ComSoc’s Commitment to Diversity
By Maite Brandt-Pearce
The following is a report by the Chair of WICE, Maite Brandt-Pearce, on the Society’s effort on diversity. The Society has increased substantially its activities in this area in the past 18 months. We hope this is a runway for many more great programs in the future.
Vincent Chan, ComSoc President
One of ComSoc’s 2020–2021 strategic plan thrusts is to promote diversity, broadly defined, in all of its activities, recognitions, and leadership opportunities. The Society has charged two committees to undertake the ambitious tasks it plans to accomplish to further the success of all of its members.
Women in Communications Engineering (WICE) is a standing committee of ComSoc established to promote the visibility and roles of women communications engineers and to provide a venue for their professional growth. It was developed initially as an ad hoc committee, voted as a standing committee by the Board of Governors in 2014, and brought to its current distinction by its inaugural chair, Octavia Dobre, a professor at Memorial University in Canada.
One of the main goals of WICE is to promote the success of all women ComSoc members. This includes encouraging students to enter into successful careers in communications engineering and technology as well as promoting the advancement of more senior women. It also provides a venue where women can share their experiences and feel supported, accepted, respected, and acknowledged for the excellent engineers and computer scientists they are.
As one of its most important and recognized activities, WICE offers workshops at ComSoc’s flagship conferences, ICC and Globecom. These events often feature prominent women keynote speakers, professional development activities, a venue for students and junior members to present their work, and an opportunity for mentoring. During these workshops, junior engineers can meet successful senior women and develop their support and sponsorship networks. WICE makes travel funds available for students to attend ComSoc events; this allows students to participate in all technical conference events, including the WICE events.
To promote and further the success of prominent women, WICE leadership offers to nominate its members for significant ComSoc awards, including elevated IEEE membership and other Technical Committee or Society awards. WICE members can contact WICE leadership and request sponsorship for Distinguished Lecturer or IEEE Fellow applications. To further acknowledge the work of women communications engineers and their commitment to ComSoc, WICE established four awards of its own: the WICE Outstanding Achievement Award, WICE Outstanding Service Award, WICE Mentorship Award, and WICE Early Achievement Award.
Several years ago, WICE began offering ComSoc Childcare Grants to parents who incur additional childcare expenses in order to participate in ComSoc conferences. This program has made it possible for young researchers to manage the stresses of balancing their family’s needs with their professional ambitions. In recent years, the reimbursement rules have been revised to allow more flexibility for parents as well as increase the grant amount and the number of conferences served.
Last year, many of WICE’s activities were impacted by the pandemic, when it was impossible to offer in-person networking and member development events. We organized one spectacularly successful virtual program at ICC 2021: the WIE-WICE Forum on Women in Engineering: The Journey Continues. The online program featured a distinguished keynote speaker, Gina Parvaneh Cody, former Executive Chair and Principal Shareholder at CCI Group Inc., and the first woman to be awarded a Ph.D. in building engineering at Concordia University, Canada. It also included engaging presentations by Karen Hortin, Executive Director & CEO of the Society of Women Engineers; and Dalma Novak, Vice President of Engineering at Octane Wireless and Chair of the IEEE Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Also featured were talks from other eminent and emerging leaders in ComSoc. We are currently planning an exciting event to be held at Globecom 2021 in Madrid.
Yet, ComSoc’s ambitions to build diversity and inclusion into all its activities cover more than gender and cannot be accomplished by WICE alone. In the June 2021 ComSoc Board of Governor’s meeting, an Ad Hoc Committee on Diversity was formed to steer, plan, and oversee efforts to advance diversity and inclusion within ComSoc. Relegating these activities to a special committee to address is becoming standard in other Societies, and Vincent Chan, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and President of ComSoc for 2020-2021, seized on the opportunity of a very active and supportive volunteer group to launch this new initiative. The committee will examine ComSoc’s activities, programs, and policies, as well as explore new opportunities to create a more diverse and inclusive environment.
The Ad Hoc Committee of Diversity defines diversity in its broadest sense and acknowledges that underrepresented groups can vary significantly from one community served by ComSoc compared with another. Some of the diversity dimensions include gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, physical ableness, age, nationality and geographic location, type of employment (industry researcher/industry practitioner/academia), socio-economic status, religion, and even the vast array of technical sub-disciplines that interest ComSoc members.
The charge to the Diversity Committee for the remainder of the year is tremendously ambitious yet vital to the future of ComSoc and key to providing its members with top-quality services. Some of its goals include:
- Conduct a comprehensive review of current data collection in ComSoc and IEEE to ensure that equitable and inclusive outcomes are measured and recommend any adjustments.
- Interface with the IEEE diversity efforts and those of other Societies to share each other’s goals, exchange ideas on promising practices, and develop joint expectations.
- Work cooperatively with ComSoc Conferences, Publications, Member Services, etc., to survey their practices and suggest more inclusive alternatives. One specific goal is to help ComSoc-sponsored conferences become more aware of the needs of all of our members and our responsibility to promote and support communications engineers belonging to all different groups.
- Support and sponsor members from underrepresented communities worldwide to ensure that they have equal access to ComSoc and IEEE member services and recognitions, including education and training, countless awards, and volunteering and leadership opportunities, both centrally and at the chapter level.
- Review policies and procedures and provide recommendations for changes related to unintended bias and discriminatory or exclusionary practices.
These activities and goals represent a giant step toward building an inclusive and service-minded ComSoc, where members can be assured valuable programming, fair treatment, and a welcoming environment. I look forward to seeing the results of these efforts for the benefit of all of our members.