Small changes made over time can lead to big results, the saying goes. A great example of that is the concerted effort the IEEE Instrumentation and Measurement Society started more than two decades ago to become a more welcoming and inclusive environment for women and members from outside the United States. Since 2012, the society has increased the number of female members by more than 60 percent. And more articles are now submitted from authors in China, India, and Italy than from North America.
“We tackled one diversity factor at a time,” says IEEE Senior Member Ferdinanda Ponci, the society’s liaison to IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE), a position established more than 10 years ago to coordinate joint activities and programs.
Ponci says being a liaison to the WIE committee has been a key factor for her engagement with diversity, equity, and inclusion activities.
“This amazing group is a constant motivator and my reality check that women’s participation, career advancement, and DEI are very real, life-changing missions,” she says.
Ponci is one of the people involved in the society’s efforts. She is also a member at large of the society’s administrative committee and conference treasurer.
“I think we have a very nice representation at all levels now,” Ponci says, though she adds that there is still more to do.
She is a professor and researcher in area monitoring and distributed control with the Institute for Automation of Complex Power Systems at RWTH Aachen University, in Germany.
Ponci recently spoke with The Institute about how she and her colleagues improved diversity in the Instrumentation and Measurement Society. She said it was done “intentionally, strategically, and systematically” as the 2016–2017 society president, Ruth Dyer, reminded Ponci and others on the society’s AdCom. Dyer is currently the IEEE Division II director.
During the past 20 years, the society has increased the number of women who present and lead sessions at its conferences, workshops, and symposia; hold leadership positions; and serve on technical program committees.
The push came from advocates among the society’s officers who were determined to increase representation, Ponci says.
In 1992 there was only one member of the society’s AdCom from outside the United States and Canada, and no women. That was the situation when Dyer’s husband, Stephen A. Dyer, joined the AdCom as editor in chief of the IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurement. The IEEE Life Fellow began the effort to identify more women and individuals from other geographic regions to include as candidates on the AdCom ballot. True discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusiveness started then and continues, Ponci says.
Ruth Dyer was elected to the AdCom in 1999, and served in her first officer role in 2007. A second woman wasn’t elected to the committee until 2009. Between 2010 and 2021, the society has had between six and nine female voting members, Ponci says. They have included elected members, officers not in a current elected position, and appointed representatives. Some were recruited from conference attendees.
Beginning in 2007, IEEE Fellow Reza Zoughi, who would later be elected the society’s 2014–2015 president, began nominating many of his current and former students for the appointed positions. He continues to be a strong advocate for diversity.
The society has had at least one woman appointed as the undergraduate, graduate, or Young Professionals representative almost every year since 2007, Ponci says.
That is important, she says, because the appointees have voting rights.
Ruth Dyer coordinated the first informal networking session for women in 2006 at the society’s flagship event, the IEEE International Instrumentation and Measurement Technology Conference. There was more involvement by women as speakers and technical program committee chairs at this year’s conference, Ponci says. Since 2012, Women in Measurement events have taken place regularly as formal parts of the program.
The society’s nominations and appointments committee saw to it that experienced women were nominated for leadership positions. The idea was that the officers would in turn identify other talented women for committee appointments.
“It became normal, and it was expected that committees would be more diverse,” Ponci says. “I think this was emotionally and culturally a big change.”
Those efforts would not have been possible without visible support from the society’s leaders including the Dyers and Zoughi, along with many other officers who advocated for diversity and supported networking events for women at the society’s conferences, Ponci says.
“They attended these events and encouraged other male and female members of the AdCom to attend to show support of the society,” she says. “We need more male advocates because without them, it looks like it’s a ‘woman’s thing,’ and it’s not.”
Women and individuals from a diversity of geographic areas who have technical expertise in instrumentation and measurement were encouraged to publish their research papers in the society’s publications and to serve as reviewers and associate editors.
