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Finding Support: How to Find Peer Support as a Woman in STEM

In an earlier post I wrote about the problem with attrition among women in STEM fields. One of the ways to combat this trend is to find peer support in a formalized way, such as joining SWE or any of the countless organizations for your chosen field.


Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who have similar goals can help build your confidence exponentially. In contributing valuable advice to respected peers in the forum setting, you become increasingly confident about presenting yourself as credible to your partners, clients, and superiors.


You may not be sure how to identify the group that is right for you. You can first talk to your peers and ask them what groups they are involved with and whether or not they might be a good fit for you. You can also do research on your own to find a group that will help you feel supported and allow you time to meet new people in your field.


When searching on your own, the following tips can help you select a group that matches your overall goals:


The Leadership: Figure out how the group is led and how committed the leaders are to the group. Make sure there is organization all the way up through the group and that steps are being taken to develop a positive, encouraging environment from the top down.


The Fees: You can’t judge a group solely on their membership fees, but you should be able to assess what the fees cover for each group. Typical expenses include meeting space rental, outings, and recruitment efforts. The fee payment should be looked at as an investment toward advancing your career.


The People: Consider whether or not the group is made up of people you could potentially enjoy being around. You are going to be investing your time with this network of professionals. Struggling to tolerate their company is going to be counterproductive to your goals. You need to feel that the members are approachable and trustworthy.


Personally, I have found two excellent discipline-specific groups to support me as an electrical engineer. I am an active member of the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), which I mentioned earlier.


Have you joined any professional groups that have helped make you feel supported in your career? Share your tips for success in finding and being a member of a professional organization in the comments section below.


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