encouraging girls in to tech, STEM featured

Inspiring women for a career in engineering

encouraging girls in to tech, STEM

As a female engineer, I am part of a minority group.

A miniscule five per cent of practicing engineers in the UK are women, and only 22 per cent of 16-18-year-old girls say they would consider a career in engineering. In the UK we also have the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, while Latvia, Bulgaria and Cyprus lead with nearly 30 per cent each1.

Why is this the case? My theory is by the time a child turns four, it has already been instilled in them which jobs are for men and which are for women, and society inadvertently reinforces these socially constructed identities due to its own lack of understanding and preconceptions.

But when did Britain decide that women should not aspire to be engineers and help to change the world? And worse still, who thought up the ludicrous notion that women would not make good engineers?

The women of Great Britain have already proven that they can be outstanding engineers and run this country single handedly. Just 70 years ago, when the men left to fight in the Second World War, women went into factories and did the work of talented engineers more than competently.

Sadly, at the end of the war when the men returned, everyone went back to their so called “traditional roles”.

The field of engineering loses so many talented women to so-called “caring professions” because they want “to make a difference,” but making a difference is actually the bread and butter of engineering, and in today’s world is vitally important for the future.

The Engineering UK 2019 report reveals that while girls are underrepresented in STEM subjects at both GCSE and A‘Level, they tend to outperform boys in examinations at both levels of study.

This shows women should be engineers!

As we continue to live through difficult financial times, there are many other pressing problems that threaten our quality of life, such as global warming, the depletion of natural resources and challenges to health – to mention just a few. Engineers and scientists are the only people who can halt the destruction of our planet, so what better way to show you care and make a difference than to become an engineer

In 2017, the annual shortfall of the right engineering skills in the UK was between 25,500 (level 3) and up to 60,000 (over level 4 skills). The reality is that we need to at least double the number of UK based university engineering students for the UK to remain a power hub.

In my current role as President and Chief Executive of the New Model in Technology and Engineering (NMITE), we are committed to making engineering more accessible for everyone and are aiming for gender balance in our student body.

We will also be making entry more accessible with students only needing to demonstrate competence of Maths and Physics at GCSE and not A ‘Level.

We want students who want to be creative, to design, work as a team and be part of an exciting future. By working on ‘real-life’ engineering challenges rather than sitting in lectures, our future students will be providing real solutions for our partner companies including Heineken and Avara Foods.

I hope I, as a Professor of Engineering, will inspire a future generation of Amy Johnsons and Caroline Hasletts to help make a difference and change our world.

Elena Rodriguez-FalconAbout the author

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon FIET, PFHEA, FCMI

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon is President and Chief Executive at the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering. Before that Elena was Professor of Engineering at Sheffield University whilst leading various strategic priorities. Elena has received numerous awards for her work on education and diversity and is Principal Fellow at the HEA and Fellow of the IET and CMI.

 


Diverse international and interracial group of standing women, women empowering women

What does #breakthebias mean to leaders in STEM?

Diverse international and interracial group of standing women, women empowering women

Each year International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8, with the first day being held in 1911.

Thousands of events occur to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. Organisations, governments, charities, educational institutions, women’s groups, corporations and the media celebrate the day.

This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias – which looks actively call out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping each time you see it.

To mark International Women’s Day we spoke to Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, Chief Executive Officer and President of NMITE; Samantha Lewis, Director of HR, NMITE; and Gary Wood, Academic Director, NMITE about their thoughts on the day and #breakthebias.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Elena Rodriguez-FalconElena: International Women’s Day is an important day when we remind ourselves of how far we’ve come in terms of gender equality and gender inclusion. It’s a moment to celebrate each other, to celebrate women’s achievements, to raise each other up. But unfortunately, it’s also a day when we must reflect on all the obstacles we still have to overcome, and the gaps that we still need to bridge. And if I were to be really, honest, I would prefer if we didn’t have an International Women’s Day, because that would mean that we achieved what we needed to achieve.

Do you feel there are barriers and biases within the engineering industry that prevent women from achieving their full potential? If so, what?

