woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering Day

What can Ada Lovelace’s flying horse tell us about some very modern problems with educating engineers?

woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering Day

Beverley Gibbs reflects on what Ada Lovelace’s flying horse can tell us about some very modern problems with educating engineers. 

In 1827 when she was 12 years old, Ada Lovelace imagined a steam-powered flying horse.  Ada’s ideas for the horse terrified her mother, who feared Ada was taking on characteristics of her father….the original ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ lothario, Lord Byron. Byron is still regarded as one of the great English poets, and Lady Byron’s reaction to Ada’s horse-themed creativity was to buckle down on directing Ada into a purposeful study of mathematics and science to avoid the chaos associated with her creative father. The rest, as they say, is history, and on the second Tuesday of every October we celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, recognising her contribution to computer science.

As an engineer, I find Ada’s flying horse captivating and inspiring. At their best, engineers rely on imagination, empathy, creativity, vision and readiness for change – capabilities that come from an understanding of what it is to be human rather than an overly narrow devotion to maths and science. Why then, do we spend so little time in the engineering curriculum developing these capabilities, and why do we select them out during our admissions processes? AT NMITE, we’re determined to do things differently.

At NMITE, we recognise that people who do not have Maths and Science A-levels can still have the vision, curiosity, determination and creativity to be fantastic engineers – and so we welcome them. Our very human admissions process takes account of the applicant’s journey and potential. Once they join us, we explicitly teach and support maths and science – and communication and interpersonal skills – inside the programme, closely aligned to their application in engineering work.

We are also inspired by the humanities world, and have built that into our programme because the subjective and objective need not be in competition. The professional accreditation of engineering education requires that engineers can work with ambiguity, respond to stakeholders and manage risk – these skills cannot come from numbers and natural laws alone.

At NMITE, we have infused the curriculum with approaches from history, art, philosophy and rhetoric as well as the more usual social sciences. In the first couple of weeks in our programme, learners study the idea of certainty – yes, in metrology, but also in speech. There are of course plenty of examples of great teaching at the humanities and science interface, but in NMITE we have won the institutional argument on transdisciplinary approaches and it’s what we are founded on. That’s not just because different disciplines are interesting and important, but because we know they unlock routes to being a better engineer.

As engineers, we are perhaps most characterised by a yearning to put ideas to use: in many ways, this is the essence of what engineering is. Too often, educators are keen to share their discipline’s insights, but stop short of showing students how to effectively integrate those perspectives into their core discipline or vocation.

NMITE was founded in response to an overly narrow admissions criteria to engineering degree courses. We aim to meet the needs of employers reporting long-term shortages in a sector critical to economic growth and human wellbeing.

We have a recruitment process that treats applicants as rounded people, and we maintain that human awareness throughout our programme…humans as stakeholders, employers, and collaborators. Humans at individual, community and global scales. Rather that seeing safety in logic and numbers as Lady Byron did, we see safety in properly preparing our graduates for the world they will enter an the work they will do.

Whilst Ada Lovelace is rightly recognised and respected for her contributions to computer science, let’s be inspired by her navigation of different disciplines and reflect on the evidence that she had all the hallmarks of a thoroughly excellent modern engineer.

Professor Beverley Gibbs is Chief Academic Officer at NMITE, a new provider of higher education. Find out more at www.nmite.ac.uk.


Abhi Thatte featured

Inspirational Woman: Abhi Thatte | Engineering Manager, ENSEK

Abhi Thatte

I am Abhiruchi Thatte Carrino also known as Abhi. Born and raised in India, I started my career in technology 14 years ago after I completed my degree in Electronics & Instrumentation. I am currently working at ENSEK as their first female Engineering Manager.

Growing up I took part in and won singing competitions, and I also have two degrees in music (classical & light music). I had to make a choice whether I would continue to pursue singing professionally but decided to go to university, graduating in 2007 just in time for the recession. After uprooting myself and travelling to the other side of India in search of jobs, I eventually started as a software developer but very quickly discovered my passion for software testing.

As I’ve transitioned into leadership roles, I have been an advocate for adopting agile best practises and have worked to build positive and high performing teams. In my current role I champion my very talented team, empowering them and creating opportunities to explore where they want to take their career.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never sat down to plan my career. I had two very different paths to choose from and my parents wanted me to become a musician. It was not an easy decision to go to university, my parents were unsure whether they could afford to send me at all and there was some pressure from them not to go. However, my grandfather supported my decision and encouraged me to become an engineer.

Where I come from, women are still expected to cook and clean and stay at home to look after the family, but I defied all the rules with the support of my family. I am the first women in my whole family to become an engineer and get a job in tech. My brother and cousins have since followed me.

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

I consider moving to the UK the biggest career challenge I’ve faced. I didn’t anticipate how different the work cultures would be: for instance, the expectation to finish work at a set time (and before 6pm!) doesn’t exist in India. The time difference was also unexpectedly difficult, and it effected the relationship with my family.

My career has been turbulent at times with periods of unemployment, which have been demoralising though defining. Graduating into the 2007 recession meant my career was set back by many months. I later had a further year long break in my career following my time in the UK. Despite my successes and experience I was unable to get a job in India and I was turned away being told that I was overqualified. This was a huge knock on my confidence, and I’ve had to slowly climb the ladder and prove myself all over again.

