SWE Research Collaborations with DEI Partners Advance Engineering

Research-based strategies are key to advancing both SWE’s mission and diversifying the profession. Collaborating with like-minded organizations, SWE’s research staff takes on roles ranging from research lead to supportive partner.

By Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., SWE Associate Director of Research

SWE leverages its research and best practices through many collaborative initiatives with other diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) organizations. Often these efforts involve implementing research-based strategies to combat factors that negatively affect women and people of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). These efforts are critical to SWE’s mission and overall commitment to advancing women and those underrepresented within engineering and technology.

SWE members and stakeholders often are uncertain when these programs come up in conversation, thinking, “Yes, I have heard of this project, but I don’t know exactly what it entails or SWE’s role in the effort.”

This article provides an overview of the collaborative activities that involve SWE’s research staff, either as a lead or as a supportive partner. The initiatives and resources included are not an exhaustive list of SWE’s collaborative efforts, but they are major projects that staff devote time and energy toward achieving our mission to demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusion in engineering and technology.

SWE and the Women of Color in Engineering Collaborative

In December 2020, SWE, in collaboration with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), received a National Science Foundation grant (NSF Award #2040634) to support the creation of the Women of Color in Engineering Collaborative (WCEC). The purpose of the WCEC is to bring together professional STEM societies and industry partners to address systemic barriers that prohibit equitable work environments for women of color in engineering.

The WCEC includes 28 organizations who are founding partners, working together to create a strategic plan for the collaborative. To date, the WCEC has held two virtual convenings to establish a shared vision and identify the systemic barriers that the WCEC is best positioned to address over the next few years. While the NSF grant ends in June 2022, SWE is working to identify new financing opportunities to support the implementation of the WCEC strategic plan and the growth of the collaborative to include higher education and government partners.

Why did SWE undertake this project?

Diversity-serving organizations like NSBE, SHPE, and SWE, as well as discipline-specific associations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and IEEE, all offer programs and services to support engineers who are underrepresented in the profession. Such programs may include affinity groups, DEI committees, and special events aimed at educating members in the ways in which individuals and organizations can combat biases and address inequities. In some cases, programs and/or activities specifically for women of color are offered.

SWE views the WCEC as a vehicle through which professional societies can work with employers in the public and private sectors to connect people, cross divides, and drive systemic change toward the equity we seek in the engineering and technology professions. By working together, we can leverage resources to promote change, while collectively addressing the barriers that lead to the attrition of women of color.

Where can I learn more?

The WCEC has created a website to share resources from the founding partners at https://www.womenofcolorengineers.org/. Currently a landing page, the website will soon serve as a source of information and a place of community for those seeking resources to support the inclusion of women of color in their organizations. Learn more about the WCEC at womenofcolorengineers.org and be sure to revisit the site as it will be updated with more resources.

SWE and Advocates for Empowerment (A4E)

Advocates for Empowerment (A4E) is a gender-parity and equality corporate recognition and benchmarking program offered by SWE. It aims to provide companies actionable information that will help them recruit and retain diverse women in engineering and technology. Scheduled to launch fully later this year, the A4E program is currently in a pilot phase that does not include recognitions. Companies eligible to participate in the program must be for-profit organizations headquartered in the U.S. with at least 150 employees, of which 25 or more are women in engineering positions at each level below executive (senior level, mid level, and professional), and 25 or more are women in technology positions at each level below executive.

The A4E program includes a robust survey that asks eligible companies for data on their top management and engineering and technology workforce; information on programs, policies, and practices to retain and advance diverse talent; and corporate culture. Participating companies that score 70 out of 100 possible points will be recognized. Scores are based on the representation of diverse women in the workforce (60 points) and the programs, policies, and practices in place, including employee protections, social responsibility, accountability, and transparency (40 points).

In addition to being publicly recognized as best employers for women in engineering and technology, recognized companies will receive a digital award logo to promote their recognition at SWE’s conference and on SWE’s Career Center.

Why did SWE undertake this initiative?

The A4E program uses rigorous methodology to analyze data to provide actionable information and insights to participating companies. SWE will be able to connect outcomes of the top-performing companies to best and promising practices that other companies can use to improve the retention and advancement of diverse talent. Companies that participate year-over-year will be able to see the impact of changes they make to policies and practices on the retention and advancement of diverse engineers. SWE views the A4E program as a “fix the system” solution to address the lack of diversity in the engineering and technology professions.

Where can I learn more?

Visit SWE’s A4E website at https://a4e.swe.org/ to learn more about the program. Companies interested in registering to participate in A4E will have an opportunity to sign up in the spring. For the FY23 cycle, the application will open in July 2022, and company recognitions will be made in early 2023. Find out more by contacting SWE Strategic Partnerships at strategicpartnerships@swe.org.