Elena: Yes, of course. There are always barriers and indeed for women in engineering profession, a prevalent bias is that women won’t be able to be committed the same way as men because of their caring responsibilities, which women still largely have. It’s also important though, to mention that we’ve come a long way since days where that was completely a fact. There are many things we’ve done to prevent that. But there is also a reality. There aren’t enough women in engineering. And, one of the reasons is because we, as women, have clear biases about the profession. We worry about whether we will be the only woman in the workforce, and often it’s true. I worry about the gender pay gap, and that is often true still, unfortunately. So, I think that the better question is, what can we do to break the bias and get more women into the profession?

Samantha LewisSamantha: I do. I spent 16 years in manufacturing. I think it’s still perceived by many as a man’s game. The perception is its oil, and rags, and spanners. And engineering isn’t just that. engineering is so much more. And I think if we can expose engineering in its entirety to more women, more women will be attracted to the trade, and that shift could then slowly happen. I think there’s a lot of people that still believe women should stay at home and raise the children, men go and do the engineering roles. And that isn’t the same anymore. Women, they’re curious, they have passion, they have grit, they have determination. And all of those are things that make a good engineer. They’re not traits that are just seen in men. So, the more we can expose females to what engineering really is, the more we can change that perception.

What more should be done to #BreakTheBias and encourage women to pursue STEM subjects as a profession?

Elena: This is one of the most important questions, but also the most difficult one. If you look around, we have serious problems in terms of poverty, climate change, we’re experiencing a worldwide pandemic and we need engineers, scientists, mathematicians to help us solve these problems and others. But the reality is that we don’t have enough engineers.

The number of women who graduate from engineering is such a small proportion and the number who practice engineering is even smaller. And professional engineering bodies like the Royal Academy of Engineering, have created massive campaigns and resources to educate the educators, train the parents, the careers advisors, and so on. And those are working to some extent. There is so much more that can be done though, and that’s the challenge. We still haven’t cracked it and the next step includes everyone being involved.

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What is NMITE doing to #BreakTheBias and encourage more women to study engineering? 

Elena: Our female engineers and colleagues are working on outreach activities, marketing, and student recruitment to ensure we are present and sharing what we have achieved and can achieve. We have looked at the barriers to entry to higher education. One of them is A-level math, for example, which we’ve removed, reducing the funneling that often happens. We’ve looked at investing heavily on female campaigns to ensure that young people out there and their parents can better understand the profession. Also, we have female only bursaries, which is very uncommon, and I think is incredibly important to celebrate. The most important and I think more transformational contribution that NMITE is making to gender balance and gender representation is our pedagogical model, in which we ensure that it’s hands on learning, problem based learning with different industries and sectors represented so that there is a variety of experiences that people out there could experience. Hopefully it will attract more diverse engineers and certainly more women.

Samantha: We are making ourselves known as a brand, where we’re working within the community. We don’t require maths or physics A levels. We look at characteristics and traits more than just subjects and grades. Grades are important, but so are what makes that individual and what makes them become an engineer.

So, the determination, grit, passion, that need to succeed, all those traits can be seen in both females and males. Hopefully, that will open the door to attract more females into engineering. We’re looking at ways we can attract females. We are hopefully going to have the women’s bursary or females bursaries to attract them.

We are working with schools and colleges. We’re hoping diversity breeds diversity. So the more females we can attract, that will attract more females. So our staff is 50/50 gender-balanced. Our student cohort aims to be 50/50 gender-balanced because we want people to feel comfortable. So it doesn’t matter who you are, what your background is, male or female; it doesn’t really matter. We want people to belong here across the whole board.

Are you personally doing anything to #BreakTheBias and champion equality, diversity and inclusion, both in general and within your role at NMITE?

Elena: Absolutely. This has been a lifelong ambition of mine to help and contribute to getting more women into engineering. I’m a member of the Advance HE Strategic Advisory Board on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion. I chair the board of trustees of the Engineering Development Trust, which is an organization that works with young people to raise aspirations. I also often lead on national debates. For example, last year, I challenged the professional engineering bodies to change the name of the profession to call engineers “ingeniators”. And the rationale was that in other languages, the word ‘engineering’ comes from ingenuity and innovation. And of course, in English, it sounds as if it comes from an engine. And that caused a huge debate, which, of course, also makes engineering a bit more visible.