However, it has proved to me that the skills I have are real and that despite huge setbacks, with determination and passion I can achieve my dreams. It has strengthened my belief in being compassionate in the workplace and being the best mentor to my colleagues.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I’m proud to be ENSEK’s first female Engineering Manager. I’m happy to say that in a few months I’ve been able to make a difference to my colleagues and am excited to see what our engineers will achieve in the coming months.

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

Perseverance when things are tough. Organisation when things are good.

My husband tells me this that I am like my 90-year-old grandmother who continues to do everything around the house. She is never tired of doing what she loves, and despite all the challenges I’ve faced I too still love what I do. I am driven and that drive also comes from my family who are always there to support and encourage me. I never give up no matter what and take life as it comes.

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

Be courageous, take risks, learn from those around you, keep working on yourself and always have a goal in mind. Support and promote others, no one can tell you what you can and can’t do. Approach problems and issues as opportunities and it will be easier to solve them. Don’t ever give up.

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

I think we need to be clear on what working in tech means. Most of the time, it is perceived as a hard career choice and that there’s no work life balance. Working in tech doesn’t just mean sitting at a desk writing code. There are so many paths one can take, and we need collaborative, creative people to foster environments in which truly innovative products can take shape.

Educating women as early as possible in their career will help with opening the door for opportunities which are otherwise overlooked.

I have personally faced negativity for being a woman who’s strong and in a leadership position and I think this is another barrier which deters women from seeking a career in tech. We need to create a healthy and friendly environment where honest feedback can be given and received. We also need to encourage and support each other as women.

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

I am currently leading the recruitment at ENSEK for the Engineering department. We are rewriting our job descriptions to balance the tone and to emphasise the opportunities we provide to grow regardless of who you are.

Internally we focus on everyone having equal opportunities. The key is to enable everyone to have access to those opportunities and to explore where they want to take their career. A supportive environment that understands each career is different.

There is currently only 15% 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 demonstrate the creative opportunities that a career in tech offers at an early age by encouraging children to explore creating apps. I would also emphasise that the skills required can be picked up at any age and that entry into the profession is not insurmountable given the right support and access to tools and learning materials.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There’s a lot of material available to us these days. My suggestions would be to attend local Meet ups, read books such as Crucial Conversations, Radical Candor, listen to Ted Talks (there are videos specifically on the topic on their website) and listen to podcasts. I will also recommend watching creative shows on which are available across many streaming platforms.


woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering Day

International Women in Engineering Day: Everyone has a part to play

woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering Day

There are now over 50,000 women in engineering professional roles in the UK – almost double the number a decade ago.

However, the number of women in tech roles has flatlined at 16 per cent since 2009. The industry has a clear role to play in managing this disconnect and encouraging women to consider a career in engineering.

This is why days such as International Women in Engineering Day are so important. Not only is it a day for women to recognise and reflect on their success, it also provides the industry with the opportunity to make sure it continues to engage women and put measures in place to support their entry into engineering and other STEM roles.

The root of the problem

Sara Boddy

Women still only account for just over 10 per cent of engineering professionals. According to Sara Boddy, Senior Director, F5 Labs: “There’s no denying that engineering and technology is a male dominated industry. In my experience growing up, computers simply weren’t something many girls were interested in, perhaps because they weren’t marketed that way. I still think we're in a situation where computers and gaming are still very sexist worlds. I mention gaming specifically because that's how a lot of kids get passionate about computers. They've got gaming consoles and iPads and they want to figure out how they work, or they build their own gaming server. These products are still not being designed or marketed with girls in mind, and I think that contributes to a lack of interest on the female side.”

So, what’s the answer to this problem? Sara believes the solution lies in finding ways to tell interesting stories about what this industry does. “We need to drive early involvement at state and local school level. More details about how cybersecurity makes an impact on the world would excite and inspire kids to get into the sector. It may be a while before we start seeing significant differences in terms of gender balance within the industry at all levels, but I’m positive that change is coming. With girls in primary school now learning coding, I’m hopeful we’ll have a more level playing field in years to come.”

Creating a welcoming environment

Aine McCaugheyA supportive and nurturing environment is also essential to retaining and encouraging new talent. For Aine McCaughey, Senior Software Engineer at Civica, this is achieved through training: “When I saw an advertisement on Twitter that Code First Girls was looking for volunteers to help teach its Introduction to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript course, it was something that I couldn’t pass up. Women come from all backgrounds and career paths to take part in these courses, and in some cases, we see participants seriously consider switching careers to give tech a chance. It is incredibly humbling and exciting to be part of something that nurtures women and allows them to explore all the options that a tech career can offer them.”

Aine is currently participating in the Civica Potential programme, a leadership course that will also provide her with a qualification. “Taking this course is allowing me to develop skills such as time management, conflict resolution, and managing a budget. These skills will be hugely beneficial in equipping me to take on leadership and mentoring roles in the future and ensuring I can continue to support young professionals entering the industry.”

