Reflections, Revelations, and Research

Conversations in SWE over the fall and leading into winter largely focused on WE21, including the actual experience of the event (whether in person or virtual), followed by reflections and reports in the aftermath. This, mixed with commentary and accounts of various issues facing women in STEM, accounted for much of the social media postings and discussions.

Outreach and the impact of policies and media messages, particularly on youth, also occupied a portion of the social media landscape. One intriguing post reported that more children in the United States, when asked to draw a picture of a scientist, draw pictures of women scientists. This is in sharp contrast from the past, when children instructed to draw a picture of a scientist would typically draw a man.

Among the comments to this post, in a similar vein one woman reported an observation her young daughter made when preparing for a trip to the doctor. After the mom told her daughter that, unlike her regular doctor (a woman), this particular one would be a man, the daughter’s response was: “Wow, men can be doctors, too? Hmmm. Well, good for them.”

One post that received particular attention was the article “Trailblazing Women Who Broke into Engineering in the 1970s Reflect on What’s Changed — And What Hasn’t.” The author, Laura Ettinger, Ph.D., is a historian at Clarkson University. Dr. Ettinger published results from her research in the 2018 State of Women in Engineering issue of SWE Magazine, and spoke at the State of Women in Engineering presentation at WE18. In this latest article, she summarized that research, much of it conducted with SWE members who came of age in the 1970s. Among the insights from study participants:

  • “Progress is slow” — this was echoed by many participants
  • “Go for it!”
  • “Use the ‘Old Girls’ Network’ — it does exist … Don’t isolate yourself. You are not the only one with your issue.”

The post can be found on SWE’s Facebook page, and the original article at

Traditionally, the SWE Forum has provided an opportunity to respond to articles or comment on topical issues. Communications are included on a space-available basis; we reserve the right to edit for clarity or to meet space requirements. All opinions are those of the writer and in no way the responsibility of the Society of Women Engineers or SWE Magazine.

Send comments, opinions, or observations to or by regular mail to: Letters, SWE Magazine, Society of Women Engineers, 130 E. Randolph St., Suite 3500, Chicago, IL 60601.

Yet another way to engage with the material in SWE is through the Society’s social media — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, as well as the All Together blog.