for us to openly address bias." 

The Women’s+ Networking Conference is organized and held by the Women in Engineering Program Committee.