WE23: Live Without Limits

SWE’s annual conference proclaims ‘The Engineers Are Here’ as more than 18,000 fill LA Convention Center

Attendees of WE23’s much anticipated three-day annual conference poured into the Los Angeles Convention Center eager to snag a job at the career fair, hear inspiring keynotes, build their networks, attend career-building and professional development workshops, and grab some SWESwag. CREDIT: Coppersmith Photography

“The Engineers Are Here,” screamed an oversized banner affixed to the south side of the Los Angeles Convention Center, clearly visible from the highway. Had the banner not included images of different women, passers-by might not have known that these engineers happened to be women of all ages and backgrounds who converged on the convention center for WE23, the Society of Women Engineers annual conference, which proved to be its largest gathering yet of women in engineering and technology.

This year’s theme, Live Without Limits, resonated with many attendees, who took a moment to share their thoughts with SWE staff about the theme and momentous event:

  • “The theme this year, Live Without Limits — it means to me to not hold yourself back, that I belong here.”
  • “It means that you are not limited by who you are or where you come from or your background.”
  • “It means I am qualified. I am capable.”
  • “Your career or your ambitions and everything is limitless. To be able to do that, you need that support system and SWE is the perfect place to have that support system.”
SWE CEO Karen Horting (third from left) and several WE23 event consultants pause from final site preparations to let it be known: “The Engineers Are Here.’’ CREDIT: Coppersmith Photography

The conference drew 21,683 attendees, of which 18,159 attended in person, SWE’s largest gathering since before WE20, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced SWE to pivot to a virtual-only conference. This year a virtual component of 60 livestreamed presentations was included, drawing 3,524 online attendees from as far as Brazil, India, France, and Canada as well as U.S. states such as North Carolina, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

The speaker lineup was a who’s who among women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Kate Maxwell, chief technology officer for defense and intelligence in Microsoft’s Worldwide Public Sector Center of Expertise, delivered the opening keynote. As a woman in leadership, Maxwell shared life lessons as she expounded on the theme of bravery. “Recognize that you are not alone and that you belong in engineering,” she said. Maxwell urged women to prioritize their mental wellness, seek validation from within, own their authenticity, and be brave in the face of any fears.

Another keynote speakers was Intel’s Joannie Fu, who encouraged women to embrace the technological future through the lens of intersectionality — in other words, to go deeper than surface diversity to understand each person’s various identities and what they can offer so that different perspectives can help create a fair and innovative technological future. Closing keynote speaker Maryam Brown, president of Southern California Gas Company, asked attendees to reflect on and follow the examples of the trailblazing women in engineering who used their levers of influence to lift and inspire other women to reach new heights in the profession.

The WE23 career fair featured more than 470 exhibitors who welcomed a capacity crowd of attendees hoping to snag a job, an internship, or an academic opportunity. CREDIT: Coppersmith Photography
Hands-on STEM activities for middle and high school students ruled the day during WE23's annual Invent It. Build It. program. CREDIT: Coppersmith Photography

In keeping with SWE’s mission to host a safe, welcoming, and inclusive conference, SWE sponsored affinity group lounges allowing women to connect with other women who share similar interests and life experiences; a lactation room for new mothers caring for little ones while at conference; and a prayer and meditation room, a sacred space devoted to attendees of all faiths.

What’s the status of women in engineering? Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., SWE director of research, provided an overview of SWE’s current research on women in STEM and the issues affecting them. Joining her were Peter Meiksins, Ph.D., emeritus professor of sociology at Cleveland State University, who shared research findings about the ongoing underrepresentation of women in engineering and technology; and Claudia Schmuck, founder and managing director of Global Compact, who presented survey results from Gender Scan, which examines students and women in STEM from a global perspective.

SWE’s familiar and popular offerings returned, giving students, collegians, and women of all career stages access to Inspirational Insights talks, a career fair, in-person and virtual networking, and Invent It. Build It., a program replete with hands-on activities tailored for middle and high school students.

Planning is already underway for WE24, set to take place Oct. 23-26 in Chicago, SWE’s headquarters city. Mark your calendars.

Hear an interview with keynote speaker Kate Maxwell on Diverse: A SWE Podcast.