#INWED22 – International Women in Engineering Day is an occasion to mark the progress of females in the profession across the globe. But it’s no secret that, despite being one of the most economically advanced countries, the UK has often lagged behind its peers and indeed some developing countries that have made greater strides in increasing the proportion of women recruits.
Yet the representation of UK women is increasing, if slowly. And while INWED provides an occasion for shared sentiments, Process Engineering focuses instead on THESe concrete examples of how women engineers are advancing their careers and contribution to British engineering…
Return on investment: Irma Gilbert and Lisa Furlong
The Low Carbon Eco-Innovatory (LCEI), is a business R&D consortium supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and led by Liverpool John Moores University with Lancaster University and the University of Liverpool. It gives small companies free access to world-leading academic expertise and cutting-edge resources through funded research and development projects.
One beneficiary was Irma Gilbert ‘s Liverpool-based platform Autentica Parts, which enables engineers to share designs for parts and components which can be 3D printed by customers anywhere in the world.
Her research and development was accelerated using a fully-funded intern to create a prototype for the platform with customers in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America in sectors including automotive, electronics, consumer goods, medical services, heavy machinery and energy.
The platform aims to decarbonise the manufacturing supply chain, reducing customer transportation and logistics costs by 70%, delivery times from three months to 24 hours, and carbon dioxide emissions by up to 40%.
Gilbert, who is forecasting a turnover of £6 million by 2025, attributes the success of the business to the collaboration with Lancaster University and partners.
“As a woman at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution I needed someone to believe in my ambition,” she said. “I saw a transformational opportunity to create a marketplace where engineers could share their designs for parts and components, which could then be uploaded to a platform, licenced and downloaded by customers anywhere in the world for additive manufacture.
Irma and Lisa are great examples to show what women can achieve in engineering and we are thrilled to hear that the kind of access to opportunities, resources and support we have offered through our programme has helped with their development as eco-innovation leaders
Jess Davies, professor in sustainability, Lancaster University Centre for Global Eco-Innovation
“We really are indebted to the support offered by LCEI and the expertise of Lancaster University which supercharged my ideas to create a platform transforming supply chains, reducing carbon emissions and building a sustainable future.”
MD of Wirral-based construction-based civil engineers Mole Group Utilities, Lisa Furlong, also benefited from LCEI assistance.
After pioneering horizontal directional drilling (HDD) technologies to excavate underground pathways for cables, pipes and network links, Furlong used a funded internship to develop a marketing and communications plan for the firm.
Engineer and environmental scientist Jess Davies is professor in sustainability at Lancaster University’s Centre for Global Eco-Innovation and responsible for delivering LCEi.
Said Davies: “Engineers bring problem-solving skill sets to the table, which are really important to developing sustainable practices, products or services across many areas including traditional areas like energy, transport and wastewater, but also they have much to offer other challenges such as supporting biodiversity.
“Irma and Lisa are great examples to show what women can achieve in engineering and we are thrilled to hear that the kind of access to opportunities, resources and support we have offered through our programme has helped with their development as eco-innovation leaders.
“We need diverse perspectives and lived experiences to form a better understanding of the many dimensions of the problem and we are going to need all the creativity that comes with diversity to help us find good solutions to the major environmental problems of our times.”
Inspiration down the generations: Claire Watson
“In the 1970s, my auntie was the first draftswomen in her place of work. She became my inspiration to thrive in this industry from a young age. Her success was a constant reminder that challenging stereotypes in engineering were possible and that I could build a successful career as a woman in engineering.”
So says Claire Watson, director of Bury-based ductwork and fabrications company Airmatic, reflecting on her own experience of entering the industry.
“In the not-so-distant past during my career in engineering, there were several occasions when I would pick up the phone to help with an enquiry, and the person would ask to speak with a man instead.
“I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling conflicted and confused when looking back on these exchanges, which have lessened over time, as I have stellar role models and cheerleaders of different genders that root for my success and have never insinuated that my gender is a weakness."
In fact, she says, it recently occurred to her that she had never received a CV from a female engineer for any openings at Airmatic. And she herself remains the only woman executive member in the Association Of Ductwork Contractors & Allied Services .
There were occasions when I would pick up the phone to help with an enquiry, and the person would ask to speak with a man instead
Claire Watson, director, Airmatic
It has prompted Watson to think of ways to her own firm and the boards and partnerships that it is involved with.
For her the tools for encouraging participation include awareness days, networking (she applied to become a mentor for The Girls Network charity) and liaising with Apprenticeships UK and other government schemes.
Recent data, she says, reveals 16.5 per cent of engineers in this country are women. Not a huge proportion but it represents a 2 per cent rise on the figure when the INWED inpact report was published last year.
Adds Watson: “I would love to expand my network and welcome any fellow women in engineering to get in touch so we can learn from each other and make a difference. Our voices are louder together, so let’s do our part to increase the 16.5% statistic in time for International Woman In Engineering Day 2023.”
PIC: (l-r) Irma Gilbert, Professor Jess Davies, Lisa Furlong and Claire Watson