To date, the Room for Wisdom blog has focused primarily on STEM ethics education that takes place within higher education institutions. However, disciplinary professional societies and organizations also play a critical role in educating and informing both students and professionals.
What is the role of disciplinary societies in addressing issues of ethics in STEM? The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM, 2005) indicated that “the central position of professional societies brings excellent leverage with which to design and promote change, including through publications, policy statements, meetings, committees, lectureships, and awards.” Further, NASEM noted that professional societies “help to define and set standards for their professional fields and to promote high standards of quality.”
This week, our guest bloggers, Dr. Roberta Rincon and Honna George of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), share activities undertaken by the organization to address Ethics in Engineering with its membership.
Citation: The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (2005). Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, Chapter 7: The Role of Professional Societies, pg. 137.
Retrieved 1/29/20 from https://www.nap.edu/read/11153/chapter/9
Since engineers create the products and systems at the forefront of a rapidly changing world, which increasingly relies on automation and artificial intelligence, it is critical that thought leaders within the industry ensure that the foundations of these innovations are influenced by ethical integrity.
It is exactly this thought leadership that the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) strives to provide through its conferences, leadership, publications, and research. As the world’s leading engineering association for women in the field, SWE leverages its unique platform to expose our membership (of over 40,000 collegiate and professionals from all different engineering disciplines) to the field of ethics in engineering.
Ensuring ethical conduct on a personal and professional level is at the root of SWE’s core value of Integrity, which highlights our aspiration “to the highest level of ethical behavior as evidenced by honesty and dignity in our personal and professional relationships and responsibilities” and is inseparable from our 70-year legacy of advocating for equality for female engineers.
The multi-dimensional issue of ethics within the field of engineering is often front and center at SWE’s Annual Conference. In November 2019, over 16,000 professionals and students attended the 2019 SWE Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA, which offered programming for a range of STEM interest levels from middle school through high school, college, and career. A number of presentations addressed ethical considerations in engineering including a prime-time plenary session entitled “Ethics and Human Rights in the Design of Technology.” A panel of industry leaders discussed how organizations are striving to be socially responsible while balancing the demands for free expression, privacy, and security.
Another WE19 session focused on how technology will impact jobs, security, and privacy. “Technology and the Future of Humanity” touched on social and ethical issues linked to technological progress, causing excitement for the potential of technological advances while raising concerns about the implications for individuals as well as organizations.
In addition to our conference programming, issues of ethical concern are often central to our annual research edition of SWE Magazine’s State of Women in Engineering publication. The first issue in 2017 featured a conversation around Gendered Innovations and the importance of ensuring that the robotics industry factors in the needs of different genders when building robotic solutions for at-home care. The same issue addressed the need to include female stem cells in related research and to design seat belts that can accommodate women who are pregnant and their future child.
In addition to applying ethical design across all engineering fields, it is also necessary for the industry to carefully review ethical practices around workforce and talent management. Given the low rate of women in the profession (13% of employed engineers are women) and the high demand for skilled workers in the industry, it is imperative that we consider all angles when driving solutions to address this problem.
In 2015, SWE conducted a Gender Culture Study, which was the first national study in the United States to examine the influence of gender bias in engineering & corporate culture on women’s decisions to leave the engineering profession. The research findings indicated that women do not leave engineering because they lack the courage to “lean in,” or because of work-life integration issues, or even because they aren’t evaluated or promoted fairly. Women leave the profession after working in environments that tolerate persistent obstacles to attaining their company and career goals. The female leaders who participated in the study expressed this frustration as a lack of accountability. Accountability was their number one personal and desired cultural value, and the one they said was missing from their workplaces. The message to company leaders that emerges from these data is: “Decide what you want; take down the barriers, and let me do my job.” Company leaders must ensure that their organizations promote ethical workplace practices and hold people accountable for meeting those expectations.
SWE’s leadership development programs incorporate integrity into the training curriculum. SWE offers leadership development for high school students, collegiate members, and women engineers in the workforce, including our eXXec program designed for senior women engineers. These programs help women develop the ability to create workplace environments that bring out the best in each contributor, a skill that is not always easy for engineers, but is an important tool to have in one’s leadership toolbox.
The variable matters related to ethics in engineering are so extensive that it needs to consistently be at top of mind for associations and other thought leaders. While the forefront of technology is ever changing, one thing is certain: in order to engineer ethically, we need engineers from diverse backgrounds to help ensure that product design takes diverse end users into consideration. Attracting and keeping diverse talent within engineering, whether female or others who are underrepresented within the mainline profession, requires workplaces that practice and promote equitable ethical norms.
Honna Eichler George
Director, Membership & Data Management
Society of Women Engineers
Honna Eichler George is the Director of Membership & Data Management at SWE. Honna oversees data and information management, organizational engagement tools (including serving as SWE’s Salesforce Administrator and leading tech integrations for new systems), individual fundraising and planned giving, and content development for member-related marketing. With a background in fundraising, Honna joined SWE in April of 2015 and held positions of increasing responsibility in the Strategic Partnerships Department. She holds a bachelor of arts English Literature from North Park University and a M.Div from McCormick Theological Seminary. In 2018, she was awarded Association Forum's Forty Under 40 Award.
Senior Manager of Research
Society of Women Engineers
Roberta Rincon, SWE’s Senior Manager of Research, oversees the organization’s research activities on gender equity issues affecting girls and women in engineering, from school to career. Before joining SWE, Roberta was a Senior Research and Policy Analyst at The University of Texas System. She has over 15 years of experience in education research and policy analysis. In her current role, she shares SWE’s research on gender equity in engineering and technology with academic, industry, and policy researchers and practitioners to inform their STEM diversity efforts. Roberta holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin, an MBA and an M.S. in Information Management from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Planning from UT Austin.