The Society of Women Engineers

There is an organization that for decades has been promoting a pragmatic culture of inclusion, opening up to diversity as well as valuing it to foster technology and the related world of work.

Jun 2024

As a professional, identified as a male working in the industrial sector, I was at first truly curious about a non-profit professional organization such as the Society of Women Engineers. Soon after, I sensed an equally keen interest, mixed with a little shame for having ignored it until now, while learning that SWE has been around for about seventy years and in all that time has inspired and uplifted thousands of women around the world.

SWE's mission is to empower women to pursue careers in engineering and technology, foster an inclusive environment and support the professional development of its members (about 45,000 worldwide). It does this by activating networking, training and professional development paths, publications, volunteering, establishing awards, promoting advocacy and leadership, through a network of SWE sections rooted in many countries.

This last aspect allows professionals of all levels – such as students of STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), young people or simply "allies" of any kind to whom the association is open – to connect locally and then come together on an international scale.

For example, in  the WE Local events: the last one was held at the end of last April and saw Avio Aero and GE Aerospace professionals from Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Germany and the United States meet in Munich for the "Live Without Limits" event organized by the European hub.

A moment of the last SWE local event in Munich, with a panel featuring GE Aerospace and Avio Aero experts.

"Last year, I participated in the annual European conference: it has been a very enriching experience for the content, networking and to raise awareness that what we are doing for women's empowerment can also have a positive impact in the communities in which we operate," says Manuela Perrone Sr. Engineering Manager of Avio Aero's Aircraft Engine Service, who has held roles of increasing importance in the company.

That first participation in a WE Local event really inspired Perrone. "I learned a lot during those days, for example the fact that leadership is a behavior more than a role and that it can influence others, that we can change the status quo, be mentors and coaches of new female recruits. Starting with schools and universities, we can make a difference in our local communities through role models."

On the other hand, the SWE aims to enable its members to express their true, full potential in engineering and technological careers and even in top roles. SWE's vision is a world where science and technology produce a positive force to improve the quality of life, to demonstrate equality, diversity and inclusion. 

The GE Aerospace and Avio Aero team present at the event in Munich.

The event in Munich lasted three days and gathered over five hundred attendees, through workshops, panels, interviews and conferences offered a very varied program: from innovation and technology issues, to cultural and even psychological ones (and there was an attractive speech entitled "The engineer wears Prada" on exterior stereotypes and the style of clothing at work), up to topics like career development and growth, presentation techniques and professional relationships or digital innovation.

GE Aerospace has been engaged with SWE for decades, as the first Corporate Member in 1961 and a founding member of the SWE Corporate Partnership Council in 2003. Avio Aero, with its sites in Italy and Europe has been supporting the organization for few years now, partnering with several of its workers located in those sites to take action locally with initiatives and involvement. Silvia Sabbadini, Chief Consulting Engineer of Avio Aero with a career in engineering, is the focal point for the "North-West Italy" branch and a SWE sponsor in Europe and part of the European Corporate Council. 

"We want to expand the number of people who can take advantage of the opportunities offered," says Sabbadini, "such as, specific training on technical topics and soft skills, the possibility of holding roles within the association (global ambassadors, focal affiliates, etc.) that can help develop leadership skills, access to mentorship programs, and networking opportunities with other companies." When in Munich, Sabbadini  was also a speaker, along with other colleagues from Prague, Warsaw and Istanbul, on the panels on stage.

Silvia Sabbadini, Chief Consulting Engineer of Avio Aero, on the stage of WE Local.

"We will participate in conferences both globally and locally in Europe, and will activate local initiatives in synergy with other initiatives already launched in our network"

SWE ties in  naturally with Avio Aero and GE Aerospace's internal programs such as the Women Network that can amplify the range of opportunities and resources by interweaving practices and experiences (such as STEM initiatives, for example). "We will participate in conferences both globally and locally in Europe, and we will activate local initiatives in synergy with other initiatives already launched in our network," adds Sabbadini.

The result of my first approach to the SWE world, thanks to these reports and the information collected, was a genuine impulse to increase the exchange with this world. And also, the willingness to learn from this community: becoming its allies is clearly an advantage, something that elevates one's abilities. Wanting to learn from women, especially in these very times, is perhaps the most useful gift that those who identify with a male can give themselves.

Photos in page are courtesy of the WE Local website.