Affinity groups offer pathways to establish a greater sense of individual belonging and well-being, plus a strong foundation in authentic leadership.
By Nicola Mohan, SWE Manager, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
SWE has 21 active affinity groups (AGs), whose members share similar interests, identities, and backgrounds while also supporting the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging strategic goals of the Society. Each AG offers a place of protected community to a particular subset of our more than 43,000 members. As the primary staff lead for these groups, I too consider these resources a place of belonging and community in my professional and personal lives.
Throughout my career, it has often been difficult for me to experience a sense of belonging and community. As a woman of color, a former undocumented immigrant, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and a lover of all dogs, I regularly felt as though no one understood my background or perspective. However, this sense of isolation changed when I learned about affinity groups, often referred to as employee resource groups, or ERGs. After I completed graduate school at Boston University and entered the workforce, I experienced imposter syndrome, doubting my hard-earned skills and acumen. I confided in my supervisor about my struggle, and they suggested I join a workplace affinity group.
Despite learning about the benefits of affinity groups, I was initially skeptical. While a quick look at business publications showed many articles discussing best practices and the value of these groups, I could not help but think, “… great, another thing to obligate myself to.”
I did not realize that my affinity group involvement at my job would mean so much. As it turns out, my participation in AGs has impacted my career in every facet and has led me to become a more authentic leader. I was able to build connections with other individuals who had similar experiences. I came to understand how the intersections of my identity have shaped me, and this is ultimately the reason I chose to pursue a career in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B).
SWE’s 21 Affinity Groups Support Inclusion, Connections
SWE affinity groups (AGs) bring together communities that share similar interests and backgrounds that support the Society’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategic goals. In addition to fostering an inclusive environment for members, AGs provide professional development programs, sponsoring leadership experiences, networking events, and mentoring opportunities.
Many AGs have a social media presence to encourage participation, highlight activities, and celebrate achievements among their members. Find out more about the different affinity groups at https://swe.org/membership/affinity-groups/ and consider joining one.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
LGBTQ+ and Allies
Military & Veterans
Business and Interests
Global Women Engineers
SWE Members in Small Businesses
Technical Career Path
Women in Government
First-Generation Students and Professionals
Early Career Professionals
Late Career and Retiree
While I wandered into my first Asian Pacific Islander American affinity group meeting years ago with a sense of obligation and dread, years later many colleagues had become friends and I realized my passion for DEI&B, and mentorship.
When I recall previous employment positions, I do not remember the meetings I sat in or the emails I sent, but rather the community I found with others through affinity groups.
I am very fortunate to work for SWE, which I joined in 2022. It is an organization that has encouraged me to bring my true self to work every day.
My work in DEI&B
As SWE manager of diversity, equity, and inclusion, I participate in cross-departmental work frequently. My role involves everything from collaboration with our executive leadership team to improving DEI&B offerings within SWE to rich engagement with SWE members worldwide. I have never worked with a population that is more enthusiastic or driven than our SWE members. Serving as the primary lead at SWE for AG programming allows me to learn more about the experiences our members have in the engineering field and see firsthand how impactful affinity group involvement really is.
Countless SWE members experience the impact of their involvement in affinity groups. Nancy Nelson (she/her), a SWE life member, Fellow, and Distinguished Service Award recipient, is a member of the late career and retiree AG. She shared with me, “The affinity groups are very important to support SWE membership providing additional ways for members to thrive, learn, and connect.” Nelson explained how affinity group involvement allowed her to connect with members, learn how to negotiate some of the challenges she experienced after retirement, and find new and exciting ways to contribute to the SWE community. Nelson is one of many who have been able to utilize affinity group involvement to further their sense of belonging in SWE.
SWE’s affinity groups are broken down into three categories: diversity, equity, and inclusion; business and interests; and career stages. In my role with SWE, I often lead focus groups. Recent focus group participants have noted that SWE’s vast selection of affinity groups help increase their sense of belonging in SWE. One focus group participant noted, “… we get to see people like ourselves and with similar professional backgrounds. Affinity groups have led to opportunities to give back and create friendships.”
Affinity group structure and benefits
SWE AGs have a rich history spanning back to 2007 when they were formed as a subsection of the multicultural committee. Today SWE has a robust affinity group structure and support system, which consists of the affinity group committee with a large volunteer support structure alongside a board of directors liaison overall and specific board points of contact for each group. Our AGs also have leads and co-leads supported directly by their category leads and lead-elects. This multilevel structural support helps address any issues affinity groups may encounter. SWE works to ensure an inclusive, safe, and supportive space for AGs so that members can develop a sense of community and freely discuss their experiences as engineers, technology experts, and advocates.
I did not feel a sense of belonging in my professional life until I took a leap years ago and joined an affinity group. This involvement led me to new adventures and rewarding experiences. Take a leap. Join a SWE affinity group: You never know what might be in store for you.
Nicola Mohan (she/her) is SWE manager, diversity, equity, and inclusion. She began her career as an 11th grade United States history teacher with Teach for America before joining the nonprofit sector. Prior to joining SWE, she worked for various nonprofits. Mohan specializes in program management, curriculum development, and DEI&B initiatives. She holds a B.A. in political science from The State University of New York at Geneseo and an M.S.W. from Boston University.