But more personally, I participate in talks with young people. I talk to peers and parents, and I’m often at the forefront of those conversations. And of course, leading NMITE is one of the most important activities that I can do personally, so that I can raise awareness of engineering and of the value of engineering in the world.

What advice/words of wisdom would you give to your younger self and to aspiring female engineers, to help overcome biases?

Elena: When I was at university and deciding what to study, I was considering medicine, but I discovered that I didn’t like blood. So, I decided to do something else, which would allow me to help people. So, what I would tell my young self is that engineering is a caring profession. It’s not often how people understand engineering, but without engineering, we wouldn’t have the tools that are used in practicing medicine or the tools to do nursing or the tools to make vaccines. And that is something that I would’ve liked someone to tell me.

What I would say to young people now, particularly this generation who are really worried about their future, is that if you want to be part of the change that you want to see, consider engineering, because then you will have a very important role to play to help save the world.

Gary WoodGary: I’d remind everybody that biases exist in the minds of people. And so, in that sense, they’re relatively easy for us to overcome, we just need change our thinking. We must be able to challenge our thinking and be willing to follow our passions and interests. And I think that as more and more women do that, then it becomes easier for more women to follow in their footsteps. We need to have people who are prepared to challenge the bias by being the future that they want to see, then other people (both men and women) in the profession can help with that by supporting and recognizing that they need to play a part in making this a comfortable, and safe, and supportive environment for everybody around them to work in. And through that, we can then start to pave the way for more women being able to follow and come into the profession.


Aimee Clark

Inspirational Woman: Aimee Clark | Head of Commercial, Octopus Energy Group & Trustee/Director, NMITE

Aimee Clark

In truth, I’ve always been a bit of a science nerd.

Ever since I was a kid, I’d pop some of the food from my dinner plate into a petri dish to examine it later in my microscope. I was quite concerned about our planet and the creatures in it, as my classmates would tell you from my animal testing protests!

So when I was thinking about what to study at university, engineering seemed like a good fit – developing nerdy solutions to solve social problems.

While at university, I joined an organisation called Enactus who encouraged students to run social enterprise projects in their local and international communities. It was a great opportunity to apply the things I’d learnt in my degree to real life and to build my confidence and business skills.

Before I knew it, I was graduating and had to decide what I wanted to be as a grown up (which nobody ever knows) but I thought energy was a pretty exciting area.

I spent the next decade working in lots of different roles across the energy industry – commercial, partnerships, product, pricing – in a conscious effort to broaden my experience & perspective.

Eventually I landed in my current role at Octopus Energy, which has been my most rewarding one yet as, along with my brilliant colleagues, I have the opportunity to help a whole generation of people move towards a greener (low carbon) future.

I’m also proud to support NMITE, a groundbreaking new university that’s disrupting the traditional education model to create work-ready, world-ready, diverse engineers, as a Trustee/ Non Executive Director.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I spend a lot of time pondering my career but not sure if I’d call it planning! More chatting to people, asking about their careers, reflecting on my career and trying out new things.

I discovered a great article once on a yoga retreat (which then consumed me for the rest of the trip) – how to change your career from your deckchair. The reason I like it is it focuses on what motivates you as a human, which I think is key to figuring out what you want to do when you grow up.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I think probably the scariest moment was when I left my previous company to take voluntary redundancy. I’m naturally risk averse, so it was a big move for me to leave something so familiar and dive into the abyss of unemployment!

I reached out to my network and was amazed at just how supportive and helpful everyone was around me. It showed me how important it is to keep relationships going, to ask for help when you need it and to help others when you can.

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What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’d have to say when I was pitching a project idea to the Bolivian government in my university days.

I rocked up unannounced in my socks and sandals (it’s surprisingly cold in La Paz) and presented to them in broken Spanish. I thought they’d laugh me out of the room but they were fully behind the project and helped me to find a local charity partner.

It was a defining moment that I try to think about whenever I’m feeling afraid to do something!

