Recruiting and retaining minority students: How current graduate students can help

As graduate students, it can feel as though we have little power to change institutional practices that would increase diversity in a meaningful way. However, my own experience has shown that current graduate students can take action to encourage their university to add or improve diversity initiatives. I wanted to take this blog post as an opportunity to highlight some successful initiatives being implemented by universities across the country and then to suggest some ways that we, as students, can help enact change. It is my hope that by sharing these ideas, they can be adopted in more places and further improved.

Recruitment

Many universities are beginning to recognize that an effective way to attract talented minority applicants is to simply make the effort to recruit at conferences and universities with many minority undergrads. Universities already send representatives to conferences, and by choosing to recruit at new places, they are able to diversify their applicant pool and make a PhD seem attainable.

In a similar vein, some universities have begun hosting diversity preview weekends for minority students. I know that such a weekend was key in my decision of where to go to undergrad; thus, I am hopeful that such programs will similarly help convince more minority students to pursue a graduate degree. Yale University recently started a pilot program of this sort after a couple of students decided to meet with the graduate school’s diversity office to suggest it. Many other universities are also looking for ways to increase diversity on campus and may similarly be open to such a program. If you are mentoring any minority undergrads, then I would highly encourage you to direct them to Científico Latino, which lists many more programs of this sort, including ones at Georgia Tech, Ohio State, and MIT.

Retention

One of the frequent comments I have received from administrators when trying to increase diversity and inclusion on campus has been that it is “impossible” to get faculty to do anything. Therefore, I am always incredibly inspired (and heartened) by programs that have successfully motivated faculty to support diversity initiatives. A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Sherilynn Black, the Associate Vice President of Faculty Development at Duke University, when she came to campus to speak about her success increasing the acceptance and inclusion of minority graduate students at Duke. (If you’d like to hear Dr. Black speak about persisting in STEM as a minority, then check out her inspiring talk from the 2016 SACNAS Conference.)

I was particularly impressed by her continual insistence that faculty members should be taking a larger role in creating a supportive environment for minority students and that the burden of diversity work should not be placed on the students themselves. This was particularly inspiring, as she has actually managed to increase faculty buy-in through “culturally-aware mentoring” workshops that faculty are required to attend if their graduate students are on certain grants.

These trainings are successful, in part, because they make faculty members aware of their own culture and background, and thus more accepting of where their student’s background might be different. Furthermore, they assume that most faculty members do want to be effective mentors and frame the trainings through this lens. Duke has also put together an extensive site devoted to mentoring, if you’d like to check out more resources on this topic.

Suggestions for making these a reality

If you’d like to increase minority graduate student recruitment and retention at your university, here are some tips from my own experiences to get you started.

  1. Collaborate with the other diversity groups on campus: As my mom used to say, “many hands make light work;” besides, many voices raised together are harder to ignore. To that end, my gradSWE section increases our reach by collaborating with other diversity groups. These groups have connections with administrators beyond the ones we normally interact with, who can help provide funding or institutional support for our ideas. Furthermore, these groups intimately know the problems facing their own members; together we can craft solutions that support all under-represented groups.
  2. Start at the department level: I have found it much easier to encourage faculty who I already have a relationship with to come to diversity events. Additionally, I have found that trainings at the department level can increase buy-in, particularly when the department chair is supportive of the events.
  3. Find sponsors and advocates: Finding the administrators or professors who care about these issues–and are willing to champion them–can make all the difference in turning your recruitment and retention ideas into reality. In addition to providing funding, they can also encourage their colleagues to support your initiatives and attend trainings.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask: If you have ideas of how you can improve your department or school, schedule a meeting with administrators to share them. From my work on our university’s Title IX board, I learned that oftentimes, administrators don’t realize something is a problem for graduate students because no one has spoken up. Even if you are unsuccessful in pitching your idea, you may find some other program that you can help implement or lay the groundwork for the next person who makes a similar request.
  5. Don’t give up: While many schools profess a commitment to increasing diversity, it is an uphill battle to realize change. Administrators will often be unwilling to make large changes, but keep advocating for and supporting your fellow graduate students. Together, we will be able to realize more inclusive graduate programs.

