Thousands of engineers gather in Austin for the Society of Women Engineers conference

But some attendees ask: Are there too many men at a conference for women?

Posted October 27th, 2017

More than 14,000 people descended on Austin this week for the sold-out Society for Women Engineers conference, also known as WE17. 

The popular conference provides professional development and networking opportunities for primarily women engineers, with topics such as “Thriving in a Male-Dominated Environment.”  

But the conference is especially popular with students because of its robust career fair, with 300 employers attending. About half of the conference’s attendance is made up of college students, according to Jonna Gerken, president of the Society of Women Engineers.

Students come armed with resumes and are able to snag interviews with recruiters and sometimes even job offers. 

And that’s the reason, some attendees say, men have started to crash the party. The career fair particularly was noteworthy because men made up nearly half of the attendance, with an especially large contingent from the University of Texas at Arlington. 

Ralph Barrera/AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFThe Society of Women Engineers’ conference was held at the Austin Convention Center starting Thursday Oct. 26, 2017 and continuing through the weekend. Long lines were the norm for the day as people wait to register and to enter the exhibit hall for the job fair.

Anyone is welcome to register for the conference, Gerken said. 

“We are a diverse organization and so it would be disingenuous of us to say men couldn’t come,” she said. “Men are important part of furthering the mission.”

The mission of the organization is to help women “achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders.”

Claudia Gutierrez, who is currently conducting research on bone tissue engineering on a Fulbright scholarship in Switzerland, says this is her sixth year attending the conference. 

She has no problem with men attending the conference who are “active allies,” or interested in learning about the organization, she said.


But Gutierrez said she feels as though men who are unaffiliated with SWE or partner groups, such as the National Society of Black Engineers, are taking advantage of the career fair and not taking time to engage with the rest of the conference or learn about the mission. 

“It’s great when we see people, men and women, actively sitting with other people and engaged,” she said.

Several women commented on social media about the noticeable amount of men in attendance at the career fair. On Twitter, someone calling themselves Tina Marie wrote “really bummed there are more men at the career fair than women.”

At the overall conference, which includes events such as panels and field trips to see Austin employers, the attendance was 75 percent women, according to a spokeswoman for the Society for Women Engineers.

It’s a sensitive topic because engineering is still a male-dominated field, and events like the Society for Women Engineers are designed to encourage more women to enter the industry.

According to data from the society, women make up 12 percent of practicing engineers, and 20 percent of engineering school graduates. 

There were plenty of women lugging their resumes from booth to booth, like Jessica Lown, a senior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University studying aeronautical engineering. Lown was attending her second WE conference.

At the top of her employer wish list are aerospace and defense technology companies like Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman. 

“It’s going really well,” Lown said. She had already knocked out three interviews with Lockheed Martin and was expecting to hear a final answer within 48 hours. “Props to them, because a lot of companies don’t have that quick response.”

Employers say the like to come to this conference because it’s a great recruiting opportunity. 

Northrop Grumman is one of a handful of employers that will even make job offers on the spot. The company is recruiting hundreds of engineers this year in jobs such as systems and electrical engineers.

Michele Neiman, who is a director of talent acquisition for Northrop Grumman, said it’s a new strategy to offer jobs at the conference. “It’s because the talent is so amazing,” Neiman said. “We want to move quickly. We don’t want to wait.”

Ralph Barrera/AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFThe Society of Women Engineers presents WE17, the world's largest conference and career fair for women in engineering and technology, being held at the Austin Convention Center starting Thursday October 26, 2017 and continuing through the weekend. Major corporations like Amazon were among the most attractive with long lines for introductions and possible job inquiries.