International Women in Engineering Day: What it’s really like working in industry

Posted on 23 Jun 2019 by Maddy White

International Women in Engineering Day, or INWED, exists to help raise the profile of the (many) successful women working in the sector and encourage others to embrace it. We spoke to four inspiring women about their journeys into engineering.

Just over 12% of all engineers in the UK are women, according to 2018 figures from Women in Engineering Society (WES). But, more alarmingly this number has only risen 1% from the previous year. Things are moving forward, but we’re stalling in gear one.

INWED is a global awareness campaign that focuses attention on the career opportunities available to women in industry. To learn more, we spoke to successful women working in engineering to know how their careers developed, the obstacles they face, and why we must champion women in the sector.

Philippa Glover regularly speaks about careers for women in manufacturing.
Philippa Glover regularly speaks about careers for women in manufacturing.

The women engineering change

“This may be my perception, but I think women can be highlighted as tokens in manufacturing sometimes,” Philippa Glover, operations director at Liverpool-based CNC Robotics tells me. “I think we should be developing diverse and inclusive businesses.”

Glover grew up in a small village in Yorkshire and says she loved science at school. “Whilst at college, I did many odd jobs, one of which was working for the data team at Croda (a chemicals company). This gave me a glimpse into what it was like working in manufacturing. It is a really exciting time to be in industry.”

Falling for the Falkirk Wheel

Another woman paving the way for others in industry is Katy Toms, a senior engineer for global engineering firm WSP, who was also named as one of WES’ Top 50 Women in Engineering in 2017.

She began her career in London designing power lines and is currently working as the project manager for the A43 Moulton Bypass in Northampton, something she says has been an exciting new challenge.

Katy Toms recently led a project to build a STEM classroom at Rainbow Hope School in Malawi.

Toms first became interested in industry after watching a programme about the Falkirk Wheel in Scotland. “The structure was fascinating, but what caught my attention was the butterfly effect a structure could cause, the people element.

“I have always believed that engineering is about people and the impact we can have on their lives,” she tells me. “I love my job and that I can work on projects that improve people’s lives, even if it’s just helping them get home 15 minutes quicker every day to spend time with their families.”

No two days the same

“My dad was an aircraft engineer, he was in the RAF and after that he worked in commercial aircraft engineering,” says Amy O’Grady, commercial engineer at automotive component maker Unipres. “From a young age I was bought model-making kits and shown how to build things.

“I like engineering because it is always different,” she says. “It will continue to move forward as technologies advance, so it’s not stagnant.”

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Amy O’Grady has worked for Unipres for seven years.

This resonated with Barbara Evansengineering operations educator at Tata Steel. “I can honestly say that no two days are the same. In my current role, developing others to work to their best abilities brings me incredible satisfaction.

“The people are very important, it’s hard to describe the fulfilment of spending your working day with people who you have shared experiences of such important processes like steel-making or running a power plant,” Evans adds.

However, O’Grady says there’s still a lurking engineering stereotype: “There is this idea that engineering means someone being in an overall covered in dirt and grease, but it’s not like that.

“There’s also the perception that it’s not for girls. They should be teaching or doing other things, not being engineers. I think we need more major female role models in engineering,” she tells me. “There are so many different careers available in the sector from commercial aspects through to quality and project management.”

Get it on telly!

It’s clear there are vast opportunities for women in the sector and that it is more important than ever that people – like Glover, Toms, O’Grady and Evans – help continue to push the industry forward.

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Barbara Evans teaches engineering operations.

“Engineering is for everyone,” says Toms. “It is the perfect mix of technical skills and creativity, which means that if your passionate about being able to make a difference, there is probably a role for you in engineering.”

O’Grady says, “There should be more done to get engineering on the television and in the news. But, even when this does happen, often those front-facing people are men because they are the ones who tend to hold senior roles. It needs to be portrayed differently.”

Evans adds, “There is a huge amount of satisfaction to be had in manufacturing and engineering for women. If young women can think that ‘yes, actually engineering is a job for me’, then more women will come into the sector and we can keep driving change.”