Other ideas?

I’ll end this blog post by inviting you to share with me any additional programs that you know of that have been successful in increasing the recruitment or retention of minority students. If you email these stories to me at gradswe.dil@gmail.com, I would love to feature them in further blog posts. Whether it is something your university’s diversity office has implemented or a program run by your SWE section, please send it my way.

 

 

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Introducing SWE’s Affinity Groups

In my first blog post, I mentioned SWE’s Affinity Groups (AGs); over the past semester, I have been in contact with the lead for each AG to learn more about each and to learn some ways that grad students can get involved. It is my pleasure to share this information with the gradSWE community through this post.

What is an affinity group?

Claudia Galván, the SWE Affinity groups lead, says:

“The SWE Affinity Groups (AGs) are communities of individuals who share the same interests and goals… The focus of these groups is to build community, provide professional development and recognition opportunities.”

The affinity groups are currently being reorganized and have been grouped under two umbrellas:

  • Diversity and Inclusion Networks: Latinos, African-American, Native American, LGBTQ
  • Business Networks:  Women in Government, Entrepreneurs, Small Business and Global Engineers.

More information about this reorganization and the affinity groups themselves will be in an upcoming SWE All Together article.

How can I get more involved?

If after reading the descriptions of the AGs below, you would like to get more involved with one, then Facebook is a great way to see what specific events and activities a given AG is up to. If you have more questions, then email Claudia Galván (ag-coordinator@swe.org) and she would be happy to answer them.

A current priority of the AGs is building their leadership pipeline; they are looking for leads for Building Community, Professional Development and Awards.  If getting involved with a given AG or the program as a whole sounds interesting to you, then email Claudia Galván, SWE AG Lead (ag-coordinator@swe.org).

Meet the AGs:

African-American AG

The African-American AG is led by Rose Margaret Itua, Associate Professor of Engineering, Ohlone College. The group is focusing on developing the partnership with NSBE (SWE and NSBE have a joint membership!) and bringing a voice and representation of the African-American Community into the industry.

Follow them on Twitter #SWEAfricanAmericanAG and  #SWExNSBE or like them on Facebook: : https://www.facebook.com/groups/1726422537620243/

Entrepreneurs

The Entrepreneurs AG is led by  Courtney Sanders, Entrepreneur at ExecuVentures and Katherine Culbert Co-Founder at K and K Process. The Entrepreneurs AG is focused on creating a community to share resources and help support startups in various stages of development. Their current priority is to build the entrepreneurs community to show that entrepreneurship is a viable career path for female engineers.

Follow them on Twitter: #SWEEntrepreneursAG or Join their FB Page:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/188431004915171/

Global Engineers

The Global Engineers, led by Davida Gondohusodo located in Jakarta, Indonesia, is a global community which consists of SWE international members including expats and Friends of SWE to develop a network and provide professional development and empowerment opportunities. During their first year, the priorities of the Global Engineers are to:

  • Build the leadership team,
  • Understand the needs of the global (non US) community,
  • Work with the ambassadors and senators to come up with an overall international strategy aligned with the SWE Membership Committee Goals.

You can join their facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1101289266633848/

Latinos

Ivelisse Del Valle Figueroa is the Co-chair of the Latinos AG Affinity Group. Their group comprises of people from Latino backgrounds and diversity allies. Their goals is to build a community of SWE Latino members, and provide professional opportunities and empowerment. This year they are providing visibility to their members by spotlighting them on their Facebook group and encouraging their members to engage in speaking opportunities and award nominations. They are also highlighting SWE’s partnership with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). Graduate students may find a lot of opportunities through their AG, including: learning about speaking opportunities to talk about their research and getting recognized for their work. They are eager to engage more graduate students and would love to hear from gradSWE members on how to do this better.