Natasha KiroskaWomen should also feel empowered in the workplace, and Natasha Kiroska, Solutions Engineer at IPsoft believes this can be achieved through a number of ways. “Ladies entering the profession should follow their passion and their dreams, believe in themselves, and work hard at the same time. They should gravitate only towards people, professionals, and companies that will appreciate their work and contributions, and will give them the chance to grow and prove themselves. They shouldn’t feel intimidated by anyone else’s behaviour, as we all come from different cultures and backgrounds. Finally, they should always remain professional, take every opportunity that comes their way, and enjoy their amazing STEM journey.”

International Women in Engineering Day provides women in the industry with a day to celebrate their successes, but it should also be a reminder of how much more work there is to be done to increase the number of roles held by women across the sector. From ensuring young people are educated on a career in engineering in school, all the way through to creating a nurturing working environment, the responsibility is on everyone to make sure more women consider a career in engineering.


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Vanessa Quansah featured

Inspirational Woman: Vanessa Quansah | Senior Civil & Structural Engineer, Lendlease

 

Vanessa Quansah

At the age of 29, Vanessa Quansah is a Senior Civil & Structural Engineer at global developer and construction company Lendlease.

Studying Civil Engineering at Surrey University, Vanessa went on to work for Swanton Consulting, an in-house design temporary works specialist consultancy for a demolition company. In just four years, she was promoted from a graduate engineer to a Senior Engineer, and then joined Lendlease as Senior Civil & Structural Engineer.

Doing her bit to promote females working in a very male-dominated industry, she is a STEM ambassador, regularly visiting schools to promote engineering to young females and mentor students. In addition she is an Associate Member of the Institute of Demolition Engineers (one of approximately 10 females of 400+ members), a Chartered Member with the Intuition of Civil Engineers (ICE) and was also a finalist of the WICE Best Young Woman Engineer 2017.

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

My name is Vanessa Quansah, I’m 29 years old and was born and raised in inner city London. My engineering journey began at Surrey University where I studied Civil Engineering. I hadn’t always wanted to work in engineering – I initially wanted to be a hairdresser - but my friend, who I met during an opportunity to study in the Netherlands, introduced me to the industry and I’ve never looked back since. I graduated with an MEng in 2012 and went on to work for Swanton Consulting, a temporary works design consultancy for a demolition company. After almost four years, I went from Graduate Engineer to Senior Engineer before joining Lendlease in 2016 as Senior Civil and Structural Engineer. In my current role I focus on designing and approving temporary works. Temporary works is a specialist branch of civil engineering, which provides safe access, protection or support during construction or demolition. Most people recognise this as scaffolding and site fencing, but it’s much more than that! I’ve been involved in projects that have included everything from designing retaining walls for a 12m deep basement excavation on a site containing unexploded bombs; to having to hydraulically lift an entire 20-storey building to install bearings after the building was already in place.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Apart from working towards my industry qualifications, I did not have a particular plan. Early on, however, I knew that designing temporary works was something I wanted to continue. As a result, I set out to take on challenging projects so that I could propel my experience and learn quickly so that I can work towards being an influential person within the industry.

Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?

Being a female in a male dominated industry, I sometimes feel quite conspicuous and people question what I’m doing. This is particularly the case when I’m on a construction or demolition site. This isn’t a negative thing though, as it provides me with the opportunity to open a discussion, talk about what I do, and demonstrate that I have the necessary knowledge, skills and capabilities. This job involves a lot of thinking on your feet to develop a quick, but safe and cost-effective solution, which for me is what I find most exciting in the job. For instance, I worked on a project where an 18th century brick wall had to be retained during the demolition of the remaining the structure, but after working on the project for 6-months it suddenly partially collapsed overnight. I had to get to site at 6am to ensure the rest of it remained intact and managed to devise a solution that both the site team and the client were satisfied with. As my experience and confidence in such a technical role has grown over the years, I see that I am becoming the ‘go-to person’ for devising suitable solutions to some very challenging problems.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Diversity is increasingly high on many agendas. I think it’s important that while still ensuring more females get into senior roles, this is based on merit rather than appearance, who someone knows, and certainly not to just make up the numbers. It has to be based on ability.

I believe that Lendlease has the right balance with this and with numerous initiatives to address issues of gender equality it’s not surprising that it was named one of The Times’ Top 50 Employers for Women, so we’re taking big steps in the right direction.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

As a STEM ambassador I regularly visit schools to promote engineering to young females and mentor students. I provide them with an insight into the industry, and for those who are not particularly interested in engineering, I provide support with exam revision and career advice. In addition, I’m their sounding board to discuss any other issue they may be having, which I believe they find beneficial from an older person who is neither their parent or teacher. Furthermore, as a Chartered Member with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), I support my peers with their journey into chartership.

I have had mentors over the years who have not only provided me with technical support but also helped me build my confidence by volunteering me for various presentations and industry events. I believe that in technical roles such as this, particularly as a female, mentoring is so important. It’s comforting to know that there are people that support you and want you to do well and are there to talk to when dealing with difficult projects where a much more experienced person can provide guidance.

How would you encourage more women and girls into a career in STEM?

I think the biggest barrier isn’t that women and girls aren’t necessarily interested in STEM, but the fact that they aren’t aware of the career options it presents. As mentioned earlier, I hadn’t personally known about civil engineering let alone considered a career in the industry until my friend told me about it. It’s so important that we work to raise awareness of the industry, and what jobs and career options it offers, encouraging as many people as we can to consider further education options, apprenticeships and the many roles that are available.