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Honestly being a woman in tech/ engineering, where women are still (sadly) very underrepresented but it does give us an opportunity to bring a different and much needed perspective to the industry.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

To an individual in general, I’d say to keep learning, trying new things and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

To a woman, I’d say don’t try to conform to other people around you and focus on
what makes you unique. Sometimes your “female” qualities are your superpower!

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

There are definitely still barriers for women in general but especially in tech and engineering.

I once had a word with a male colleague after he called me “bossy” in a meeting (an offensive word pretty much solely aimed at woman, when they have the audacity to act like a boss). I’ve also heard stories of women telling their male colleagues to “man up”, which is equally damaging.

The more we reinforce these stereotypes, the easier it is to hold back women’s progress, so it’s important to speak up when it happens.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I think there are some fundamental policies, which all companies should have to ensure women progress at the same rate as men, like shared maternity/paternity leave and gender pay reviews.

But to be effective there needs to also be a cultural acceptance that men and women can do the same things – whether that’s taking time off to be a parent or representing the company on your board.

Really it starts with us all looking at the people we work with and saying are we treating them any differently because they’re a woman or a man?

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I’d use my magic wand to wipe clean all our innate gender biases!


Kate Bingham

Inspirational Woman: Dame Kate Bingham DBE | Former Chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force

Kate Bingham

Dame Kate Bingham DBE is the former chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force.

In her role as chair of the task force, she helped steer the procurement of vaccines and the strategy for their deployment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was recently awarded a Damehood in the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for her services to to the procurement, manufacture and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am a biochemistry-trained biotech company builder and venture capital investor, mother to three very tall young adults and married to the [very tall] MP for Herefordshire who was one of the founders of NMITE (New Model Institute of Technology and Engineering). As a Managing Partner at SV Health Investors, we develop breaking science and emerging biological understanding of diseases to develop new drugs to address unmet clinical needs. Last year I spent 7 months chairing the UK Vaccine Taskforce to help secure vaccines for the UK and internationally in the fight back against the COVID19 pandemic.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. I followed the areas that I enjoyed and thought would make a difference and would be fun.

One thing I can say about my own career, is that I got really excited about biochemistry when I was thinking about how you can actually translate that knowledge, for example about genetic mutations, into thinking about how you develop drugs for patients.  Suddenly you could see the practical application of what you were studying in the textbooks in terms of actually changing somebody’s life.

My career is a good example of the need to take a wide view, to collaborate with professionals from other disciplines and that you become good at something by practicing it. You learn by doing.  Which is why I am such a supporter of NMITE which really understands this and has been set up to change the way engineering is taught. It is a very interesting new way of teaching because its focus is on the practical, working in small teams and working very closely with industry.  It will ensure that these important principles are incorporated into its programmes and that will mean that its graduates will be uniquely well placed to enjoy a successful career, from day one.

You recently led the COVID-19 vaccine task force – can you tell us more about this, how you managed teams remotely, the challenges etc?

I was appointed as Chair of the VTF in May 2020 and within weeks had assembled the core team who developed the strategy and plans to secure vaccines for the UK. By July we had signed Heads of Terms agreements with BioNTech/Pfizer, Valneva, Oxford/AZ, followed shortly by GSK, Janssen, Novavax and Moderna. Remote working was actually easier as we lost no time in travel or unproductive chitchat. On December 8 2020, the UK was the first western country to start vaccinating its citizens.

Many of the challenges I faced, and the Task Force team faced, reflected those of any major project or highly complex scientific and engineering undertaking. We needed to work as a team, we needed to make decisions quickly and understand the degree of certainty we could count on when making those decisions. We needed to hone our communication skills as we were working remotely and at pace. Science and engineering, in the real world, are team sports. You need these skills to succeed.

This wasn’t about finding the perfect vaccine. It was about getting vaccines quickly. So, we had that very clear motivation to work quickly. We had the authority to build a team that had the right expertise and we were working in an industry that already was a collaborative industry.  The manufacturing companies had already got together early last year before the Vaccine Task Force was even conceived because they knew they were the ones who were going to have to scale up.