Here is the link to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1796372620644033/

LGBTQ and Allies

LGBTQ & Allies AG is led by Marcie, an Electrical Engineer at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning (LGBTQ) students and employees face unique challenges in college and in the workplace, and this group is focusing on helping members navigate those challenges, as well as being a resource to SWE leadership. The privacy and safety of our LGBTQ members is key. The group is growing the partnership with the National Organization of LGBTQ Scientists and Technical Professionals (NOGLSTP), and bringing a better understanding, voice and representation of LGBTQ engineers in the industry and within SWE.

Follow them on Twitter: #SWELGBTQAG and join their FB group:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/1408337772528054/

Also, since privacy is important, anyone can have their name added to the LGBTQ and Allies email list by contacting Claudia.  Emails are sent with the list blind copied.

Native American

The Native American AG is led by Laura Smith-Velazquez, Sr. Systems Engineer/Cognitive Scientist at Rockwell Collins. Native Americans represent a very small percentage of engineering graduates and face unique challenges including lack of critical mass. The group is focusing on developing the partnership with AESIS and bringing a voice and representation to the Native American Community in the industry.

Follow us on Twitter #SWENativeAG and join the SWE Native American FB page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/18843, 1004915171/

Small Business

The Small Business Affinity Group is led by Stephanie DeCotiis, Senior Project Engineer at H2M architects + engineers, and Heather Bernardin, Senior IT Consultant at KSM Technology Partners. Employees of small businesses have their own dynamics and challenges. This group is focusing on building a network and sharing resources to support SWE members who are employees of small business.  This group also seeks to be a resource for information and feedback of the small business perspective to other SWE committees and groups.  This AG is new to SWE and is in its first year.  If you’re interested in participating, please follow along on social media, or reach out to the group leads.

Follow along on Twitter: #SWESmallBusinessAG and join their FB page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SWESmallBusinessAG 

Women in Government

The Women in Government AG is led by Dr. Ruth Jones, Mishap Investigation Specialist at the NASA Safety Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Women in Government in Engineering are a strong contingency focusing on supporting and developing women in the engineering profession within the government framework. Join Women in Government AG- https://www.facebook.com/groups/1845889725680220/

 

 

 

How we all benefit from increasing diversity

Last month I planned a symposium entitled “Equity in the Job Search” that integrated career advice with discussion of the biases facing women during the job search. Part of the philosophy behind this symposium is that since everyone exhibits gender bias, we can’t address the problem in lasting ways without including people of all genders in crafting solutions. However, as I have realized through planning similar events in the past, getting men to attend a “gender” workshop is challenging. Sadly, this difficulty is only more prevalent for other underrepresented groups.

As part of my push to get more male grad students to attend this symposium, I wrote a motivation page about the many benefits of diversity. This blog post expands on those thoughts, illustrating how a more inclusive culture has far-reaching benefits for everyone in an organization. I hope that this post will be useful to anyone trying to convince those around them that diversity issues are relevant beyond the members of underrepresented groups.

The benefits of increasing diversity can be seen by comparing the financial performance of diverse companies to that of their less diverse counterparts. Scientific American clearly lays out several studies that have illustrated this effect:

  • After Orlando Richard, a professor of management at the University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues surveyed executives at 177 national banks in the U.S., they found that for innovation-focused banks, increases in racial diversity were clearly correlated with enhanced financial performance.
  • After examining the influence of gender diversity on the performance of the top firms in Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 list, business professors Cristian Deszö of the University of Maryland and David Ross of Columbia University showed that firm value increases by $42 million with women in top management positions.
  • Similar effects can be found by examining companies across the world: a team of researchers at the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that among 2,360 companies, those with at least one woman on their boards delivered higher average returns on equity and better average growth.

Diversity helps increase creativity and improves company performance because numerous studies have shown that heterogeneous groups prepare better and more thoroughly consider all evidence. Furthermore, social diversity makes it more likely for diverse perspectives to be voiced and considered. This is critical for innovation, which requires looking at problems in new ways.