Construction in London is a particularly exciting prospect. We’re part of adapting the London landscape, and with that comes a lot of constraints that have to be considered. For instance, I have designed supporting structures that had to sit on top on live tunnels with people walking just 2m below; worked on a method than involved simultaneously constructing upwards while excavating downwards; and once even donned a fireproof suit to inspect a high voltage switchgear space. I never anticipated the sheer variety of this role when I was studying.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I have had the opportunity to work on several high-profile projects, including the refurb of the Imperial War Museum and Tate Modern, and the construction of Victoria Nova, Westminster’s Rathbone Place and the Elephant Park Development. It is really gratifying to say that I have contributed to the built environment around me and helped to develop these iconic buildings. In addition, one of my temporary works design solutions involved supporting a ‘floating façade’ where a single skin 20m high brick wall needed to be supported after the building interior was fully demolished and the ground beneath it was excavated 14m. This design was a finalist for the British Construction Industry Best Temporary Works Award. On more personal achievements, I was a finalist of the WICE Best Young Woman Engineer 2017, and am an Associate Member of the Institute of Demolition Engineers. I am particularly proud of the latter, as I am one of only ten females out of the 400+ members.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Eventually, I would like to be in a leadership position where I can be an influential person within the business and shape how engineering is delivered on our projects. I would also like to have the opportunity to work overseas and hopefully learn from the methods used in other major cities to see how we do things better here. I’m currently working on achieving one more industry qualification, as well as working towards becoming a member on an expert panel which maintains and shapes best practice within the construction industry.


woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering Day

Inspiring the next generation of women in engineering

By Pooja Malpani, Head of Engineering, Bloomberg Media

woman wearing a white lab coat working on an engineering project, International Women in Engineering DayIncreasing gender diversity is one of the most important issues that needs to be addressed in engineering.

We are starkly reminded on a daily basis that, despite making some progress, the industry today still faces significant challenges in nurturing a truly diverse workforce.

As recently as 2018, research showed that just 12.3% of the UK’s engineering workforce were women. That figure has been far too low for far too long.

It is well recognised across businesses that having inclusive and diverse teams leads to better financial performance, happier work environments, and more innovation – the lifeblood of technology organisations. Women can also benefit massively from the technology industry, whether as consumers or employees.

Technology and engineering jobs are so pervasive today, there’s plenty of scope for women -- or any underrepresented group -- to work on something they are truly passionate about. Just as women should consider positions in this industry, openings need to be far more accessible and more inclusive.

This chicken and egg stand-off must change so the industry does not miss out on the benefits of greater gender diversity, and so women are not missing out on careers in this vibrant field.

Challenging the norm

The first step to solving any problem is to acknowledge it. It’s easy to blame the talent pipeline for the lack of women in technology roles, but it is critical to be more creative in driving change and encouraging more women to get interested in careers in engineering, irrespective of their backgrounds. At the same time, we must continue increasing representation by focusing on the talented women who already are interested in or work in our industry.

There are already initiatives that encourage such practices. Blind recruitment – where you limit unconscious bias by removing identification details – training, upskilling, and internship programmes are all vital in driving positive outcomes in terms of increasing gender diversity.

But, this needs to go even further. Women who are already established in the engineering and technology sectors will indirectly inspire the next generation of female tech leaders as role models and can also directly play a huge role within organisations as mentors to those entering the industry. Women in technology can also have a strong influence on the market too. For example, in the media industry, women are key consumers, so, when there are more women working in the industry, they can have a better platform to make positive change.

Enacting change from the inside

Challenging any traditional groupthink and inherent bias will be fundamental in creating a more inclusive culture. As we look to change the face of the industry, the diversity challenge should not be limited to just numbers. It’s no use having a business that has a 50-50 gender split, but fewer women in leadership roles. It only clouds the overarching issue.

Restricting cognitive diversity, or diversity of thought, is as much a barrier to commercial goals as it is to creating an inclusive and open culture. So, there are no excuses in failing to invest in a diverse workforce.

It’s not enough for organisations to continue to hire from the same pool of candidates: it’s clear that this approach needs to change. Businesses are making headway in having open conversations, but they must now look to nurture talent from as broad a spectrum as possible to help eliminate barriers.

Now is the time for action

The time for words is over and industries such as media and technology need to take action to address gender diversity.

Businesses can, and should, do more. There are many ways to take proactive action towards gender imbalance – but it shouldn’t be viewed as a philanthropic activity.

Diversity brings new ideas, innovation, and thinking to an organisation, making it a commercially-sound proposition. As we reflect on how far we’ve come in addressing the industry’s gender imbalances, we must also look to the road ahead.

About the author

Pooja MalpaniPooja Malpani is the Head of Engineering for Bloomberg Media. She leads the engineering team responsible for consumer media, marketing and data visualization.

This includes supporting Bloomberg.com, consumer mobile applications, smart television apps, other connected devices, as well as the systems that deliver market-moving news, data, audio and video to consumers and syndication partners. Her group also manages Bloomberg's marketing web sites, as well as various Bloomberg Philanthropies sites.