IEEE Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine marked the contributions and achievements of the society’s female members and field experts in its June 2016 special issue [left]. In her president’s message, Dyer wrote:
“I am always impressed by the strength and excellence that result when we embrace and encourage diversity. Time and again, we discover that the most robust solutions are achieved when a plethora of perspectives are sought and incorporated. As the science and engineering disciplines continue to direct their attention and efforts toward increased inclusion, we know our Instrumentation and Measurement Society will continue to thrive and grow, because we are committed to fostering and reaping the benefits of an inclusive society.”
In June the society joined 21 other IEEE organizational units that took the IEEE WIE pledge [see below] to work toward “gender-diversified panels at all IEEE meetings, conferences, and events.”
To increase global representation within the society, it turned its attention to IEEE Regions 8, 9, and 10.
“We started the geographic diversity effort purposefully,” Ponci says.
The society used the same strategy as it had with women: Get more qualified people from other regions on the ballot and in member-at-large positions; push them to become associate editors and reviewers of papers; and increase their representation on editorial boards. Researchers from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East were encouraged to submit papers to the society’s publications.
Prior to 1997, there had been only one or two elected AdCom members from outside the United and Canada, Ponci says. From 1997 to 2009, however, at least one of the four representatives elected each year was from Region 8, 9, or 10. That number increased to three from 2010 to this year.
The first representative from Region 9, IEEE Senior Member Jorge F. Daher, went on to become the society’s 2012 president. The society elected the second representative from Region 10 in 2010 and one each year since.
From 2017 on, IEEE Fellow Shervin Shirmohammadi, editor in chief of the IEEE Transactions on Instrumentation and Measurement, has pushed for the inclusion of individuals from underrepresented geographic areas among associate editors.
Region 10, which covers Asia and the Pacific Rim and hosts the largest community of instrumentation and measurement technologists, was targeted first. Most of the current editorial board members for the Transactions come from the region.
“To be able to select the best of the best from a large group of submitters is more than we could hope for,” Ponci says.
REAPING THE BENEFITS
Ponci says the efforts to improve gender and geographic diversity are paying off.
“We managed to attract the most motivated and active individuals in every area” of the society, she says. “The society’s activities have increased and improved.”
Discussions with members are now a “mix of commonalities and differences,” she adds. “Of course, this requires people to really want to listen and not dismiss the point of view of others. This is something that diversity and inclusion really pushes. It makes you stop and listen before you dismiss and before you judge.”
WIE Pledge Update
By Lisa Lazareck-Asunta
The IEEE Women in Engineering pledge was launched on 23 April with a commitment from four IEEE societies: Computational Intelligence, Computer, Engineering in Medicine and Biology, and Power & Energy. Since then, much progress has been made. As of press time 21 IEEE organizational units (OUs) had confirmed their commitment to the pledge, and 13 more were considering it. That includes regions, sections, societies, councils, and one student branch.
Many OUs have broadened the scope of the pledge to encompass other aspects of diversity and inclusion that go beyond gender representation.
OUs are making the pledge visible through their membership communications and websites. Some are working to make it part of their bylaws.
WIE is collaborating with the IEEE Technical Activities Board’s diversity committee and IEEE conferences to ascertain how practices pertaining to the implementation of the pledge can best be achieved, shared, and improved across IEEE.
If your OU is interested in joining the community of pledge-takers and changemakers, contact the WIE office.
Taking the WIE pledge is just the first step on the road for more visible and equitable representation on panels at IEEE meetings, conferences, and events.
Lisa Lazareck-Asunta is the 2019–2020 chair of the IEEE Women in Engineering committee. The IEEE senior member has been an elected and appointed volunteer for IEEE, including WIE and the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, since 2003.
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Kathy Pretz is editor in chief for The Institute, which covers all aspects of IEEE, its members, and the technology they're involved in. She has a bachelor's degree in applied communication from Rider University, in Lawrenceville, N.J., and holds a master's degree in corporate and public communication from Monmouth University, in West Long Branch, N.J.