Inclusion is necessary to realize the benefits of diversity—such as mutual respect, improved conflict resolution, and increased creativity—and to avoid tension between diverse social groups. It is crucial to ensure that these benefits are sustained in the long term. Quotas and other initiatives to increase minority hires can increase the number of women and other minorities in the workforce, but inclusive workplace cultures are necessary to ensure that those hired stay and advance.

Moreover, an inclusive culture doesn’t just benefit the minority—it creates a more attractive workplace for everyone involved. This has proven particularly true for millennials.

However, if those in the dominant group aren’t included in conversations about diversity, then they often lose sight of its benefits or view inclusion as a zero-sum game that puts them at a disadvantage.

I believe that by including members of a majority group in conversations of diversity we can help reduce the impression of diversity initiatives being “us vs them.” This is not to say that we should let those in dominant groups control the conversation about diversity, but that more lasting change can be accomplished by including all players.

I hope that moving forward, we can change the conversation about diversity by showing that everyone benefits from more inclusivity.

Inclusion-Focused Sessions at WE17

Since the conference is in a little over two weeks, I’m going to take this blog post as an opportunity to highlight some of the conference events that are particularly focused on diversity and inclusion.

Before that, I want to highly encourage anyone attending the conference to check out the many events that the Affinity Groups have planned! These include roundtable discussions, socials, and sessions on issues of particular interest to their group. On Thursday, there’s even a “SWE Affinity Groups Workshop” (10:15 – 11:30 am) where you can learn all about these groups and how to get involved.

Thursday, October 26

“Getting the Diverse Mix to Work Well Together: Lessons Learned on Inclusion Techniques” (2 – 3 pm) – This workshop promise to share best practices on creating an inclusive culture and provide attendees with practical actions to employ right away. If you are looking to foster a more inclusive culture in your lab or university more broadly, this talk seems like a great place to start!

“Real Actions to Overcome Unconscious Biases and Become a More Inclusive Leader” (4:30 – 5:30 pm)—All of us have unconscious biases; what is important is how we act on them. This workshop will teach attendees both how to respond when they are the subject of unconscious bias, as well as how to overcome their own personal biases. Through addressing both of these, attendees will be better able to foster an inclusive culture when they return to their labs or offices. If you are looking for another similar talk, check out “Are you Counted or Do you Count?” on Saturday (10 – 11 am).

“Inclusion Today – LGBTQ and Allies News and Tools for Campus and the Workplace” (10:15 – 11:30 am) – Come to this session to learn about some of the challenges facing LGBTQ individuals, as well as what can be done to support LGBTQ people. This workshop promises time for the attendees to practice some first steps to help realize a more inclusive culture.

Friday, October 27

“TECHing While Woman and with Disability” (10 – 11:15 am) – This panel will explore the challenges of being a woman in STEM and having a debilitating condition. With representatives from academia and industry this panel will explore an important, but often overlooked, facet of diversity.

“Breaking down Stigmas and Building Awareness: Mental Health” (1:30 – 2:30 pm) – Attendees will be provided with practical tools to help themselves and those around them be successful, despite a mental illness. By helping breakdown the barriers around mental health, we can help people get help earlier and build more inclusive communities.

“Advocating for Inclusion – A Male’s Perspective” (4 – 5 pm) – Whether you are a man seeking suggestions of how to better promote inclusion of women in your organization or a woman wondering about how best to engage men on diversity issues, this promises to be an informative panel. Men will be able to learn from other men strategies that have worked and women can gain new strategies for best enabling their male allies.

“Courageous Conversations on Diversity and Inclusion” (4 – 5 pm) – If you are looking for a chance to practice the tough conversations necessary to create culture shifts in an organization, then this is the session for you. After giving participants and overview of inclusion strategies that work, there will be an opportunity to practice these strategies in a supportive environment.