Prior to Bloomberg, Pooja was at HBO Digital Products, where she led the Purchase and Identity engineering teams for HBO Go and HBO Now. Her group was responsible for Subscription Management, including Auth, Direct Commerce and Partner Commerce across web, mobile and connected devices. Her group managed HBO’s streaming user services, including scaling for high traffic shows like 'Game of Thrones'.

Prior to joining HBO, Pooja spent 9 years at Microsoft, leading the engineering efforts on a variety of features for Skype for Business and Skype for consumers.

Pooja is an ambassador for women in technology and is actively involved in engineering initiatives related to diversity.

Pooja graduated from Indiana University with a Masters in Computer Science.


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Women in Engineering: How Can We Make The Sector More Inclusive?

Women In EngineeringIn 2016, Engineering UK released its ‘State of the Nation’ report, which highlighted a severe recruitment crisis in the engineering sector.

More people are leaving than entering. And while the estimates vary by quite a large margin — from between 69,000 and 186,000 — what is certain is that the current flow of 46,000 apprentices and undergraduate students is nowhere near enough to fit the demand.

For some time, the UK has leaned heavily on human capital from Eastern Europe. But rising wages back home, and uncertainty over Brexit, has weakened this EU labour force.

In order to solve this crisis, it seems more important than ever for the UK to tap into its abundant pool of natural resources. I am of course talking about women, who actually outnumber men in the British Isles.

UK engineering is woefully failing the female workforce

Britain, historically and now, is a hugely successful country. In many instances, it has been the British who have introduced to the world radical and key new ideas in the name of ‘progress’. Which makes it all the more remarkable (and strange) that the UK lags behind so many other countries when it comes to equality in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

The UK has the lowest proportion of women in engineering out of any European country at 11 per cent. Indeed, even many North African countries, such as Algeria and Tunisia, have greater gender parity, and far to the East, India and Malaysia also welcome more women into their ranks than the UK does.

What are the reasons for this disparity? Many theories have been proffered. Some blame the UK government’s previous arms-length relationships with business (which is now changing thanks to the requirement of gender-pay gap reporting); to the cultural differences abroad (for example, some scholars will argue that women are less likely to choose engineering when they have more personal freedoms).

The most popular cause of the problem, however, is thought to be a cultural one; and a particularly Anglo one. That includes the United States, too.

Is culture really the problem?

As mentioned above, as little as 11 per cent of the engineering workforce is female. That means 89 per cent of engineers are male — despite women making up 51 per cent of the population. This is a slight increase for women of 2 per cent over the past two years, which is almost statically slow. Currently, it is estimated that 14 per cent of women are taking STEM subjects at A-level or higher. So things are improving, but what’s been holding women back?

Sarah Peers of the Women’s Engineering Society thinks stereotyping, and an outdated, pro-masculine work structure may be to blame. According to Peers, this problem could be rectified men were given more time off for child-centric duties, such as child-rearing, and not just women. Traditionally, major roles, such as that of CEOs, have not been kind to expecting mothers, or newly mothers, who cannot be available twenty-four hours a day, unlike a male colleague — a disadvantage that, in recent times, has come to be identified as sort of mothering ‘penalty’.

Peers also thinks there is a disconnect between the well-intentioned campaigns from the HR and PR world, meaning their messages are not permeating into the company hierarchies above.

A manifest part of the culture could also lie in the way we broach the topic of engineering to our girls, of which we could look abroad for some positive solutions. For example, the president of Ashesi University in Ghana has achieved an almost 50-50 split in men and women on its computer science programme. One way the University did this was, it claimed, by reframing engineering to mean talking about problem-solving, and how engineering can help to improve the lives of others and the environment.

It has long been suspected that women have subtle innate differences that favour people, whereas men traditionally have favoured ‘things’. Talking about engineering as a way to help people, even by proxy, seems to resonate more with the minority sex.

Are we creating a welcome environment for women?

There is another issue that we may not be entirely comfortable talking about — that is, if men have essentially “shut the door” to female colleagues, either with subconscious biases, or plain old sexism.

It is not unusual for a female engineer to find herself almost alone in her world of work. There may never be a queue for the women’s toilet, and understandably, there is a lack of like-minded individuals to talk to.

This lack of a female presence can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, men might wonder, if there are almost no other women present — then what are these few women even doing here? This can conjure up prejudices or harmful stereotypes that can undervalue, undermine, and overlook female colleagues.

In fact, in one study, 40 per cent of female engineers thought they weren’t treated equally in the workplace. And 60 per cent said they thought male engineers got an easier ride and progressed further.

Perhaps more shockingly, 63 per cent said they had overheard or experienced sexism directed towards them. One engineer, who wished to remain anonymous, posted on Reddit that her male colleagues would inappropriately touch her, and even talk about her sexually when she was in the room.

Old habits die hard and are passed along from one generation to another, but they can be altered. Echoing Sarah Peers, another challenge would be to educate all engineers of the dangers of stereotyping, for a better and more understanding workplace.

Encouraging girls in the school

If one key discovery has been uncovered in the march for engineering gender-parity in recent years, it is that you have to inspire children young.

This goes for girls and boys, of course, but even from very early on, societal structures can send mixed messages about what girls can and cannot do, and what they are expected to do.

