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SWE Forum: Addressing Impacts of COVID-19 and Structural Racism

From the immediate and longer-term impacts of COVID-19 on workplaces and the working from home experiences of women engineers, to the effects of structural racism, SWE’s communication channels were filled with activity this spring and summer.

In early June, SWE Research conducted a survey to determine how women engineers had fared up to that point in the pandemic. Respondents were primarily from the United States, though responses were received from 20 other countries, including India, Canada, and Mexico.


SWE Forum: Addressing Impacts of COVID-19 and Structural Racism


Interestingly, of the 1,791 responses, 30% were enrolled in university courses, and of these, 73% were undergraduates. Of the working engineers, 86% were employed with the same organization; 6% had been furloughed; and 4% were unemployed or laid off. Another 4% were employed at new companies or institutions. The SWE survey results revealed that the top disciplines represented, at 36%, were, respectively, mechanical, aerospace, and electrical engineering. Across the sample, 25% of respondents were people of color. And of the survey respondents overall, 98% were women or queer/nonbinary people.


SWE Forum: Addressing Impacts of COVID-19 and Structural Racism


Adding to the picture were numerous postings from a variety of sources — including news articles and personal perspectives — providing additional insights, particularly concerning women with school-age children who found themselves facing the dual challenges of working remotely and home-schooling their children.

Additional aspects of the pandemic — its disproportionate impact on communities of color, and ways it has affected people with disabilities — were also discussed. The death of George Floyd prompted SWE to release a statement, which read, in part:

“The Society of Women Engineers is angered and saddened by the recent events in Minneapolis that led to the death of George Floyd. As an organization we vehemently denounce racism! Systemic racism faced by those of color in our communities across the United States has become all too familiar. We must stand together to demand justice and work together to turn our pain into purpose. Nothing will change if those outside the impacted communities stand by and do nothing. We must be true allies, standing shoulder to shoulder, asking the tough questions of our civic leaders.”

(See https://bit.ly/2Y37tTM) 

In grappling with “the tough questions,” SWE’s Facebook live discussion on July 9, “Let’s Talk: Allyship for Black Engineers and Technologists” (https://bit.ly/3gGzs2W), was a step forward, as were two town hall discussions, held later that month highlighting the experiences of women of color inside the SWE organization. Concluding that much needs to be done to become an organization that is intentionally inclusive, SWE leadership has committed to ongoing efforts. Stay tuned for updates and dialogue.


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 swemag@swe.org 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.

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