A 20-Year Retrospective

Recognizing the value of research and its accompanying public policy implications, what began as a single, lengthy article grew to become, in 2017, our annual State of Women in Engineering issue, and a session of the same name at the SWE annual conference.

At a brainstorming session more than 20 years ago, the concept for SWE’s annual review of social science literature on women in engineering took shape. We closed the SWE Magazine editorial board meeting that day with plans to publish our review the following spring. And in the April/May 2002 issue, we launched the first of what has become more than two decades of literature reviews — discussions of the previous year’s research themes and findings, alongside an extensive bibliography.

Over time, our reviews expanded to include interesting, in-depth sidebar material, and as it became available, more research from outside the United States. At this writing, the compilation of our literature reviews consists of nearly 500 pages. Updated annually, it can be found on SWE’s research site: https://swe.org/research/.

The original intention behind the reviews has remained the same, however. By examining what peer-reviewed social science research tells us, we can take appropriate and effective steps toward solving the puzzle of the persistent underrepresentation of women in engineering.

Recognizing the value of research and its accompanying public policy implications, what began as a single, lengthy article grew to become, in 2017, our annual State of Women in Engineering issue, and a session of the same name at the SWE annual conference. The literature review is the backbone of the State of Women in Engineering issue, with additional articles on SWE’s own research and policy efforts, and examinations of myriad related issues.

Lead author of the literature review, Peter Meiksins, Ph.D., has been part of the literature review team for more than half of the 20 years we are celebrating in this issue. A sociologist and now professor emeritus, Dr. Meiksins’ grasp of the research themes, methodologies, and findings has resulted in highly readable, cogent discussions and insights. Taking on the challenge of analyzing the past 20 years of our reviews, while bringing the most relevant research from 2021 into the discussion, he has provided a valuable service. Dr. Meiksins addresses, for example, how some early explanations regarding the underrepresentation of women have proved unfounded. And while there are areas of consensus, other explanations remain topics for debate, yet newer research questions provide fresh tools from which to problem-solve.

Understanding what has been learned over the past two decades, what questions remain unanswered, what has changed, what has not, and the policy implications stemming from these realities are key to moving forward. We hope you will join us in this endeavor.

Anne Perusek
Director of Editorial & Publications

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