Society of Women Engineers Sparks Conversation About Gender and Engineering

An important female organization on campus is the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) which is nation-wide educational non-profit that seeks to give women a voice and a place in the engineering industry.

Katie Lang is a senior civil engineering major with a concentration in environmental engineering and a proud member of SWE. When she was a freshman here, SWE was essentially non-existent, but she joined the efforts to start it up again during her sophomore year. It has grown ever since, and now they have over 100 members.

Their new movement, #HeForSWE is inspired by Emma Watson’s #HeForShe movement with the United Nation’s Women’s Committee. Their goal is to highlight the importance of supporting women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers, and a crucial part of making this effective is having male students and professors on board.

“It’s the idea that you can’t advance women in STEM careers if you don’t get support from men. We have to take down that invisible divide between us. We’re not trying to exclude anyone. The point is, we can’t do it without them,” Lang said.

Photo Courtesy of SWE

SWE is also trying to extend their reach not only beyond females, but also beyond the engineering department so they can encompass more students and more majors.

“You can be a math major, an engineer, computer science…. we’re trying to include more people in this. It shouldn’t just be for female engineers, it should be for everyone who supports the cause,” Lang said.
On Tuesday, March 22nd, SWE is having an event in Kelly Commons and all are welcome to attend.

“We’re having this event to spread awareness and explain why SWE is important, because a lot of guys have asked me, ‘what is the point?’ We just want to show what it’s all about,” she said.

Lang also points out that this movement is especially geared towards reassuring female engineers who are in their first year that they shouldn’t question their dreams.

“Most of our active members are freshman because I think that’s when you’re really vulnerable and most likely to quit or change your major. I think it’s important for them to know it’s okay to feel like that,” Lang said, noting that she was once in the same place.

“I came from an all girls school, and there were just so many guys here. You just feel like you’re not as important or as good as them. You think to yourself, ‘do I belong here?’, so it’s about giving women a sense of belonging,” Lang said.

Photo Courtesy of SWE

Although she is comfortable now, there are still problems ahead for her and other female engineers as they are entering a workforce with an overwhelming amount of men.

“There’s thirty kids in civil engineering class and only three of them are girls. I’m used to it now because I know all the guys in my classes and they’re great, but when I go into the workforce it’s going to be a new issue – it’s a boys club.”

Caitlin Hall, a sophomore mechanical engineer, has also benefitted from being a part of SWE and hopes that more male students begin to get involved and understand the reason that they are shedding light on these issues.

“Being a woman in the field of engineering, you’re already the minority. It can be uncomfortable feeling out of place. Sometimes you need to hear voices of reassurance from people who have been in your position to motivate you. Knowing that there are successful women engineers in a world of men gives me hope for achieving my own goals,” Hall said.

Hall also explains the importance of making men aware of the challenges women face that they don’t, like the wage gap and sexual harassment in the workforce, is the key to positive change.

“When you’re not the victim you tend to turn your cheek, usually subconsciously. My one friend who is a male engineer wanted to come to one of our SWE meetings to talk about his opinions of our movement, because he didn’t quite agree with our approach. He was terrified to come because he would be one of the only guys. Then he was like, ‘Wait, that’s the point… you feel like that! Being in a board meeting full of men must be really intimidating.’ Obviously, we want to avoid making people uncomfortable by educating them before it comes to that,” Hall said.

Photo Courtesy of Society of Women Engineers

Dr. Goli Nossoni, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, is the advisor for SWE because she is passionate about furthering women in this field.

“Women are highly underrepresented in engineering. Women bring different skills and problem-solving approaches to engineering and the engineering community values their contributions. To be effective, both men and women must support the efforts to increase the number of women who pursue careers in engineering. That is why the #HeForSWE movement is so appropriate,” Nossoni said.

Sophomore chemical engineering major Jaclyn Marchetta, who is on the board for SWE, also shares these beliefs.

“It’s important to include males and to make people realize the limited role for women in engineering. We’re telling everyone about it and presenting to the student body this idea of combining women’s and men’s issues,” Marchetta said.

The board meets every week and they are inspired by their feminist teachers and are determined, as Marchetta puts it, to “open the student body’s eyes to these issues and to be more inclusive.”