18:06 PM

Engineers are Strong(H)er Together

The Women In Engineering Program hosted “Strong(H)er Together, a workshop to guide women on overcoming challenges and thrive in an STEM-centered workplace

More women are joining the STEM workforce, but the fields – particularly engineering – are still male-dominated. 

These gender differences can make navigating the workplace complicated. The Women in Engineering Program at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering hosted “Strong(H)er Together,” a conversational and interactive workshop to guide young engineers to overcome these differences through leadership, community building, and a sense of humor. 

“It is always important to have allies for women in the workplace,” said Beth Peters, co-director of the First-Year Engineering Recruitment and Women’s Program. “We need to make a point to acknowledge the accomplishments of women, while also challenging gender stereotypes and bias by interrupting sexist or discriminatory comments and advocating for the inclusion of diverse perspectives in the decision-making process.” 

Alaina Elias and Lesli Kunkle, both Swanson School alumnae and leaders of their respective employee resource groups (ERG), led a conversation with both graduate and undergraduate students detailing how and why they built their ERGs – and the personal and professional growth they experienced because of it. 

“I’ve struggled with being a woman in a male-dominated field,” Elias said. “It sounds cliche, but it really is tough. Starting our ERG, I not only met some really great women, but it helped expand my horizons throughout the company I work for and opened up other opportunities.” 

The duo said they faced little pushback from leadership when they proposed developing women-centered resource groups. They’re still learning how to make sure men are included in these conversations – or when they need not to be, especially for events discussing female health. 

“We are always clear in our advertising and marketing about who these events are for,” Kunkle explained. “However, our male allies are usually the ones approving the cost of someone to join our programming, so we like to have them involved to see what we’re doing and understand the issues we’re facing.” 

Astrid Rolón Rosa, a graduate student at the Swanson School, said she’s faced bias and isolation during her tenure in the engineering field and seen these biases manifest as stereotypes affecting hiring, promotions and project assignments. At “Strong(H)er Together,” she learned the importance and power of a collective.   

“Building a supportive network of mentors and peers allows for guidance and a sense of belonging, while creating allies and advocates within the workplace empowers the promotion of diversity, challenging gender biases, and fostering a more inclusive engineering environment,” she said. “Through these actions, we can collectively overcome the hurdles and work towards a stronger, more equitable engineering community. Our voice and presence matters, and we have the ability to lead and dominate the world.”

After the main conversation wrapped, students were invited to attend a casual networking event. The speakers – who both admitted to not enjoying networking early in their careers – gave students a piece of advice to make the most of it: wear your best outfit, set a doable goal for yourself, and always leave a space open at your table for others to join the conversation.