I think there’s a massive lesson about combining industrial expertise with the excellence from the Civil Service, so that we were able to build the team, which covered the vaccine selection, manufacturing clinical trials, and then the pandemic preparedness.  That was a core aspect: to make sure we would be better prepared for next time. Because of course we knew viruses mutate, so variants were expected and of course new pandemics were also expected.  We were able to combine industrial expertise with the expertise from the civil servants in procurement negotiation, in project management and actually in international diplomacy. We were very dependent on working with other countries for supply chains and for thinking about how to work cooperatively to get vaccines to those countries that needed them. I think the lessons about combining the best from industry and the best from government are ones that should be taken forward.

In my view, most of society’s big challenges will only be solved by the integrated work of a wide range of disciplines. The vaccine programme was only possible because of this integrated thinking and the teamwork of a brilliant team of professionals.  Likewise NMITE, because it is teaching “integrated engineering”, will be bringing together the various engineering disciplines and the softer skills that are so important in the real world.

Congratulations on your recent Damehood – how did you feel when you discovered you’d been awarded the Honour?

I am proud but also humbled to be recognised in a year when NHS workers have risked their health and their lives in fighting Covid, and have been at the heart of the vaccine roll out.

The development of vaccines has been a triumph of scientific and industrial collaboration. Just a year ago we were assembling an unproven portfolio of vaccines for the UK. Yet in the last seven months,  over 80m vaccine doses have provided unprecedented protection and saved thousands of lives.

It has been an extraordinary privilege to lead the brilliant Vaccine Taskforce team, and to secure doses for the UK, but which can also be shared with other countries. I am particularly proud of the NHS Registry, which helped the UK to run the vaccine clinical trials quickly. Its hundreds of thousands of volunteers will be essential for us to test pandemic vaccines in the future.

Finally, I am thrilled that so many women have made such enormous contributions to science, healthcare, manufacturing and technology during the pandemic. I hope this encourages more girls to pursue careers in these sectors

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My unwavering view that you should act as if what do you makes a difference. Because it does. So don’t let hurdles get in your way.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in STEM?

STEM disciplines are so important to the economy, the country and to the well-being and quality of life for us all.  My first piece of advice would be that you should be aware that you are thinking about a career in a field that is very important – STEM disciplines will equip you to make a real positive difference to the world.

Try not to constrain your thinking.  You might think STEM is not for you, perhaps because you feel uncomfortable about the maths involved, or you feel you are better at the arts and creative subjects. Please think again! Good engineers are creative thinkers and imaginative problem solvers.

NMITE’s engineering programme has been designed to include those creative and communication skills which are so important to today’s engineering challenges. If you lack the formal qualifications in maths or physics then don’t worry, because NMITE will bring you up to speed as part of its course to ensure you succeed.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in STEM sectors, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I do think women face different challenges and speaking for myself, I know I don’t have the same brash confidence as a man. So if I’m asked to do something, I tend to look at the reasons why I can’t do it rather than the reasons I can. I think that is something that we just need to get over.

I think you can be exceptionally good as a woman going into traditionally male dominated industries. Because I think our insight enables us to look at things in different ways and to find different solutions in ways that may not be so obvious.

NMITE is one important measure in the fight to remove these barriers to success that many women face. For a start, it is led by an accomplished female engineer and educator, it aims to achieve a fully gender balanced student population and its approach to recruiting its students, from its admissions processes to the way its programme is delivered – in teams, learning from hands on engineering work and working with real engineering employers. There will be less room for ego and much more for collaboration and communication.

What do you think companies can do to support to progress the careers of women working in technology?

Companies certainly need to ensure they have more women around their Board tables and in senior roles. In my experience, women in the C-suite and on boards are pragmatic and  solution focused.  I don’t think we would have had the same collapse if it had been Lehman Sisters.

NMITE will play a role in this, as it will produce the sort of work-ready engineers that employers need so employers should support NMITE by recommending it to their own work-force or by helping as a partner providing engineering challenges for students to tackle. In the short term, employers could help by supporting NMITE’s ambitious bursary plans to enable it to provide financial support to students who might not otherwise be able to go to University.

There are currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would triple the pace at which NMITE grows from its launch this year! As that will make a massive difference to the opportunities available to thousands of young people, including women, who might be considering a career in engineering but haven’t to date had access to an innovative Higher Education provider. This would also benefit us all, we’d have more engineers which the country needs; more importantly, we’d have more female engineers and more engineers who are skilled and ready to tackle the great national challenges we face.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, eg Podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

Join networking groups in the STEM/tech sectors you are interested in. In my field, the BioIndustry Association has great events, conferences, training and leadership events for women.

