Society of Women Engineers is closing the gender gap


Noora Neiroukh

Studies show that women are underrepresented in many areas of the engineering. The Society of Women Engineers at OU seeks to change that.

Engineering is one of the fastest growing careers in the United States. However, studies have shown that women are underrepresented in many areas of the field. 

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at Oakland University is trying to change this landscape. The goal of this service organization is “to empower women to succeed and advance in the field of engineering and to be recognized for their life-changing contributions as engineers and leaders.” 

“Obviously females in STEM are a minority,” Treasurer Allison Shaw says. “[SWE] allows you to get to know people that are in the same field as you and see how they deal with the struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated industry.”

Data from Pew Research reveals that “the share of women has been roughly stable in other STEM job clusters. In engineering, women’s shares have inched up only slightly, from 12% in 1990 to 15% today. And the share of women in computer occupations went down over this period. In 1990, 32% of workers in computer occupations were women; today, women make up 25%, unchanged since 2016.” 

Advocacy for women’s representation is a critical step to change the trajectory of the engineering field. 

Students represented OU at the 2019 SWE Conference in Anaheim, California. (Photo courtesy of SWE)

“I think there’s just not that much advocacy around girls studying engineering,” Vice President Janel Asmar says. “One thing that probably inspired me to go into engineering was having a female CEO at GM. That was like, ‘oh cool, if she can do that, then I can do that too.’” 

Attempting to change the culture in the profession has been slow-moving, but a high priority to SWE members. 

“Men and women think differently. I think having those different perspectives is important,” Secretary Marisa Wade says. “It’s a male-dominated field — I think it’s new for everybody to have a woman come in, take over, and have their thoughts put into things.”

Helping to reform ideas about the industry is another goal of SWE as well. “There’s a wide range to what an engineer does. It’s not just one little narrow role,” Asmar says. “There’s definitely a lot of other opportunities that I don’t think a lot of females are aware of, or even men are aware of that don’t deal with just building things,” Shaw says.  

Additionally, the student organization provides other helpful opportunities for members. SWE is a national organization that partners with many U.S. companies for a variety of events each year. 

“SWE at any college or the national organization [does] a lot of events with these employers and they do a lot of events with [the] big three (GM, Ford, Chrysler) here in Michigan,” Asmar says. “When employers see you’re a part of the club, it helps to get the job.” 

The struggle for women’s representation in the engineering workforce will continue, but the members of SWE at OU are leading the way for a more inclusive generation of engineers.

For more information about SWE or for those looking to join the organization, you can find them on Instagram, GroupMe or via Campus Labs.