It all starts with reframing the study of engineering to that it encourages girls, too. Previously, local campaigns have targeted teenage girls at 16, or when they are doing their A-levels, but it needs to start much earlier. Some campaign groups are employing women engineer role models to give talks to children eight years of age. One organisation, Early Years Engineer, even talks to girls as young as three.

At the moment though, something needs to be done about the presentation of the sciences altogether, for all disciplines; for boys and girls. Just under 1 hour and 30 minutes of science is dedicated to scientific studies in primary school, which is, of course, woeful and needs to change immediately.

The benefits of gender parity in engineering, and the economy at large

To reiterate again how large the gender divide is, consider this shocking fact: there are more CEOs in corporate America named ‘James’ than there are women CEOs altogether.

If there is anyone still hesitant about opening up the engineering world to more women — even despite the current crisis in recruitment —  then perhaps they might want to consider the economic benefits.

It has been found that companies with women on the board perform 54 per cent better than without, which suggests that gender-parity does benefit from some diverse thinking in the upper echelons.

And a World Bank study in May 2018 reckoned that gender pay equality would enrich the global economy by £120 trillion. Currently, it is believed that the inequalities in gender pay, enrolment, and visibility, might even be sucking the UK of as much as 14 per cent of its wealth. A McKinsey report also found that, once women make up a third of a business’s board room members, a trickle-down effect warms the rest of the working culture to women — and there is a financial boost in this instance, too.

One final word…

We should not shy away from doing all that we can to make engineering a welcoming place for women. But we must also not ‘overcorrect’ and alienate men. That could be a ticking time-bomb for the future. We must ‘socially’ engineer a comfortable balance between the gender lines, and open up the sector for everyone, no matter their identity and background.

This article was written by Jayne Fielding of Weldwide, an architectural steel and structural engineering company based in London. 


Engineering: a world that works for everyone

It seems obvious, but if we want to design a world that is meant to work for everyone, we need women in the room. But this is rarely the case.

Most offices are five degrees too cold for women, because the formula to determine their temperature was developed in the 1960s based on the metabolic resting rate of a 40-year-old, 70kg man; women’s metabolisms are slower.

Despite research showing that women are more likely to own an iPhone than men, the average smartphone is now 5.5 inches, allowing the average man to comfortably use his device one handed – but the average woman’s hand is not much bigger than the handset itself.

These are all examples from the excellent work of feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez – most famous for campaigning for better representation of women on British banknotes – who argues that the people taking the decisions that affect us all are mostly white, able-bodied men.

This also plays out in the workplace, and notably in engineering. We naturally think of people “like us” when we design anything, but if women were better represented, this absence – and the disparities it creates in our products - would not be so evident.

So, it’s is a real concern that a recent survey revealed that more than two thirds of men in Britain believe that women now enjoy equal opportunities. By and large, women aren’t in the room, but many men seem to believe they are.

But this isn’t just a problem for British manufacturers, it’s also an opportunity.

Because the reality is that female engineers can achieve more than more equally designed products. Diverse teams don’t just design better – they’re also more productive. Quite literally, good business is good for business.

Nonetheless, we also need to acknowledge that this is not just a question of recruitment, and that there remains a problem on the supply-side.

Not only does the UK constantly need more engineers – Raytheon has vacancies for roughly 100 engineers at any given time, and it is estimated that the UK will need 1.8 million new engineers by 2025 - the UK has the lowest percentage (11 per cent of total workforce) of female engineers on the continent and only 24 per cent of UK STEM roles are currently held by women.

That’s not just because employers are stubbornly refusing to recruit thousands of excellent female candidates. It also reflects the fact that, despite many fine words, we have yet to succeed in persuading more women to enter engineering roles, or even consider careers like mine to be viable for them.

While there have been many well-intentioned initiatives to get more women in STEM, for me it’s about encouraging people who don’t necessarily have traditional engineering backgrounds to consider a career in tech.

I for one, am not your “typical engineer”. In fact, I have a language degree, but I was intrigued by the idea of coding to solve problems. For me it was just another language. I couldn’t get onto a programming course without some work experience, so I took a secretarial course and did enough work to be accepted. As soon as I started programming, I loved it.

But that’s not an opportunity available to everyone, so we need more employers to be receptive to looking beyond the “perfect candidate”.

At Raytheon, for example, our HR director will tell you that you don’t need to be a perfect fit on day one – if you bring 70 per cent to the table, we will invest in you and provide the training to bring the remaining 30 per cent – and I have made the switch between everything from manufacturing and finance, to service industries, and now cyber and intelligence.

A lot of people might think that’s unusual, but I see this broad CV as an asset. Techniques and technologies are always changing, and it can be a challenge to get out of your comfort zone and try something new – and it provides me with a varied set of experiences and a unique outlook, and the change has always kept me engaged and interested. More hiring managers should look beyond the traditional engineering CV to identify talent.

I am delighted to have a job where innovation and creativity are richly rewarded. It is an exciting time to join a sector that will change radically over the next decade and beyond, but to achieve a real cultural shift, we all need to be committed to championing gender diversity and create more opportunities for women to enter, advance and thrive in the tech sector.

My hope is that in future, female engineers won’t have to face the same trials that myself and many of my peers had to deal with. That feeling of being outnumbered when entering a lecture hall of 300 people where fewer than 10 are female; the sense of not belonging in their working environment; or being viewed as a “token” female. Those kinds of things shouldn’t be concerns for the women who follow in my footsteps, because there should be more women in the room.