Find a mentor who can share their experiences to help shape your career and life.

Do look at NMITE, even if you don’t plan to become a student. They run events and seminars for everyone and focus very much on the sort of topics we’ve covered in this interview. They’ll give you a taste of the current debates in engineering and the work they are doing to help increase the number of female engineers.

Dame Kate Bingham DBE was recently interviewed for NMITE where she talked about her experience chairing the Vaccine Task Force (VTF); the similarities she sees between that and the way NMITE will be working; the need for more women in engineering and the impact she thinks NMITE will achieve in the future.


Elena Rodriguez-Falcon featured

Inspirational Woman: Elena Rodriguez-Falcon | President & Chief Executive, NMITE

Elena Rodriguez-Falcon

Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon is President and Chief Executive at the New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering.

Before that Elena was Professor of Engineering at Sheffield University whilst leading various strategic priorities. Elena has received numerous awards for her work on education and diversity and is Principal Fellow at the HEA and Fellow of the IET and CMI.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I'm originally from Monterrey a very industrial city in Mexico. I was one of the first members of my family to go to university and therefore I didn't have role models, only a distant relative who was a cardiologist. And so initially my inspiration or my aspiration was to be a doctor. Unfortunately, I wasn't very good with blood, so that didn't work out. So, when I was due to decide what degree to choose, I looked around and I thought, "What's going to get me a good job.?" So, given the fact that I come from an industrial city, I decided to study mechanical engineering.

That was the why. The how I actually fell in love with our profession and then with education was due to many other things including the fact that through my career I met some inspirational people, including people who have very severe disabilities, who helped me to understand the value of engineering. I came to the UK wanting to improve my training – both in business and engineering - and I found that the way I had learned in Mexico as an engineering student wasn't very different to the way people learned in this country.

I found myself with an opportunity to join the University of Sheffield where accidentally I became an educator finding finally my real vocation, my real passion. And so, brought these two things together: the potential of engineering and love for education.

But I also wanted to help and get my students to not just be students but also true engineers by the time they graduated.  I brought problem-based learning into the classroom. That worked very well and gave me a reputation in this area which then attracted the interest from NMITE, a project where we are aspiring to be a new provider of higher education that aims to deliver a transformational programme, one that allows engineers, aspiring engineers to be just that, engineers.

I joined as a Chief Academic Officer, but circumstances changed and I took the role of Chief Executive Officer last year (2018), which I've been doing now for more than a year and a half. It's a challenging role, but an extremely worthwhile project to work for.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, absolutely not! My career has been one happy accident after another. I don't know whether it is skill or luck but I have been able to spot opportunities and take them. I do not fear failure as much as other people do and that's possibly because I had a boss who helped me develop that confidence in taking risks.  So, no, I haven't planned my career. I have spotted opportunities and taken them.

But I think the one thing that I would say is that in order to progress in your career, planning is a good thing, and if I had done more, maybe I would have gone faster. But also what I have done, and I would advise anyone to do, is to actively seek mentors, people who can help you understand how to move through the ranks or your aspirations, who can champion you, who can coach you, who can maybe just support you when it's a bit hard. So, mentors all the way.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

There was a point in my academic career where I, not being a traditional academic, realised that I wasn't going to be able to progress as much as other academics. When I realised that I had reached the ceiling in academia because of my different background.

There was a period between 2007 and 2012 where I was determined that my practitioner background and my sort of different background to the traditional academic was not going to stop me from becoming a full professor in academia. So, I set out to become a professor. And that's perhaps the only time that I planned what I had to do. I looked at the criteria. I realised that the criteria wasn't right for me and I worked with the university to develop criteria that helped individuals like myself with different backgrounds to be able to progress in our areas.

