Governance Update

Welcome to the SWE Governance and Leadership Engagement Update page.

SWE has been active in implementing our new governance structure in FY18. Our members must be aware of these improvements and how the society is moving forward.

This page will be updated periodically with news, resources, and information about the status and ongoing work. Feel free to send an email to hq@swe.org with questions or comments.

SWE Governance and Leadership Engagement Update

In this webinar, FY18 LCC Chair Heather Wiest explains the support provided to sections of the Society of Women Engineers by the Leadership Coaching Committee and SWE Headquarters.

In this webinar from 9/26/17, SWE leaders Penny Wirsing and Alexis McKittrick provide the latest news related to the ongoing efforts around the governance changes and implementation plan.

In this video from 2/27/17, Governance Task Force Chair Penny Wirsing provides an FY17 Governance Update.

In this webinar from 1/10/17, Collegiates can learn of Governance changes and hear from SWE Task Force Member Dayna Johnson, Rachel Morford (Deputy Director of Regions), and Sarah Watzman (Collegiate Director) on how the changes will affect Collegiates.

In this webinar, hear from SWE Task Force Members Penny Wirsing and Dayna Johnson about how the Society’s current organizational structure is being changed to provide our members with more meaningful leadership experiences.

roles & responsibilities matrix has been developed to support SWE members and sections in recognizing whom to contact and locating information once the Region governance structure dissolved on July 1, 2018. This document will be evergreen and managed by the Society Secretary.

Graphics were developed to provide a visual snapshot of section and member support and the changes to elections and the senate body.

The final implementation plan dated 9/20/17 and associated bylaws amendments incorporate feedback and clarifications received both virtually and as a result of the face-to-face governance summit from a large number of our leaders and members.

We appreciate everyone’s interest and active involvement in making this process a success. Please feel free to send additional comments and questions to hq@swe.org.

Updates regarding the Section Agreement or Society Bylaws can be found on the Bylaws Committee Page.

The latest Society Bylaws are located in the SWE Bylaws and Codes section of the About page.


A1: One of the most visible changes to the governance structure is the dissolution of regions, so it’s helpful to understand that SWE has not always had regions. They came about in the 1980s with a focus on communication. The form of communication found to be fastest and most effective was “phone trees,” where information was passed down through the organization. Look how far we’ve come! Also, SWE needs to be able to select leaders nationwide and globally, without confining them to a single geographic area, particularly given the mobile nature of today’s workforce. It’s important to remember that SWE has constantly evolved over the last 65 years and needs to continue doing so to remain relevant and help advance our mission.

A2: In effect, many of the changes are “tweaks” to what we have, and much of the implementation plan outlines improvements to our existing processes. The Senate, for example, is refocusing on their core responsibility as the strategic body of the Society, and committees will remain key with improvements to better support our members and sections everywhere.

A3: A Governance Task Force was established in FY17, consisting mostly of representatives from the FY16 working groups, to develop a detailed plan and timeline. That draft implantation plan was shared with SWE leaders and members in early June 2017. Feedback was solicited through mid-July which the Task Force then incorporated into a revised implementation plan.

In August 2017, a Governance Summit was held with ~100 SWE leaders to provide a venue for active collaboration, to voice and resolve any remaining questions and concerns about the governance path forward, to understand the role of each leader in the upcoming changes, and to identify any additional resources needed.

The summit results were incorporated into the final implementation plan that was distributed in mid-September, along with the bylaws revisions the Senate approved during their annual meeting at WE17 in Austin. These motions were S-1803, S-1804, S-1805, S-1806 & S-1807. Detail can be found on the Senate Blog. The overall plan will take several years to implement fully.

A4: The restructuring intends to improve the overall experience for all of our members. While many people have had valuable experiences through the existing SWE structure, many have had less-than-positive experiences. Many leadership positions remain unfilled or are filled by the same people for several terms, resulting in volunteer burn-out. With a more flexible governance structure, we’ll have more opportunities to tailor volunteer experience to our members’ interests to further our mission. Several examples have been developed to share what a SWE career path might look like without Region officers.

A5: Refer to the Roles & Responsibilities matrix, which outlines whom to contact and wherein locate information. It will be an evergreen document managed by the Society Secretary.

A6: First, we intend to maintain a volunteer leader “point of contact” for section questions, supported by resources and subject matter experts on particular topics as needed. This will occur through the committee structure currently referred to as the Leadership Coaching Committee, with added flexibility in how these roles are organized to improve the process continually. We will strengthen the training provided for our section leaders with a leadership competency-based approach, focusing on skills that apply to both SWE and their careers. Thirdly, we will streamline communication from the Society level to our section leadership to improve consistency across the organization. In addition, the new Association Management System will allow HQ staff to automate several processes that have been quite labor-intensive with our previous database system, which will allow them to focus more on some of the administrative details. Finally, there are various communication methods through Society emails to Section Presidents, SWE social media and All Together, and online and in-person SWE groups and connections. Please also see the questions and responses regarding WE Local and leadership summits.

A7: No, region governor responsibilities will be divided among several SWE groups. LCC’s focus will be the training of and consulting with SWE leadership to support section vitality, while HQ will own administrative and membership portal support. This graphic provides a visual recap of the new structure.

Refer also to the Roles & Responsibilities matrix, which outlines whom to contact and where to locate information. It will be an evergreen document managed by the Society Secretary.

A8: The changes won’t have a large effect on the operation of individual sections. You can continue to focus on everything you do for your members and community – outreach, professional development, networking, recognition, scholarships, mentorship, and everything else that happens behind the scenes for all of your events and programs. You can continue doing what you have been doing and know how to do well.