Then we can really move on from a world designed for men.

About the author

Therese is a Test Engineer in Cyber and Intelligence for Raytheon.


Calling all engineers! Can you help in the fight against COVID-19?

coronavirus, Royal Academy of Engineering, COVID-19

Calling all engineers!

With each day that passes, the severity of the coronavirus outbreak increases, as the issues extend beyond health concerns, impacting stock markets around the world and the way businesses operate.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has recognised the critical role that engineers can play in managing the impact of the pandemic, and is asking its Fellows, awardees and partners to use their combined engineering expertise and UK and global networks to help identify solutions, organisations and contacts that could help governments address challenges and assist the public health response.

There is an immediate need for ventilator manufacture, but The Royal Academy of Engineering are encouraging innovation and ideas across all areas, including healthcare systems, critical infrastructure, business management and supply chain.

The Academy is supporting the following calls for assistance:

  • The UK government’s urgent call for assistance from engineering and manufacturing organisations around the UK to help boost the supply of ventilators and ventilator components across the UK to support the National Health Service in its response to COVID-19
  • The Frontier Tech Hub’s urgent call to emerging markets for Rapidly Manufactured Ventilation Systems, inviting applications for an existing, proven technology that can be rapidly adapted to be built in the UK. The winning technology will be adapted for manufacture and use in the UK by a team at UCL’s Institute for Healthcare Engineering with GDI Hub, and will receive a licensing fee
  • In addition, there are other key areas where the engineering community may be able to provide new approaches to specific challenges through technological developments. The Academy is calling on its Fellows, awardees and partners to help accelerate innovations, provide relevant policy advice and establish communications and engagement channels for people to share experiences and knowledge with governments and other organisations.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has identified the below specific requests as a great way to offer your expertise:

If you don't feel able to respond to the specific requests, there are still ways that you as an engineering professional can help with the effort to address the coronavirus, so please do get in touch with The Royal Academy of Engineering.


Engineering: a fulfilling career

Engineering touches every aspect of our lives, whether in computing, electrical, mechanical, and many more, and therefore offer a wide selection of career opportunities for future generations.

However, for some, and particularly young girls and women, it feels like society is discourage from considering them.

It’s a well-known fact that women are underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) occupations. According to a survey by PwC, women make up just 15 per cent of people working in STEM occupations in the UK. Clearly, there is an issue and sadly, it means women are missing out on a fulfilling and creative career path and as an industry we need to help address it.

Creativity

When talking to several engineers at Imagination Technologies, it was felt that there was a disconnected with how the industry is perceived and the reality. They spoke with passion and conviction about just how creative the industry actually is.

Brigid Smith, director of hardware engineering, said, “I was surprised a few years ago to be asked by a friend if I regretted not going into a creative career. To me, it was a strange question, as I would never consider engineering not to be creative. Engineering is about problem solving and at Imagination we are constantly coming up with new and innovative ideas to improve what we do. I worked for years as a hardware design engineer, so it was my ideas, my solutions to the specification that was given which I coded up and ended up becoming part of the customer’s silicon. That’s my design in millions of phones out there – exciting stuff!”

“I definitely think electronic engineering is creative. Problem solving is one of the main skills we need, and this requires creativity to find new ways to solve the problems,” says Anna Hedley, senior customer engineering manager. “We are designing IP for future products so through collaboration and imagination we need to work out what future requirements are going to be and how to implement, sell and support them. My role as customer engineer involves finding creative ways of presenting information to customers from around the globe to help them best understand our cores and solve any issues they have with implementation. Without imagination, we would never be able to provide the advancement that is seen in the electronics industry around the world.”

Changing perceptions

So why are people, particularly females, overlooking engineering as career option in 2019? A lot of it probably comes down to perception. Engineering as a career choice has generally been labelled masculine, despite programming in the early days being considered a woman’s job. It’s not necessarily anti-female but rather, historically, it has typically attracted and celebrated males. If you Google “greatest engineers,” all the engineers that are listed are men. Where are Edith Clarke and Emily Roebling?

It could be that some people simply “opt out” too, thinking that they aren’t smart enough or don’t have the skill set to become engineers. However, that really isn’t the case. One way to combat this issue is to reassure people that being good at maths and science at school isn’t the only thing that makes you a good engineer.

“To me, electronic engineering is like playing with more advanced LEGO pieces. There are infinite ways to build something, so the final design depends on what pieces we use and how we choose to put them together. This creative aspect is a large part of why I chose electronic engineering, plus it is very rewarding to see the finished product doing something useful,” says Simon Van Winden, graduate hardware engineer.

Imagination’s head of talent acquisition, Nick Burden, added, “We must raise young people’s awareness of how fulfilling and secure an engineering career path is so they can make informed choices for their future. This is why a number of our engineers have been visiting local schools to tell students about their experiences of studying and working in engineering.”

Attracting women

There isn’t a “quick fix” when it comes to addressing the lack of women in STEM. It’s even been suggested to me that since a number of high profile initiatives have been launched encouraging girls and women to study STEM subjects, numbers have dipped further – currently it’s just one in four graduates in core STEM subjects are women. We must change this, and Imagination’s Elliot Taylor, hardware engineer, makes a compelling point about the importance of diversity.

