How the Society of Women Engineers Works

Women Engineers Unite

By 2013, the SWE had 23,000 members in the U.S. and internationally, with 300 university and 100 professional chapters set up in the U.S. and Puerto Rico [source: SWE]. It has grown into an organization with the resources to address a stereotype that has proved itself remarkably well-ingrained – that engineering is not for women.

The organization's official mission is to "stimulate women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life and demonstrate the value of diversity" [source: SWE].

In other words, to help females break through gender barriers in engineering; show the social and intellectual sides of engineering that can prove more interesting to girls than the straight coding and measuring often viewed as the core of the discipline; and convince the engineering world that a mix of genders (and ethnicities) in the workforce produces better results than homogeneity [source: Hafner].

The overall idea goes something like this: First, if you make engineering accessible to girls early on, before they go from high math scores and high interest in elementary school to thinking "math class is tough" in the later grades, they're more likely to consider engineering as a possible, and desirable, career path [source: Hansen].

To this end, the SWE offers scholarships totaling more than $400,000 per year nationally and more on the local level. Society members show up at school career days to talk to girls, parents and teacher about the opportunities and benefits available to women in engineering [sources: Schmid, SWE]. The society is active in the Girl Scouts, the FIRST robotics competition and NASA's educational video series "Sci Files," designed for students in the third through fifth grades [source: SWE].

Second, if you make work and school life less isolating and more rewarding for women already in or pursuing the field, they'll stick around and grow the number of mentors who can share and facilitate positive experiences. SWE members have opportunities to publish in industry journals, including the "Journal of the Society of Women Engineers," present at conferences, and take continuing education and exam preparation courses through the Society [source: SWE].

Finally, going back to something so important in 1950, the society acts as a center for communities and social networks and a database of current and historical information on women in engineering and their achievements in the field, once not so easy to find. And if the society has its way, that database will only get bigger.