Saturday, October 28

“Women of Color in Engineering: Challenges, Opportunities, and Factors to Enhance Inclusion and Retention” (1:30 – 2:30 pm) – Panelists will both share their personal experiences as a women of color in the US, as well as specific, evidence-based strategies that have been proven to increase inclusion and retention of more women of color in engineering.

“Switching Sides – My Professional Journey over the Rainbow” (10 – 11:15 am) – Using the personal story of the presenter in coming out, this session will teach attendees the power of being yourself in furthering your career and the success of their organization.

Still looking for more talks related to diversity and inclusion? Download the WE Events App or check out the WE17 Conference website here. There are even more events under the “Inclusion and Cultural Awareness” session type filter.

If you are attending the conference, hopefully, you’ll be able to take advantage of some of these sessions to gain new tips to foster a more inclusive culture in your lab or department!

 

Increasing Inclusion: Allies for Gender Equality

Allies are an answer to the question: “how can I support (or be supported by) another group of people?” We are increasingly realizing that diversity issues are not only the concern of minority groups. Sexism doesn’t only affect women; racism, people of color; homophobia, LGBTQ individuals; and so on. The idea of allies brings everyone to the table.

As a woman in engineering, I know firsthand how engaging men can change the conversation to realize truly inclusive practices. This blog post is to help female graduate students find allies, as well as for male graduate students who want to support the women engineers around them.

Although this post was written for the gradSWE community with gender bias in mind, the resources I have included are for anyone who seeks to be a better advocate for another group. Numerous excellent guides exist on becoming a more effective ally or finding an ally for yourself. If you would like to read more, the links that I have provided at the end of this post are a great starting place.

What is an ally and why are they important?

At its most basic level, “An ally is any person who supports, empowers, or stands up for another person or a group of people” (http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/culture/cultural-competence/be-an-ally/main). Robin Hauser Reynolds, whose documentary Code: Debugging the Gender Gap explores the problems facing women in tech, as well as solutions, gives a more practical definition: “A male ally is a man who will advocate for women even when there are no women in the room” (https://www.progressivewomensleadership.com/the-power-of-the-male-ally-engaging-men-advancing-women/).

This definition gets to the heart of why allies matter. Allies have power in the setting that the group they are helping doesn’t have. They are often able to speak up on behalf of another group in a way that is more likely to be heard. This gives allies a special ability to affect change.

I’m seeking allies, where do I start?

If you are seeking allies, then I highly recommend these resources for more information: https://www.progressivewomensleadership.com/the-power-of-the-male-ally-engaging-men-advancing-women/, https://www.maconferenceforwomen.org/engaging-men-critical-creating-inclusive-culture/. I found a lot of good tips for seeking male allies in them. To summarize some takeaways from those articles:

  1. look for individuals who have empathy
  2. meet new people and try to engage people who are different from you
  3. seek out mentors who are not of your group
  4. assume positive intent

Finally, only cultivate a relationship with someone willing to listen and learn from you. An effective ally won’t always be a perfect advocate; however, it is critical that they listen to and support you. If this is not the case, then seek elsewhere for a new ally, as it is most important to find someone who can empower you.

How can I become an effective ally?

To me, being an effective ally means recognizing, and then acting, when we have power in a situation to advocate for a marginalized group. However, stating that an ally should act in this way is the easy part. How can we actually do this?

Over and over again, as I was reading about being an ally, the importance of listening was emphasized. It is impossible to be an effective ally if we assume we know what the group we are supporting wants without taking the time to listen to them and being willing to learn from those who are different from us. Furthermore, this isn’t something that an ally can do once. We must be willing to continually learn, so that we can truly advocate on the behalf of others who have different and complex needs.

Before being able to act as an ally, we also have to examine our motivation. If we are acting from a place of guilt or, alternatively, from a place of superiority, it is impossible to be an effective ally. We have to see ourselves as equals as those we seeking to empower and be willing to learn from them.

Along the way, we will make mistakes. Therefore, being an ally also requires being adaptable and recognizing when our well-intentioned actions are not helpful. When this happens, we can’t give up, but have to apologize and learn from our mistakes.