SWE and the 50K Coalition

SWE, NSBE, SHPE, and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) formed the 50K Coalition in 2015. The executive directors/CEOs of AISES, NSBE, SHPE, and SWE serve on the 50K Coalition’s Leadership Circle, providing sustained leadership for the coalition to meet its goal. At this time, more than 60 organizations have joined the four founding organizations in their commitment to increase the number of engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded annually to students of color and women. The coalition’s goal of reaching 50,000 diverse engineering graduates per year by 2025 is a 66% increase over the 2015 benchmark.

The 50K Coalition is a structured collaboration of associations, colleges, universities, agencies, corporations, and foundations working toward a common goal and leveraging their unique missions, relationships, and institutional memories. Using a collective impact framework, the coalition applies an evidence-based approach to drive decision-making, improvements, information sharing, and collective action to reach its goal. The collective impact framework guides the development of a common agenda, the identification of shared metrics, the coordination of reinforcing activities, and continuous communication across the collaborative.

Recent developments have led the 50K Coalition to narrow its immediate focus to two specific areas: undergraduate support and student retention, and community college linkages. These two action network groups are working to identify activities that support this initiative across the member organizations and collect the data necessary to measure impact, while continuously pursuing funding opportunities and expanding the coalition to include organizations that support the 50K Coalition’s common agenda.

Why did SWE undertake this initiative?

Diversity within the pathway for engineering and technology careers is critical to meeting the global workforce demand. SWE is committed to advancing the profession while reducing barriers for women and others underrepresented within the profession to advance in engineering and technology.

To that end, in early 2015, SWE met with NSBE and SHPE’s executive teams to discuss ways that the organizations could work collectively to increase their constituents’ representation among engineering undergraduates. They understood that meeting the goal would require commitment from numerous organizations working to increase diversity in the U.S. engineering workforce. With support over the years from the United Engineering Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Terracon Foundation, and the Clark Foundation, the 50K Coalition Leadership Circle has focused on pulling together a strong coalition of member organizations committed to working together to diversify the engineering profession.

Where can I learn more?

The 50K Coalition’s website at https://50kcoalition.org/ provides information about the initiative, including upcoming and past events, and opportunities to join the coalition.

SWE and the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM

The Societies Consortium is a member-based organization with a mission “to support academic and professional disciplinary societies in fulfilling their mission-driven roles as standard bearers and standard setters for excellence in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical (STEMM) fields, addressing sexual harassment in all of its forms and intersectionalities.” More than 100 STEMM societies are members of the consortium, which is focused on advancing inclusive STEMM conduct, climate, and culture by sharing resources and engaging in community building to promote sustainable change.

Launched in 2019, the Societies Consortium was created by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, and the Association of American Medical Colleges, working with EducationCounsel as a law and policy expert, in response to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s June 2018 Consensus Study Report on sexual harassment in STEMM. The Societies Consortium serves the needs of societies’ operations to tackle gender harassment and other forms of discrimination on the basis of sex or gender, with particular attention to the intersectionality of harassment based on race and ethnicity.

Why did SWE join this initiative?

The Societies Consortium is focused on advancing professional and ethical conduct, climate, and culture in STEMM. This is central to SWE’s mission, and while SWE may be one of few participating societies whose membership is not male dominated, there are benefits to SWE’s participation in this collective.

As a member of the Societies Consortium, SWE can participate in the creation of an influential and collective voice to set standards of excellence in STEMM fields. SWE provides input into the subject matter, prioritization, and content of the Societies Consortium deliverables, has early access to the resources that the consortium creates, and engages with peers and experts while building a community to drive the climate and culture changes in STEMM that are needed to create more diverse and inclusive STEMM workplaces. To date, the Societies Consortium has created model policies for societies to customize and adopt for meetings conduct, honors and awards, and ethical and professional conduct.

Where can I learn more?

The Societies Consortium website at https://societiesconsortium.com/ contains information about the consortium, upcoming events, and news about the members of the Societies Consortium and the work that the consortium is undertaking.

SWE and the ARC Network (A STEM Equity Brain Trust)

The ADVANCE Resource and Coordination (ARC) Network builds on the work of the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program, which was created in 2001 to foster gender equity by identifying and eliminating organizational barriers that impede the full participation and advancement of women STEM faculty in academic institutions. The ARC Network aims to connect scholars and practitioners committed to equity in STEM to share knowledge from the NSF ADVANCE program grantees. Through the facilitation of shared tools and resources, and the curation and synthesis of knowledge on systemic change and gender equity, the ARC Network works to empower the community with the tools needed to improve the participation, advancement, and inclusion of diverse women in STEM.

