Flexibility and fluidity were central to my year as SWE president, with some amazing successes across the Society.

For the first half of the fiscal year, I was expecting my daughter. By the time WE Local Buffalo took place, she accompanied me there and insisted on joining me at the podium.

It was certainly an interesting SWE year! In addition to my theme, “Aspire to Inspire,” navigating uncertainties became an essential part of my year as SWE president. Although we were not completely virtual, we had to be prepared to transition as we watched the state of the world. My installation ceremony and party were probably one of the smallest in recent history — we were capped at 50 people, which made for a wonderfully intimate outdoor event.

Our successes include SWE’s first hybrid annual conference. Whether you participated virtually or joined us in person, I hope you felt the same energy and excitement that I did. Watching connections being made, and community being built, was incredible.

Just as companies are sorting out what it means to have hybrid work structures, SWE grappled with the concept this year as well. We learned to plan for our board of director (BOD) meetings to be hybrid and executed both those meetings and Senate meetings as corporate travel policies changed and global travel restrictions were updated.

We approved a five-year strategic plan — a huge accomplishment — thanks to the hard work of the strategic planning team, a combined BOD and Senate work group. We completed an external review of our internal leadership and volunteer opportunities as we continue to grow in our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) journey; the good news is that the consultant identified all the work we’ve already carried out to improve ourselves. As there is always room for progress, at the beginning of FY23 a SWE culture study will kick off to provide further recommendations in this space.

As everyone in leadership knows, there’s very little that you execute personally while in that role. A leader’s job is to set the direction for the organization, the tone for the group culture, and then to rely on the team to achieve the goals. I’m so proud of our SWE volunteers, who rise to the task of achieving the ambitious goals that our leadership team set out — and the ambitious goals that they identified for themselves!

During the installation of the FY23 president and board of directors, I officially joined the ranks of SWE past presidents. Heather Doty, FY21 president, presented me with the past president’s gavel.

Being myself and doing my SWE job

Flexibility and fluidity also became a part of my theme because I was pregnant with my first child for the first half of the fiscal year. I was going to be 36 weeks pregnant when the annual conference was scheduled to occur in Indianapolis; I planned to be there in person, although I knew that it was outside of my control. But, as it turned out, I was onstage each morning, out there meeting members and talking with company representatives. Heather Doty may have gotten the most sleep of any SWE president during annual conference at our virtual WE20, but I suspect that I was a close second!

Our November board meeting was scheduled two days before my due date; it turned out to be four days after my daughter was born. It was our second morning home from the hospital, and the baby and I were awake anyway, so I dressed her in her SWE “first baby” onesie and we got onto the Zoom meeting, which lasted about 20 minutes before she told me in no uncertain terms that enough was enough. Flexibility.

Sharing a moment with Karen Horting, CAE, SWE executive director and CEO, at WE Local London, held in late May.

The BOD meeting continued, because we have an excellent team of leaders ready to support and ensure that the work gets done. Now, my daughter is a SWE pro — she’s been to Corporate Partnership Council meetings in Houston; conferences in Des Moines, Buffalo, and London; and the FY23 SWE board of directors installation! She even insisted on being onstage with me to moderate the Q&A during WE Local Buffalo in April.

I share these stories because I was just doing my SWE job — a role I was committed to, for an organization whose mission I am passionate about. What was heartening, though, was how many members came up to me at annual conference and told me how grateful they were to see someone in a leadership role onstage pregnant. Because they hadn’t seen that before, they didn’t think it was possible. We talk frequently in SWE about the fact that representation matters — that if you can see it, you can be it. I didn’t set out to be that example. As I said, I was just being myself and doing my SWE job.

When you take a step back and really think about how you can make the most impact as an engineer every single day, it’s by inspiring the people around you, whether it’s a grade school student learning about engineering for the first time, a classmate, a peer, or another team member. And that’s really where my theme came from — I hope that I’ve inspired others. Because that’s my ultimate aspiration.

Little did I know in March 2020 that this theme would have a far deeper meaning for me in the year of my presidency. Now, I can’t help but think of my daughter when I talk about it. I hope that as she grows up, surrounded by the SWE community, she’ll be as inspired as I have always been. And I hope that I might inspire her.

With participants at WE Local London, my daughter, husband, and I were able to do a bit of sightseeing.

Rachel Morford
SWE FY22 President
(she, her)