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What’s in Store for Next Year’s IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Virtual Conference

Speakers are being sought on topics such as AI, communications, career management, and empowerment

3 min read
A woman who is talking on a group video call with a laptop.
Photo: iStockphoto

THE INSTITUTE The 2021 IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference (WIE ILC) is scheduled to be held virtually from 27 to 30 April.

The annual conference aims to support and sustain female leaders and technologists, especially those in mid- to senior career.

We are hoping to build on the success of last year’s conference, which was supposed to be held in person in May at the San Diego Convention Center but was converted into a virtual event because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Held throughout June, the virtual conference retained all the keynotes, several of the other talks, and many of the networking events.

Last year’s experience proved a virtual conference could keep some of the unique features—including that special, member-to-member connection—that the face-to-face event has always had.

Attendance nearly doubled, from 1,600 attendees to 2,800, and the reach of the conference grew from 50 countries to 95. In many ways, 2020 was the start of true global outreach for the WIE ILC.

Although we will miss seeing attendees in person next year, we hope everyone understands that it is safer for attendees, speakers, sponsors, and the conference committee to meet virtually for a second year in a row.

For our second virtual conference, we hope to provide a truly global experience for attendees, speakers, and sponsors. The intent is to time-shift the conference so that watch parties can gather at specified times to participate when attendees can best tune in, whether that’s during the day or in the evening. The conference will schedule networking events that will accommodate several time zones. We are working to address language barriers, as well, by scheduling some non-English networking events.

I believe the meeting’s magical attendee-to-attendee connection can be transferred to the virtual platform by making it possible for attendees to work together in small groups during workshops so that everyone can discuss what is going on with their engineering projects and how to make their work lives better.


The theme for 2021 is Accelerating Through Change.

In the past, our most popular events at the conference have been skill-building workshops for career management, breakout talks on the newest technologies, and executive leadership training.

Our leadership and career topics include career management; empowerment; government and laboratory work environments; increasing inclusion, intersectionality, and representation; leadership development and advancement; and managing teams and technology during COVID-19.

Sessions on technology will cover artificial intelligence, biotechnology, communications, disruptive/emerging technologies, and machine learning.


We will have a new virtual platform that is more flexible and interactive for attendees, speakers, and sponsors.

The inclusion of a virtual expo floor will help us highlight our sponsors more effectively. The conference’s partners will have a virtual booth for interacting with attendees and sponsoring networking events. The partners can use the virtual platform to show off their newest technology. This new expo floor should be as dynamic as usual, allowing attendees to talk, one on one, with partners to discuss technology or career opportunities. If you are interested in partnership support, contact us.


We are seeking proposals for speakers and events, including keynote addresses, breakout sessions, tutorials, panels, and workshops. Our past speakers have come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Embracing a diversity of representation is always important to the conference.

We hope that some will provide talks specifically focused on managing the COVID-19 pandemic at work, including effectively leading dispersed teams and adapting to working from home. We also would like examples of how technology is helping people thrive.

As a result of the conference, we hope our attendees will come out of the pandemic stronger and more resilient, and with more resources for the next set of challenges.

We also are seeking people who can present on the topics of intersectionality and representation in technology. Intersectionality provides a framework to explain the interconnected nature of race, class, and gender that can disadvantage women of color.

If you would like to be a speaker, please fill out a form. The deadline is 19 December.

You can view several speakers from this year’s conference on IEEE TV. The speeches include keynotes by financial advisor Sally Krawcheck, a founder of Ellevest, who discussed the wealth gap for underrepresented minorities; and Sonita Lontoh, global head of marketing at HP, who shared a story about bringing her passion to the work environment.


You can help us develop our global networking events. If you are interested in hosting an event in your time zone, reach out to the conference committee staff. Such events can focus on specific IEEE regions or sections, including specialized events for non-English speakers.

We believe the full WIE ILC program, including keynotes, breakouts, tutorials, workshops, and networking events, can be restored. We look forward to having you join us as an attendee, speaker, or sponsor. And we hope that we will be able to see you all safely and in person in 2022.

IEEE Senior Member Heather Quinn is general chair for the IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference 2021 and 2022.

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

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Economics Drives Ray-Gun Resurgence

Laser weapons, cheaper by the shot, should work well against drones and cruise missiles

4 min read
In an artist’s rendering, a truck is shown with five sets of wheels—two sets for the cab, the rest for the trailer—and a box on the top of the trailer, from which a red ray is projected on an angle, upward, ending in the silhouette of an airplane, which is being destroyed

Lockheed Martin's laser packs up to 300 kilowatts—enough to fry a drone or a plane.

Lockheed Martin

The technical challenge of missile defense has been compared with that of hitting a bullet with a bullet. Then there is the still tougher economic challenge of using an expensive interceptor to kill a cheaper target—like hitting a lead bullet with a golden one.

Maybe trouble and money could be saved by shooting down such targets with a laser. Once the system was designed, built, and paid for, the cost per shot would be low. Such considerations led planners at the Pentagon to seek a solution from Lockheed Martin, which has just delivered a 300-kilowatt laser to the U.S. Army. The new weapon combines the output of a large bundle of fiber lasers of varying frequencies to form a single beam of white light. This laser has been undergoing tests in the lab, and it should see its first field trials sometime in 2023. General Atomics, a military contractor in San Diego, is also developing a laser of this power for the Army based on what’s known as the distributed-gain design, which has a single aperture.

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