A9: Committees will continue to be an important part of SWE’s structure, providing opportunities to develop skills and leadership as committee members and chairs. With the restructuring of the LCC and the addition of Subject Matter Experts, additional opportunities are being created. In addition, committee activities will be better communicated to our members, so they’re aware of their opportunities.

Learn more about SWE’s committees through this All Together post.

A10: The importance of “connecting” at the local level, for both collegiates and professional members, was fully recognized when determining what changes would be made to the overall governance structure, recognizing that even with the current structure, some pockets exist where that connection is weak or non-existent. Committees will play a much stronger role and with more flexibility. The Leadership Coaching Committee is revising its structure and competencies to better focus on supporting section vitality. Training and support from SWE advisors and faculty counselors will also be emphasized.

An All Together article was posted on May 15, 2018, with an infographic related to collegiate section support.

There is also a section in the Roles & Responsibilities matrix titled “Building Connections with other SWE sections / MAL / Affiliates” that shares resources.

A11: The Nominating Committee will still be responsible for vetting all candidates on the slate, so every person on the ballot will be qualified to serve in the position they’re slated for. Collegiate members will have an impact on elections since they’re a new set of voting members. However, collegiates voting in large numbers would be no different than if any group of professional members voted together today. Furthermore, if any member chooses to add a candidate via the petition process, there is a robust procedure to ensure that the candidate has broad support. We hope that all eligible members vote in elections, as voter turnout in SWE elections is typically only 8-13% of our members, whether the election is contested or not.

A12: The collegiate director will remain. Since all members will now be voting for all officers, the collegiate director will be elected by the entire membership rather than by only collegiate section presidents. While the Senate will not have “collegiate senator” seats, that doesn’t mean there won’t be senators who are collegiates (undergraduate or graduate) or recent graduates. The competency-based senate positions will represent a diversity of SWE membership. If needed, the special senator positions (up to 3 per year, 1-year terms) can be used as needed to fill identified gaps. The Senate is the strategic body of SWE and is a great place for collegiate members to continue to hone their strategic vision and planning skills.

A13: During the process of vetting the proposed changes, a gap was highlighted that has existed for some time in engaging our more senior members, including women who have served as long-time SWE’s leaders, fellows, and past presidents, who have much to offer but don’t feel their interests are being served. In checking with other professionals associated, we found this is an area that is an issue for many of them. The Task Force was created to help identify how we may better engage these women – and the results may serve as a best practice for other associations.

The Task Force and its action plan were highlighted in an All Together article on May 7, 2018.

A14: The plan to move forward with WE Local conferences was in the works before the governance changes, not as a result, with initial discussions occurring as early as FY12. WE Local conferences will provide an opportunity for sections to come together within a reasonable driving radius for professional development programs, networking, recognition, and many of the other benefits our members have experienced through region conferences, helping us maintain that personal connection so many of us enjoy.

A15: The task force developed three models for executing the summits in FY19. One solution integrates summits into our existing Annual Society Conference. A second solution is interactive virtual summits, where members will be encouraged to view as a team with their section/affiliate/MAL members (and gathering together locally). The final solution closely mirrors the most current leadership summit models and is called a “Pop-Up” summit. This would be planned by a local host section and is the most flexible of all the models.

Learn more in this article on All Together.

A16: There are so many diverse viewpoints and considerations across our many SWE members, from the size of one’s local section or employer to the stage of one’s career to the work-life challenges one faces, and SWE needs to retain the voice of those various perspectives. Different zip codes, however, do not necessarily represent different perspectives. One of the things we will be working toward is how best to solicit and incorporate input from the many perspectives represented by our members. To enable the development of a more diverse leadership pipeline rather than relying directly on geographic representation.

A17: The MAL organization has developed changes to the MAL Bylaws that are in the process of being reviewed by their leadership for approval in the summer of 2018. MALs will continue to have their MAL Council in FY19 to evaluate their procedures and ensure all needed changes to their structure will be completed by June 30, 2019.

A18: There have been a variety of forms of communication on the governance changes, including multiple discussions with Region Governors, Senators, MALs, and other SWE leaders at leadership summits, face-to-face meetings, and through electronic communication, including webinars, podcasts, SWE social media and All Together. Keep in mind that many of our 35,000+ members are not aware of or interested in SWE’s governance structure. We need to balance our communication to focus on why so many women join SWE – to advance SWE’s mission.

A19: SWE is currently taking advantage of several different communication platforms, including webinars, town halls, text alerts, All Together, and social media. While these many forms of virtual communication will continue to grow, we recognize that proximity is still meaningful and influential even in a connected, digital world. With this in mind, in-person communication will be continued and expanded through annual conferences, WE Locals, and stronger, more robust committee structures with more “experts” that can help mentor sections. Townhall meetings have been integrated into every WE Local conference to improve face time with leaders of the Society. In these ways, we can foster two-way communication, disseminate information about what is happening in the Society, and provide a means for people to have their voices heard by Society leaders.

A20: In-depth interviews were conducted in FY15 with SWE staff and volunteer leaders focusing on SWE’s governance and volunteer opportunities to gain insight on perceptions of and experiences with the governance structure, assess the strength and challenges of the current governance model, and identify opportunities for SWE to create a more effective, inclusive model to attract and retain current and future leaders. Interview participants were from across the country and the globe. They were primarily long-term SWE members with average membership tenure of 20 years and included several SWE Fellows. All had served at the Section level, many in multiple positions, and on a committee or special task force, in Regional or Senate positions, and/or as past or current Board members. McKinley also facilitated in-depth discussions with the Senators and Regional governance teams and benchmarked against several organizations in FY15 and FY16. More information on this early process is available in the Detailed Timeline and Milestones portion of governance.swe.org. Most recently, ~100 SWE leaders provided input and feedback at the Governance Summit in August 2017, and ~60 SWE members submitted comments on the draft Implementation Plan in June and July 2017.