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Record number of industrial professionals, Pitt community members attend Women’s+ Networking Conference

Pitt Engineering’s Women’s+ Plus Networking Conference seeks to inspire and connect women in STEM to strengthen its community

More than 120 industry professionals and University students, faculty and staff attended Women’s+ Networking Conference at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering on October 21, 2023 to celebrate, inspire and learn from each other’s experiences while working in STEM. 

The conference featured a keynote speech from Stephanie Slocum, P.E., the author of “She Engineers: Unlocking Your Potential with Strategic Self-Advocacy” and founder and CEO of Engineers Rising LLC. Attendees received a copy of her book which Slocum autographed.

Her speech reflected themes of self advocacy, which Slocum said is the number one skill to maximize impact and satisfaction – and how to apply that learning during job hunts and early in the career. 

By focusing on their strengths, adopting a growth mindset, and strategically advocating for themselves through understanding how to ask for what they want and leveraging network connections, women engineers can demolish outdated stereotypes about what it means to be an engineer as they rise into leadership roles.

With self-advocacy to elevate and highlight their technical expertise, this next generation of women engineers stands ready to dismantle outdated identity “boxes” and lead the way forward. 

"Breaking free from identity ‘boxes’ is not about changing who you are but embracing all of yourself. You are much more than a ‘woman,’ ‘engineer,’ or ‘leader,’” Slocum explained. “Choose not to be defined – or allow others to define you – by those labels. Instead, know that your unique strengths and identity allow you to contribute a powerful perspective that engineering desperately needs. It’s that uniqueness that will allow you to shine and make an impact in the field.”

The speech was followed by an interactive exercise where small groups had to practice interruption in a workplace scenario, being both the interrupter and the interupted. According to Slocum, it’s not only important to learn how to overcome being interrupted by a peer, but how to graciously interrupt others when necessary – something women, in particular, struggle with. Sai Namasivayam, a senior studying mechanical engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School, said she felt empowered by both the exercise and event. 

“It’s so easy to get caught up in the routine day-to-day tasks and fall into a rut, but it’s events like the Women’s+ Networking Conference that relights your spark, fill you with motivation, and help you re-find your sense of purposed,” Namasivayam said. “At this year’s conference, speaker Stephanie Slocum conducted a phenomenal talk and activity, connecting with all of the wonderful people who attended left an amazing impression on me.” 

Another person in the audience felt moved by the event. Elayne Arrington, who was the first Black woman to graduate from Pitt’s Swanson School in 1961, not only came to share her story, but wanted to hear the students’ as well. She told the audience it was amazing to see a room full of women in STEM, as she was just one of a handful in her class. 

Women's+ Networking Conference 2023

Women-focused student groups then addressed the audience about their mission and activities for the coming academic year. Participating groups included Pitt DIVA, the Engineering Graduate Student Organization, Society of Women Engineers, Phi Sigma Rho, and the Graduate Women in Engineering Network. 

Mary Besterfield-Sacre, senior associate dean for academic affairs and Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor of industrial engineering said she’s thrilled the conference has become a mainstay at the Swanson School as it closes on its fourth year. 

“It’s been an  exhilarating journey to watch and listen to the meaningful conversations that are had among our participants every year,” Besterfield-Sacre said. 

The event ended with a networking brunch, allowing attendees to reflect on the day’s themes together. 

“When we started planning these conferences, we wanted to create an environment that was a mutually beneficial exchange between professionals, alumni and students,” said Beth Peters, co-director of first-year recruitment and womens programs at the Swanson School. “Students are looking for connections, while these leaders are looking to gain some new perspectives as well as being able to share their career advice and support.” 

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