I overcame this by being really very clear about what I wanted to achieve,  bringing different stakeholders to the table, i.e. the human resources department, my heads of department, my mentors, all the people in the same situation as me and we put together the argument and a plan to overcome those challenges.  I was determined to not let failure affect me because I tried time and time again to get a promotion until I finally cracked it. We found the best way to change the system, to recognise educators who were specialists in education but not necessarily in research.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I would say determination, perseverance. I don't give up no matter how hard, how difficult, how painful, how tiring, how much work you need to do, how scary it is. I keep going. I think perseverance and resilience are some of the most important things in any aspect of life. But if I were to just bring it down to one thing, it would be perseverance.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

My top tips would be the same for any individual, in technology or not. The first came from my parents. Work hard. Never treat anyone badly. Be kind to others, but never allow anyone to treat you badly.

The second from a previous boss.  Make mistakes, make as many as you can. Don't be afraid, just never make them again. Take risks.

And the third is something someone said to me just recently that the opportunity of a lifetime has to be taken during the lifetime of the opportunity.Alongside those, ask for help. It is super important to ask for help. Be grateful, be gracious. Get yourself a coach which can be very helpful in many ways. And ask yourself, "What's the worst that can happen when you are trying to do something and trying to excel in your area of expertise?"

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

I think there are two types of barriers. There are the barriers that exist in processes and systems where there is still bias towards different groups and I think many organisations are working hard to remove those barriers. Some of this is process driven such as how you advertise for roles and what kind of criteria you have for promotion, how you take into account various types of care and responsibilities that individuals have, not just women.  I think there are also the unconscious biases of individuals and those are difficult to remove because they require training, they require self-awareness and having real processes and systems in place to call these out when they happen.

There are also barriers that we ourselves impose on our own careers. Namely not applying for promotion because you don't think you are ready yet, whilst our counterparts would apply for promotion even when they are far from being ready. Being brave, being courageous, having the determination to try, even if you think it's going to go wrong, and those are self-imposed. They are the ones that require us to be trained in being able to take risks, being able to learn from failure and being able to have those fierce conversations with our organisations, with our peers, and to know that that makes you a better professional rather than a bad person, for example.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I think it is important that we all, not just companies, educators, government, have a huge, huge, huge permanent campaign, to raise awareness about the power of engineering and technology. We have to be talking about, we have to show what technology can do to help people and what it can do to revert the problems that we have caused to the world ie Sustainability, climate change, all of those things is so important that we really, really get through to families, parents, young children, teachers and so on. So that when it comes to young people making choices about their lives and their careers, they have informed decision making about what they are going to do later on in life.

Success breeds success. The more young people and young women who do the right GCSEs, the right A levels, will mean more women in higher education. If 50% of the population are women, 50% of the engineers should be women, simple as that. The more women you have, the more inequality will be banished from our systems because we will have the right expertise in place to identify where the barriers are, what kind of systems need to be put in place to enable progress and success of everyone. And I think that that's going to make a big difference.

Even though I have lived in England for such a long time I still find the A level system peculiar.  It forces young individual to make decisions very, very early, decisions about whether to be an engineer or a medical doctor or whatever it is, have to be made far too early in our lives. Given the that things are changing and we are going to change careers five or six times in a lifetime or even more, I don’t think it’s reasonable to have a system that forces you to specialise so early on. NMITE's future entry requirements will support this more flexible approach - whereby GCSE (or equivalent) Maths and English at Grade 6 will be compulsory, but pigeon-holing young people according to specific A Level requirements will be avoided.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Remove A levels and let people learn about the wider topics that are required for life. So, when they come to make a decision, they are wiser, older in terms of understanding of what a discipline entails. And ensure that education is more inclusive, that education is reflective of what happens in society and perhaps it's time to revolutionise what education is or what it reflects.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Getting to meet people, talking to people, learning from people is my preferred option. I actively engage with different mentors, with different colleagues. I love networking because that's where opportunities arise and you can spot them and take them and people can give you advice. And make sure you are memorable and that you communicate what you are doing.  Shout about what you have done and what you have achieved and don’t be embarrassed for doing it. Someone said to me once, "If you don't communicate it, it doesn't exist." And they were absolutely correct.  Whether you use podcasts or you go to conferences or you study from books or websites, it doesn't matter. But make sure that whatever you achieve, communicate it.

I wish everyone good luck and I’m always here to helpl