“We all think differently, and every individual is uniquely creative. By increasing the diversity of engineers, new ideas and thought processes are brought to the table, improving the workplace and the quality of our work. Approximately 50% of the population are women who are from a multitude of different backgrounds, with a vast range of experiences. By increasing the number of female engineers, the technology industry will become far more diverse which has the potential to lead to exciting new discoveries and breakthroughs.”

To make engineering a sought-after career, we must dispel the image of it being dull and boring and show how creative and exciting it really is. It’s not just about being the most technical, the best engineers will have other skills. We need female role models to normalise engineering, to influence parents and teachers, and to increase activities in schools.

The future

With the increasing demand for new technology, products and materials, tomorrow’s engineers have an exciting and valuable career ahead of them. As Elliot Taylor, comments, “Engineering is such an exciting field that is completely changing the world as we know it. Being an electronic engineer allows you to be truly creative, to design products that will change how we tackle anything from health to entertainment. Technology is becoming more and more prevalent in every part of our lives, why would you not want to be involved in shaping how this world changes?”

My hope is that in the years to come, when my children and grandchildren Google “amazing engineers”, not only will they continue to see amazing advancements that have transformed the world for the better, but that there will be a lot more women credited with these advancements.


women in tech featured 1

Helene Panzarino: Women who count

Women in Engineering

Helene Panzarino looks back at how women have played a key part in developing technology and their role in its future.

On April 2018, the number of girls choosing to study computer science at A’level dropped below one per cent.

The year before, it was reported that only 17 per cent of people in the tech sector were women.

Alarming and disturbing statistics in themselves, but to add salt to the wound irony is when you consider that – without women – we might not have a tech sector at all.

You could say that women invented computers. In the past, the word ‘computer’ even used to mean “female mathematician” or “women who count”.

It all started with Ada Lovelace – the incredibly clever daughter of the poet Lord Byron – whose mother insisted on her learning maths and science as well as languages.

She wrote the world’s first machine algorithm for an early computing machine that existed only on paper. She is widely attributed with having invented computer science and – although she didn’t work alone – there’s no doubt her contribution was invaluable.

In honour of her achievements, Ada Lovelace Day is held every year on the second Tuesday of October, which this year will be 8th October, so mark this special date in your diaries, but also remember to keep her accomplishments in mind every day.

Early “computers”

Looking into the etymology of the word ‘computer’, some very telling facts reveal themselves.

According to the BBC, the word "computer" comes from the Latin "putare" which means both to think and to prune. By 1731, the word had come to mean someone who did calculations.

In the late 19th century, at Harvard College Observatory in the USA, a large group of workers were employed to analyse images of stars and compare their positions. These workers were women and – because they were brilliant mathematicians – they were called “computers”.

This pioneering work of the computers at Harvard continued into the 20th Century.

Taking a leaf out of Harvard’s book, in the 1930s, NASA began hiring women as “computers”. When war broke out, NASA expanded its computer pool, recruiting many college-educated African American women.

The legacy of Ada Lovelace looked to be gaining some traction and momentum, seeing women take their rightful place at the scientific table.

So what went wrong for tech women?

In post-war Britain, IBM UK measured the time it took to manufacture a computer in “girl hours”, because the people making computers were nearly all women. The British government – the biggest computer employer in the land – declined to give women equal pay as at the time computer work was considered low value.

But then perceptions changed.

It became clear that computers had great potential, that they would be essential in the future. This meant they required managers to decide how they were programmed. But back in the 1960s, women were considered unfit for management.

Tech women still go strong

You’d be forgiven for thinking that was the end for all those women in computing, but you’d be wrong!

In 1962, computer programmer Stephanie Shirley struck out on her own and set up the software company, Freelance Programmers. One of her clients would be Ann Moffatt from the team that programmed the iconic supersonic aeroplane, Concorde. Ann eventually became technical director at Concorde in charge of over 300 home-based female programmers. That is some kind of powerful statement for women in tech!

As technology advanced, by the 1990s, nerds and geeks were cool. However, despite the early key roles for women in the space, the stereotype was distinctly male and so was the US tech heartland, Silicon Valley.

What led to this shift in the landscape is a much longer debate than this piece allows. Perhaps it was the lack of visible role models, or part of the wider problem of girls being less likely to choose maths and science at school. Whatever it was, the reality was that fewer women saw a future for themselves in tech.

One thing we know for sure though, it wasn’t – as one Google employee suggested two years ago – anything to do with differences in the brain.

In a vein of hope and somewhat bucking the trend, in some parts of the world – such as India and South America – women play a much bigger role in IT, than in Europe and North America. This deserves our attention.

Tech can give you a great future

As a result of tenacity and a united voice, thankfully things are changing. We have some great examples of women in tech with:

In banking and finance – the sector where I work – technology is changing the way we do things. There is increasing demand – and the inevitable scarcity – for new talent to help innovate.

More and more, banks and financial services organisations will be looking for talented professionals who already have the skills they need – or who they can train. Gender parity in all areas of financial services has to be the goal.

This represents a new wave of opportunity and potentially gives a whole new meaning to ‘women who count’.