The ADVANCE program is discussed extensively in “Women in Engineering: Analyzing 20 Years of Social Science Literature,” the centerpiece article in this issue.”

The Women in Engineering ProActive Network serves as the backbone organization for the ARC Network. The ARC Network includes two components: the ARC Network Research and the ARC Network Community. ARC Network Research includes two major programs: the Virtual Visiting Scholars and the Emerging Research Workshops. Both aim to synthesize existing research, produce new research agendas, and provide evidence-based recommendations for policy and practice. The ARC Network Community provides opportunities to connect through news and events, including reports and webinars to share the research outcomes from ARC Network Research activities. The ARC Network also houses a Mendeley resource library, a curated selection of resources to aid the ARC Network Community in their STEM equity efforts. The library includes numerous reports, white papers, toolkits, training videos, and datasets, as well as SWE’s annual literature reviews and relevant reports.

What is SWE’s role in this initiative?

SWE is represented on both the research advisory board and the communities of practice committee. These bodies work to select the virtual visiting Scholars and plan the community convenings. SWE has participated in ARC Network events as a presenter to share relevant SWE research with the community and provides resources for the Mendeley resource library.

Where can I learn more?

Learn more about the ARC Network at https://www.equityinstem.org/. The site also provides access to the Mendeley resource library, a valuable resource for those interested in STEM equity research. The website includes articles and webinars highlighting the work of the virtual visiting scholars and reports from the convenings of scholars during the Emerging Research Workshops.

While our collaborative efforts are vital to reaching our strategic goals, SWE also works to curate data and research from external sources to share with our members and the public. SWE’s research website contains a wealth of information for those seeking data on the landscape for girls and women in engineering and technology, and STEM broadly. All the research activities that SWE undertakes require expertise from both inside and outside the organization. The SWE Research Advisory Council serves as an important resource for staff in determining what projects to undertake, which researchers could serve as strong collaborators, and how best we can share our research outcomes with multiple stakeholder groups.

SWE Research Site

In 2016, SWE launched its research microsite to serve as a one-stop shop for members and the public to find the latest data and information on issues involving girls and women in engineering. The site includes statistics for K-12 education, higher education, and the workplace on topics ranging from intentions to major in engineering to retention of women in the engineering workforce. The site also includes data from countries outside of the U.S. in places where SWE has an active membership or great interest, including India, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.

Last year, SWE redesigned the research web pages and moved them under the SWE.org umbrella. This move allows visitors to the SWE.org site to search for research topics from the main site. The new pages are designed to be easier to navigate, allowing us to categorize SWE’s own research under the appropriate topics. We can also gather analytics for the research pages, which will be useful as we continue to grow the site to understand which pages are the most popular and in need of more frequent monitoring to ensure that they remain up-to-date.

For those interested in conducting research with SWE, either in collaboration or seeking assistance with study participant recruitment, contact information is available on the site at https://swe.org/research/. SWE evaluates every research request. The application and evaluation process are available on the site.

SWE Research Advisory Council

The SWE Research Advisory Council (RAC) was established in 2018 to help guide and inform the research activities of the organization. In addition to helping to identify research topics for exploration, the RAC helps SWE identify potential collaborators and external funding opportunities, provides expert feedback on current research projects, and supports our efforts to disseminate research findings.

Unlike other committees within SWE, membership on the RAC is by invitation only. The RAC currently has 10 members, providing representation to the council from industry, academia, and the nonprofit sector. Individuals on the RAC include representatives from within and outside the U.S. SWE benefits from the diverse expertise of the members serving on the council.

The current members of the SWE Research Advisory Council are:

  • Stephanie G. Adams, Ph.D., dean, Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, The University of Texas at Dallas
  • Carlotta M. Arthur, Ph.D., executive director,
    Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
  • Caterina Cocchi, Ph.D., professor, physics, University of Oldenburg
  • Diane Foley, senior director, information technology, Raytheon Co.
  • Gretchen Hein, Ph.D., senior lecturer, engineering fundamentals, Michigan Technological University
  • Karen J. Horton, P.E., professor, mechanical engineering technology, The University of Maine
  • Peter F. Meiksins, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Cleveland State University
  • Andresse St. Rose, Ed.D., director of educational research and evaluation, Education Development Center
  • Bevlee A. Watford, Ph.D., P.E., professor, engineering education, Virginia Tech
  • Rishelle Wimmer, senior lecturer, information technology and systems management, Salzburg University of Applied Sciences
  • Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., associate director of research, Society of Women Engineers
  • Anne Perusek, director of editorial and publications, Society of Women Engineers

The RAC currently meets three times each year. SWE is grateful for the time and commitment that our RAC members give to support our research efforts.