The 23rd of June is ‘International Women in Engineering Day’ with the poignant theme of ‘Engineering heroes’. Only around 12% of engineers in the UK are women and less than half of girls aged 11-14 would consider it as a career.
Even so, women are responsible for some incredible engineering. Sarah Guppy designed the famous Bristol Clifton Suspension bridge. Marissa Mayer was the first female engineer to join Google. Patricia Bath developed technology for the removal of cataracts. Beatrix Shilling was an aeronautical engineer who helped with the fuel supply designs on the famous Hurricane and Spitfire planes.
Types of Engineering
There are four main types of engineering: Mechanical, Civil, Electrical and Chemical.
So what does that mean?
Mechanical engineering involves designing, producing and operating machinery and mechanical systems. It involves a bit of physics, a bit of maths and some materials science. Mechanical engineers can work in the motor industry, aerospace, rail and construction to name but a few. Gwynne Shotwell is a famous mechanical engineer and businesswoman.
Gwynne Shotwell qualified in engineering and added experience in sales. She is now President and Chief Operating Officer for SpaceX who builds rockets to launch people and satellites into space.
Okay, so maybe mechanical engineering feels self explanatory but what is Civil Engineering? Civil Engineers design and construct infrastructure in the public environment. This can include things like dams and bridges. Elsie Eaves was a famous civil engineer and the first female associate member of the American Society of civil engineers. Elsie Eaves went to work at a publisher after graduating. She compiled masses of information on construction plans that boosted nationwide investment in infrastructure.
Right, what about Electrical Engineering? Light bulb moment: Electrical engineers design and develop electrical equipment. This can be navigation systems, communication equipment or even electrical systems in cars and aircraft. Edith Clarke was a famous electrical engineer. She was the first female professor of electrical engineering in the USA and, literally, wrote the textbook on ac power engineering.
Chemical engineers develop processes to convert raw material into useful products. They study the operation of and design of chemical plants and look at how to improve production. Dame Judith Hackitt is a famous chemical engineer. Dame Judith Hackitt began working in Esso’s chemicals division and was made a plant supervisor at just 23. After working in Europe she moved to the Health and Safety Executive. She was made a Dame for services to engineering and health and safety.
Engineering really changes lives and has a big impact on the way we live our lives. From the fuel that goes into our cars to the bridges they go over to the components within them and the Satnav we use to get use there, to the very computer or smart phone you’re reading this on right now.
Female Feats in Engineering Right Now
- Carol Leung is an Engineering Manager at Airbnb.
- Meredith Westafer is a senior industrial engineer at Tesla, an American Electric Vehicle company.
- Karen Cassela is an engineering lead at Netflix.
- Natalie Cooper is an Aerospace Designer and Project Co-ordinator at Aerospace Engineering solutions.
- Kirsty McDermot is a National Grid Senior Engineer.
- Dr Hayaatun Sillem is the CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
If you want to find out more check out www.wes.org.uk and discover why engineering might be the career for you.