Tokenism a thing of the past for women in science and engineering
40 years, to the day, since Parliament passed Britain’s first equality legislation, WISE Chair Trudy Norris-Grey urged young women working in the traditionally male-dominated fields of science, engineering and technology to dismiss any suggestion that they got their job to meet a diversity target rather than on their own merits.
16 November 2015
“Let me just say, tokenism – that’s a thing of the past”, Trudy told delegates gathered for a daytime conference prior to the WISE Awards which were presented on 12 November by WISE’s royal patron, HRH The Princess Royal at a gala dinner in central London. Her Royal Highness said: “WISE is not asking anyone to make a special case for women… our aim is to break through the stereotyped image of the kind of people who work in science, technology and engineering so that it becomes a career of choice for more people.”
Dame Mary Archer, chair of the Science Museum Group and former chemistry lecturer, who also spoke at the ceremony said: “This movement has been a long time on the launch pad, but now it is really on the runway and ready to take off.”
The winners demonstrate the sheer diversity of science, technology and engineering roles in the 21stcentury, shining a light on female talent, from classroom to boardroom.
Stephany Baladas 18; winner of the Intel-sponsored WISE Girl Award, left school for an Apprenticeship in healthcare sciences, where she discovered a love for Medical Engineering. Stephany wants more girls – and their families – to know about scientific apprenticeships in the healthcare sector. “It’s not just for doctors and nurses”, said Stephanie.
WISE Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by Winston Capital, went to Elizabeth Watson, who started her career with Rolls-Royce the same year the Sex Discrimination Act hit the statute book, 1975. Liz went on to be the first woman to hold the post of Chief Engineer in the company and finished up as Head of Product Safety Assurance. “My career has been enormous fun, I’ve travelled the world, it’s been full of variety and opportunities.”
Dr Marily Nika, Program Manager, Engineering at Google won the WISE Influence Award, sponsored by Royal Academy of Engineering, for the number of girls she inspires to love technology. Marily’s TEDx talk, ‘My hypothetical daughter’s career in tech 2055’ has been watched 38,800 times. Having taught herself to code at the age of six by reading her older brother’s books, she now inspires girls to love technology through online communities such as London Geekettes.
Bechtel, winners of the WISE Employer Award, sponsored by AWE, set an example to others on how to attract and retain more women in technical roles. The engineering, construction and project management company recruited 13% more women to their graduate programme in just 12 months and reduced resignations of women from 20% to 9%. “Working with WISE helped Bechtel raise the bar in terms of tackling this issue”, said Sarah Golding, Infrastructure Lead Proposal Planner. They set a target, introduced practical measures including unconscious bias training to 400 senior leaders, introduced flexible working, ‘keep in touch’ days during maternity leave and sponsors employees wanting to go back into education. Forty percent of engineers working on the Bechtel/London Underground Vauxhall station upgrade are women, bucking the industry trend.
- One of two new technology awards for 2015 the Bloomberg Open Technology Award, went to Amanda Smith, Community Engagement Manager at The Open Data Institute, who went into coding despite not having a computer science background.
- Caitlin Stuart, the first woman apprentice at Troup Bywaters + Anders won the WISEApprentice Award, sponsored by Rolls-Royce plc. The only girl on her A-level Engineering and BTEC course and the first female apprentice at TB+A, she has helped the firm increase the percentage of women on the apprenticeship programme to 27% .
- The Inspiring Young People Award, sponsored by Atkins, was presented to Selex ES’s Head of Lean Engineering, Kris Harrison. In the 3 years she has been running the company’s outreach programme in Luton, the number of girls on the work experience scheme has risen by more than 250%. She targets girls from disadvantaged areas and ethnic minority backgrounds, persuading large numbers to choose engineering by bringing them on site to find out what it is all about. Kris said: “It was such an honour to win this award, and fantastic to receive recognition for all of the work that both myself and my ambassador team have done… having the opportunity to work with young people, being able to inspire them to explore future STEM careers, and watching them develop their skills and confidence is rewarding in itself, but this award has been the icing on the cake.”
- The Health & Safety Award, sponsored by Amec Foster Wheeler was presented to Helen James of BAM Nuttall. Helen is at the forefront of their cultural change programme, “Beyond Zero”. Incident reporting has increased and the number of serious incidents declined. Helen said: “I will continue to drive change in our industry, encourage people to become more engaged with safety … and support and champion the WISE agenda.”
- A new award for 2015 Tech Start-up, sponsored by Goldman Sachs was presented to Professor Charlotte K Williams, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Econic Technologies and Professor of Chemistry, Imperial College London. Charlotte’s company sells catalysts which enable carbon dioxide to be transformed into polymers, reducing carbon footprint and cost compared to conventional routes which are dependant on fossil raw materials.
Also in this category, the judges gave a Highly Commended certificate to Kanika Bansal, CEO Medicen Devise Limited. Kanika was responsible for the concept and design of an automated process to apply antiseptic around the wound area, reducing catheter associated infections which lengthen hospital stay, increase cost and can be fatal. Kanika says: “Don’t get scared about technology. It’s not very complicated and we girls are very creative. Let your dreams soar as high as they can.”
- The WISE Hero Award, sponsored by Babcock, went to Dr Jennifer Walsh-O’Donovan, Clinical Scientist and Rehabilitation Bioengineer at NHS Lothian. Jennifer investigates the crash safety of customised wheelchair seating, supporting amputees and children with cerebral palsy. She says: “Being the mother to a little girl, I want her to see how she can contribute to improving an individual’s life or society through technology, science and engineering because of, and not in spite of, her gender.”
- The WISE Campaign Award, sponsored by Network Rail was presented to Dawn Bonfield of the Women’s Engineering Society for National Women in Engineering Day. In 2015, the hashtag #nwed trended for nine hours. There were 350 UK events, making it the largest campaign of its kind. Dawn said: “We’re unlocking something here.” Dawn hopes winning the award will help the day take on a life of its own.
- Professor Amrita Ahluwalia of the William Harvey Research Institutewon the WISE Research Award, sponsored by Thales. Her pioneering research has identified dietary interventions to treat cardiovascular disease. She is also an active member of the British Pharmacological Society, where she has introduced initiatives to advance women’s careers and has recently been appointed as editor in chief of the British Journal of Pharmacology.
Range Rover Evoque WISE Scholarships were awarded to:
Apprentice Scholarship: Emily Swatton, Mechanical Engineering Advanced Apprentice at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy. Emily felt her passion for engineering wasn’t supported at school until she sought out a female science teacher who helped explain the routes she could take. She now gives talks about Advanced Apprenticeship schemes to promote the route to others.
Undergraduate Scholarship: Temilolu Danso, who studies Mechanical Engineering at Plymouth University finds it absurd that there are fewer female engineers in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. She believes girls need to be encouraged to choose engineering and that they need mentors to help show them it can be fun. When asked how she chose between her two interests Art and Engineering Temi said: “it is easy to draw on paper, engineering is my art made useful and put into practice”.