Marking 100 years of women in engineering – the past, present and future

Marking 100 years of women in engineering – the past, present and future

3rd July 2019

Over the past few weeks, our members have been celebrating diversity and female engineers’ careers to mark International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) 2019 and the 100th birthday of INWED founders, the Women’s Engineering Society (WES).

This year’s theme was ‘Transform the Future’. Our members felt it was important to reflect on the barriers and opportunities to engineering careers, how women are currently helping find solutions to worldwide issues, and how to encourage the next generation of female engineers.

So, here’s a round-up of the events they helped organise to discuss these issues.

The London and South East Coast Members Group - Celebrating the past, transforming the future

Our London and South East Coast Members Group held two events jointly with other professional engineering institutions (PEIs).

They organised a STEM Schools Challenge event at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) head office in London on 21 June where Year 9 and 10 students rose to the occasion in problem-solving engineering activities, building bridges out of straws and a robotics workshop.

On the IChemE stand, our members shared stories of their journey into chemical engineering to inspire the students to pursue STEM careers. They also demonstrated compressed air energy storage, using air stored in a balloon to drive a turbine and generate electricity to light a lightbulb, to give students insight into chemical engineering.

The highlight of the day was a panel debate, where six engineers from different industries discussed the theme, ‘Fast forward 100 years, and which engineering industry will have had the biggest impact on society and how?’.

The panellists pitched how their sector is making a positive impact on the world. The students’ thought-provoking questions led to discussions on what skills are required to be an engineer, the importance of nuclear as an energy supply, and how acoustic engineers are helping to reduce noise pollution.

Member Yasmin Ali, a Chartered Chemical Engineer in the energy sector, moderated the debate of the panel, which included Rojiar Ferschy, a Nuclear Engineer and IChemE’s 2018 Young Industrialist Award winner.

Yasmin said: “I’m working on climate change issues and it’s something that younger people now feel quite passionate about, but don’t necessarily realise they can contribute to solving these problems with engineering. The panellists are showcasing the variety of engineering careers available and the difference you can make; it’s powerful.

“Hopefully it will encourage the students to think about those careers. It’ll be great for us to have these bright young people join the industry and bringing new perspectives to solving these challenges.”

The debate was broadcast online. Watch the recording.

There was a huge turnout of engineers at the Members Group’s second event held with the Institution of Engineering and Technology at their head office in London on 24 June. It had a special focus on diversity and leadership.

Opening the event, Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, emphasised the responsibility of all engineers to be visible and accessible role models, and that one can learn just as much from mentoring someone as from being mentored.

A panel then discussed the theme, ‘How diversity will transform future leadership’.

Panellist Christina Riley, Senior Planner at Kier and Vice Chair of Kier LGBT & Allies Network, shared how diversity changed her life and helped her discover who she was. Mark Whitby, Director at Whitby Wood, reflected on his 60-year career in civil engineering and how he felt the industry has evolved thanks to diversity.

While, Nike Folayan, Associate Director at WSP, recommended the focus be on finding the allies in the industry that will encourage and support individuals in their careers. She emphasised the need to retain women engineers and the need for progression opportunities.

Sellafield Ltd – WES 100 Celebration

Over 100 engineers gathered at Sellafield’s Cumbria office on 26 June to celebrate the past, current, and future talent of female chemical engineers at the organisation. The event focussed on how Sellafield is striving to go beyond the reported national figure that 9% of women in the UK are in engineering roles.

Through a series of speakers, networking and round table sessions, the engineers across various disciplines discussed what is currently being done - and what more could be done - in the business to enable career progression opportunities for women, support with parental leave and family life, end bullying and harassment in the workplace and give equal opportunities.

IChemE member Elisabeth Cooke, Sellafield’s Chief Process Engineer, co-organised the Sellafield event with mechanical engineer Joanne Griffin. As part of their joint speech, Elisabeth reflected on her 20 years’ experience in process engineering at Sellafield, encouraged chemical engineers to become chartered to further their experiences and to play their part to encourage and retain talent to change the 9%.

“This event was a celebration of past and current achievements and ambitiously looked forward to building on these to achieve even more in the future,” said Elisabeth.

“The round table discussions covered a range of topics and everyone was encouraged to make a commitment as to their future contribution to transforming the diversity of engineers within the company. To change the status quo, we need to improve equality of opportunity for all employees to benefit the individual and the company.

“I hope that in some way I have been, and am being, a positive role model for engineers in the early career stage. I’m committed to do this for my daughter and son, my nieces and nephews so that they can enjoy the widest possible range of opportunity in their future career choices.”

IChemE employees Heather Black and Amy Stewart attended the event and interacted with Sellafield’s chemical engineers at the IChemE stand, explaining the activities of IChemE and the routes into becoming a Chartered Chemical Engineer.

Sheffield Members Group – Celebration of Women in Engineering

Held at the Cutlers’ Hall, Sheffield, on 27 June, through a series of presentations, a Q&A and a networking session, the Celebration of Women in Engineering event saw engineers from various disciplines reflect on their career paths and motivate those at the early stages in the profession.

Speeches were delivered by Dr Kirsty Clode, Chair of Women into Manufacturing and Engineering (WiME), Dr Carolyn Griffiths, Chief Inspector and Head of the UK Rail Accident Investigation Branch, and Pam Liversidge OBE, who has had a varied career in engineering – including the manufacture of specialist metal powders for medical engineering, forging, and electricity supply – and was the first female president of IMechE.

Through the many stories shared, several things were clear: there is a need for continuing events and societies dedicated to women in engineering; that girls need to be encouraged into STEM opportunities as early as 11 years of age; planning for your career is very important; and mentors, friends and family are important for building and maintaining confidence.

IChemE members Peter Henry, Deputy Chairman of the Sheffield Members Group, Ioulia Bykova, a Senior Process Engineer at industrial gases firm BOC, and Mariyam Bi, a chemical engineering undergraduate at the University of Sheffield, were among the organisers of the event.

Pam Liversidge , Mariyam Bi and Carolyn Griffiths

A key takeaway for Mariyam was the importance in becoming chartered: “It is important for women to prove on paper that they are professionally qualified. The presenters collective message was to do everything you can to get your foot in the door, and then show your employees what you can do.

“I felt Carolyn Griffiths message, “Don't chase the dollar, chase the experience”, was sound advice for an undergraduate. She said, although money is important to some extent when we are starting out in our careers, we shouldn't worry about the salary too much, we should want the experience.

“From listening to the inspirational women speaking about their experiences, it made me realise, as long as I am continuously moving forward, have an unwavering belief in myself that I can make it, I will surely get to where I aspire to be.”

The Sheffield Members Group helped to organise the event with members of IMechE, IET, Institution of Civil Engineers, Institution of Structural Engineers, Royal Aeronautical Society, and the Sheffield Metallurgical and Engineering Association.

What did you do to mark International Women in Engineering Day 2019 and its theme Transform the Future?

Find out how just some of our members feel that female engineers are helping to transform the future in this blog.

For further information on our Members Groups and their activities visit: