Female engineer posed by machinery

It was not easy for the pioneering women who formed the first professional networks for female engineers. Hilda Counts, an electrical engineering student, received some astonishing replies when she wrote to universities across the United States in 1919 asking for details of other women engineering students or academics:

“I suspect the number of women who have undertaken general engineering courses is so few that you will hardly be able to form an organization”

“We do not permit women to register in the Engineering School under present regulations”

Thankfully times have changed since then, and so have attitudes. Because of women like Counts and Elsie Eaves, who co-founded the Society of Women Engineers, women working in engineering receive mutual support, can learn from each other and most of all feel empowered – to be more confident in their work, to call out inequality or discrimination and to inspire future generations of female engineers.

Find out more about two of the most important organisations that promote the cause of women in engineering today.


The Society of Women Engineers

The Society of Women Engineers is an international society established in 1950 in the US. It began more than 30 years earlier when Hilda Counts formed the American Society of Women Engineers and Architects. At the time there were only a handful of women studying engineering across the US, so the informal society was a way of being able to make contact with each other.

What do the Society of Women Engineers do?

The Society’s mission is to:

Empower women to achieve their full potential in careers as engineers and leaders; expand the image of the engineering and technology professions as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusion.

It celebrates and highlights the innovative and transformative work that female engineers do, demonstrating the impact that engineers can have on solving real-world problems. It does this through a range of initiatives and activities, including conferences, networking events, mentorship, outreach programmes, resources and awards.

How do you become a member of the Society of Women Engineers?

Female engineering or STEM students and professionals can join the Society here. There are several different types of membership, ranging from collegiate to professional, teachers to life members.  

Who is the CEO of the Society of Women Engineers?

Karen Horting is the current Executive Director and CEO of the Society of Women Engineers, a position she has held since 2013.

The Women’s Engineering Society

Now over a century old, the Women’s Engineering Society is a UK-founded organisation with similar aims and objectives as the Society of Women Engineers.

What is the history of the Women’s Engineering Society?

The Women’s Engineering Society was formed in 1919 by a committee from the National Council of Women. The Society was founded after the First World War when women performed roles in engineering while men were away at war. As the war ended, women were forced to leave these jobs, even though many enjoyed them and wanted to continue to work in engineering. WES was principally established to promote engineering as a suitable job for women, one that they could do at least as well if not better than men.

What does the Women’s Engineering Society do?

The Women’s Engineering Society champions the achievements of female engineers and provides support to women working in engineering in the UK. The Society runs networking events across the country, where members can hear guest speakers, take part in workshops and meet fellow engineers. WES also run campaigns throughout the year, including International Women in Engineering Day and ‘She’s An Engineer’, as well as the WES Awards and the Top 50 Women in Engineering awards.

The Women’s Engineering Society and International Women in Engineering Day

International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) is an international awareness campaign which raises the profile of women working in engineering and highlights the many exciting career opportunities available to women and girls in the industry.

In 2014 the Women’s Engineering Society launched National Women in Engineering Day, and three years later this became INWED, a globally recognised annual event that showcases the achievements of female engineers and highlights the need for greater gender equality within the industry.

How can I become a member of WES?

It is easy to become a member of WES. There are a range of membership options, including full membership, associate membership, student/apprentice, supporter and fellowship. You do not have to work in engineering to become a member of WES. Full membership is open to any woman working in the fields of engineering, technology, IT or science, or any woman with STEM qualifications or backgrounds but who is no longer working in these areas.


Can men attend SWE and WES?

Men can become members of both the Society of Women Engineers and the Women’s Engineering Society. Male engineers and non-engineers can join both SWE and WES as Associate Members.