Women in Engineering

July 2, 2018

Who’s Who and Who Was Who contain the names of many engineers who have distinguished themselves in their field. 2018 is the Year of Engineering, with International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) marked on 23 June 2018. Created and coordinated by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES), INWED celebrates the achievements of women in engineering and encourages more girls to consider engineering careers.

The WES was started in 1919 at the end of the First World War, and has had many pioneering women among its members. Perhaps most famous is Amy Johnson, who was elected a member in 1930 and was President from 1933-37. Renowned for her adventures as a pilot, she was also a qualified engineer.

Another President of the WES, Dame Caroline Haslett founded and edited its journal, The Woman Engineer. She also wrote a book entitled Problems have no Sex. Electrical engineer Elizabeth Laverick, President of the WES 1967-69, was Editor of The Woman Engineer 1984-90.

Hertha Ayrton, inventor of the Anti-Gas Fan which was used at the Front during the First World War, was at the time ‘the only woman member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers’. But when nominated for Fellowship of Royal Society in 1902 ‘the Council had no power to elect a woman’. The Royal Society did, however, award her the Hughes Medal four years later. Fellows of the Institution of Engineering and Technology today include Chi Onwurah, MP and former Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation; Nicola Shaw, Executive Director of UK National Grid; and Gwynneth Flower, Chairman of Werneth Enterprises and a Liveryman of the Clockmakers’ Company.

Women in Engineering today include Michèle Dix, Managing Director of Crossrail 2 and Trustee of the London Transport Museum; Samantha Heath, CEO of the London Sustainability Exchange; Jean Venables, who became the 144th President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 2008, the first woman to be elected to the position; and Michelle McDowell, Chair of Civil and Structural Engineering at BDP. Now a Member of the House of Lords, Baroness Brown of Cambridge held senior positions at Rolls-Royce before becoming Chief Executive of the Institute of Physics. In her spare time, she enjoys growing orchids.

A number of female engineers in Who’s Who share a common pastime. Prof. Helen Atkinson, Dame Judith Hackitt, Belinda Oldfield and Prof. Lynn Gladden, FRS all include ‘walking’ in their recreations. Dame Susan Ion, FRS lists fell-walking amongst her hobbies, and Dame Wendy Hall, FRS enjoys walking in the New Forest with her husband. Meanwhile Naomi Climer, Past President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, prefers motor biking, sailing and cello.

Sarah Springman, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, was a member of the British Triathlon Team 1984–93, becoming National Champion 11 times and European Champion 3 times, and she was a member of the GB World Cup Rowing team of 1997. She still enjoys sculling/rowing, triathlon and cross-country-skiing in her spare time.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has had many eminent members and fellows but its current President is also the first woman to hold the position: Prof. Dame Ann Dowling, a world authority on combustion and acoustics, is also Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Cambridge. Fellow of the Academy of Engineering Sarah Spurgeon, Professor of Control Engineering at University College London, is President of the Engineering Professors’ Council. Other Fellows include Amanda Chessell, IBM Distinguished Engineer, and Raffaella Ocone, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Heriot-Watt University.

Who’s Who includes the names of many important academics, from a wide range of engineering fields. Adisa Azapagic is Professor of Sustainable Chemical Engineering at the University of Manchester. In her recreations, she advocates ‘leading even when I don’t know where I’m going (and trying to find my way afterwards)’. Muffy Calder is Professor of Computer Science and Head of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Glasgow. Patricia Connolly is Professor of Bioengineering and Director of the Strathclyde Institute of Medical Devices, and Alison Noble, FRS is Technikos Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Oxford.

Despite the superb selection of female engineers in Who’s Who, there is still a gender disparity, reflecting how much the industry still needs to support employers to increase diversity and enable women in the UK to take up opportunities in engineering. We hope to invite many more inspirational women in engineering roles into Who’s Who in the future.