Concluding Thoughts

The value of allies is becoming increasingly recognized as more of us realize that diversity issues are not only the concern of minority groups and that developing truly inclusive academic and work environments is all of our responsibility. In this post, I focused on those who already recognize that gender bias both exists and is a problem. In later posts, I will explore more fully how we can start to engage those who don’t already believe that diversity issues affect them.

As always, reach out to gradswe.dil@gmail.com if you have any comments or questions.

Resources

General information about being an ally. These two guides aren’t targeted towards any one group, but the explore the topic quite extensively.

Here are some guides for women seeking to engage male allies:

And here are some resources for men seeking to become effective allies for women:

This is an in-depth report of the growth and development of male allies in the workplace:

Welcome from the FY18 Diversity and Inclusion Liaison!

Hi GradSWE! My name is Bridget Hegarty and I am a PhD student at Yale University in environmental engineering. I am so excited to join the GradSWE Leadership Team as the Diversity and Inclusion Liaison (DIL) this year! This role is a new one for the Grad Leadership Team, so I will start my first post with an overview of what I hope to accomplish and wrap it up with some of SWE’s resources on this topic.

What is the DIL? 

This role was created to facilitate relationships between affinity groups and grad student members in order to further promote the inclusion of minority groups in engineering. Through this position, I will work to support minority grad students in two main ways. The first will be to connect women and minorities in STEM with SWE’s resources whether or not they have an active local section. My second focus will be to create tools and initiatives that grad groups can use to increase diversity and foster inclusion on their own campuses.

What are my plans for the coming year?

Before getting this role, I didn’t know anything about SWE’s affinity groups. Therefore, my first task is to introduce them to the grad community. To learn more about them, check out the end of this post. Alongside connecting interested GradSWE members with the affinity groups, I will also be collaborating with their leaders to better engage grad members.

Additionally, I will be collecting best practices and creating toolkits that gradSWE sections can use to increase their own D&I efforts. I will start my efforts by focusing on ways that SWE sections can help to increase both the diversity of applicants to grad school and their subsequent recruitment. If you have any thoughts on this topic, whether it is an initiative that has been successfully implemented at your university or an idea that you think is worth exploring, then please send them to gradswe.dil@gmail.com.

What resources does SWE already have for D&I?

Affinity Groups

Affinity groups exist at the society level to bring together SWE members that share a common identity. They are open to anyone in SWE and are a great way for grad students to get involved with the broader SWE community. In addition to being a resource for their members and a platform for networking, they advise SWE on issues affecting their group’s interests. You can read more about them here: http://bit.ly/2hsU5FO.

If you are interested in reaching out to any of SWE’s affinity groups, check out their Facebook pages: SWE African-American AGSWE Latinos AGSWE Native-American AGSWE LGBTQ And Allies AGSWE Global Women Engineers AGSWE Small Business AGSWE Women in Government AG and SWE Entrepreneurs AG.

Joint Memberships           

SWE also offers reduced membership rates to members of the National Society of Black Engineers, the American Indian Science & Engineering Society, and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. To learn more about the options available, check out: http://bit.ly/2hsMjvC.

SWE’s Research and Trends for Women in STEM Website

If you are looking for either an overview of trends or an in-depth look at the research surrounding women in engineering, then research.swe.org should be your first step. Launched last year, this site brings together the latest research on women in engineering. It hosts the results of SWE’s own studies on women in engineering, their annual literature reviews, and contains links to many other sources of information.

Diversity and Inclusion Knowledge Cards

These cards were developed to act as a catalyst for discussion on D&I and to help guide reflection on how companies can foster a welcoming environment. Each card presents a key aspect of identifying unconscious bias. They were developed by SWE and Arup to be tailored to the specific needs of the engineering community.

How can you contact me?

As this role is new, my efforts will be evolving based on your input. I look forward to hearing from you at gradswe.dil@gmail.com!