Penn Engineering’s Advancing Women in Engineering (AWE) program, dedicated to recruiting, retaining and promoting all female-identified students in the School, participated in the “I Look Like an Engineer” social media movement for the third year in a row. The movement, aimed at promoting diversity around underrepresented groups like women and people of color, was started by software developer Isis Anchalee in 2015.
Francesca Cimino, member of AWE and a rising senior in the Department of Bioengineering, has always been passionate about changing the stereotypes and breaking down the barriers that prevent engineers of diverse backgrounds from thriving. She wanted to continue AWE’s tradition of participating in the movement to showcase the diversity already present within the field and prove that there is no single characteristic that defines an engineer.
At the conclusion of the campaign, Cimino responded to questions about the importance of diversity and what a more equal world in engineering looks like.
Why did you decide to get involved with AWE?
I applied to be a part of AWE’s Student Advisory Board during the spring semester of my freshman year. Being on the board was very enticing to me because I was looking to make connections with more women engineers at the time. I wanted to create my own community of women engineers while also wanting to help foster a community for all. AWE’s message and goals really resonated with me as well, so I knew it would be a perfect fit.
How important has mentorship from other female engineers been for you?
Being able to interact and learn from women who have experience in the industries I am most interested in has been very valuable to me. It has been inspiring to learn about their stories and the fact that I can relate to many of them has definitely allowed me to become more confident as I get closer to starting my career. Mentorship is something AWE really values and the board has worked to develop a mentoring network for women engineers, which I really admire.
Penn Engineering’s AWE group recently participated in a social media campaign called “I Look Like an Engineer.” Where did the idea originate?
The “I Look Like an Engineer” movement began in 2015, although AWE first participated during the 2018-19 school year. A board member who ran our social media accounts at the time thought it would serve as a good way to promote women in Penn Engineering. That year, they took pictures in the Levine Lobby and posted them, and some of them can still be found on our Instagram and Facebook pages. As a current member on our social media committee, I wanted to continue the campaign even though we were not all on campus, so I asked women engineers who were willing to participate to submit pictures of themselves that I could then edit a frame on and post on our social media.
What has been the impact of the project?
The goal for AWE has always been to break down the barriers that stereotypes have set for what defines an engineer. Through this campaign, we have been able to empower ourselves as women engineers and others around Penn who may feel like outsiders in their respective fields. This campaign also shows that there is not one image that represents what an engineer should look like and that women deserve recognition in this field. This is all about us redefining societal norms in a way that is more inclusive towards all women.
Why do you think diversity is important in engineering?
AWE as a group and I share the opinion that diversity, in regard to gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., provides vast benefits to communities and it promotes an expansion of opinions and ideas that may not be represented in a group where everyone shares the same background and experiences. In a field like engineering that is so heavily dominated by men, it is important that women have a seat at the table where they are comfortable to share their own unique thoughts as well. Diversity is something that allows all kinds of minds to work together in cohesion and a primary goal of AWE is to advance efforts to make sure it is fostered for women all across engineering.
What do you think a more equal world in engineering looks like?
From our perspective in AWE, engineering is a field that should be inclusive and open to any person, regardless of who they are or where they come from. The ideas and opinions of all people are valuable and should be given equal respect when it comes to collaborative work in order for there to be a more equal world in engineering. I believe that innovation is at its best when everyone has the opportunity to participate, so for us, leadership roles in engineering are something that must be more diversified. Women are often absent from many of these positions and this is something that needs to change in order to foster a world of equality regarding engineering.