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Influential women in engineering

Mon, 03/10/2014 - 11:07am
Jenny Beswick, Contributor

Despite the growing need for qualified engineers within the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors across the globe, there is currently a huge shortfall. Of the global population currently working in these fields, only a small percentage are women.

According to UNESCO, whilst some European countries, such as Latvia (30%) and Sweden (26%) have a relatively high percentage of women working as professional engineers, most countries across the globe have far below this. The international average varies between 10 and 20%, but some even fall short of this. For example, in the UK, only 8.7% of those working as engineers are women. In Africa, South Africa it is approximately 10% and in Kenya it is 8%. Faring little better, India and America have around 12%.

See: Photos of the Day: Influential women in engineering

In the last ten years there has been a significant increase in women enrolling in STEM subjects at University, with women now making up around 30% of engineering students in the US and Europe, 35% in India, 15% in South Africa and around 60% in the Gulf regions.

Worryingly, this has not translated into more women working in engineering roles; many graduates either do not go on to work in engineering or do not stay in the profession. This appears to be due to many different factors from flexibility of employers, to career development and support, to cultural and religious beliefs. Personally, I feel that more females should be encouraged into engineering from a very younger age which may enable then to grow their passion into engineering and developing new things.

Influential women in engineering
Throughout history there has been female shining stars leading the way in engineering; from Hypatia who invented the Hydrometer in ancient Greece, to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who developed the first compiler for a computer programming language in the 1950s, through to Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. Today I would like to highlight below some of the most influential and inspirational women in engineering that stick in my mind, both from modern society and through the ages:

Jocelyn Goldfein, Director of Engineering, Facebook
As Director of Engineering for Facebook, Jocelyn Goldfein is one of the technology industry’s highest profile engineers. She is responsible for design and architecture of new products in Facebook’s engineering department, and has worked on some of Facebook’s best known products. Goldfein is also involved in the recruitment of engineers for the social media giant.

Goldfein believes that there is a cultural pressure making many young women feel that they are not smart enough for these subjects. What is inspiring about her is she is involved in mentoring young women looking to enter the engineering world, and oversees Facebook’s scholarship award. Taking the initiative to encourage more females into engineering is important and something I am all for – Go Jocelyn!

Wendy Tan White, Founder and CMO of Moonfruit
Wendy speaks at many schools across the UK and believes that to change the perception that engineering is for boys; we need to encourage men and women to think about how they work together; to work in partnership with each other. This is spot on.

Wendy mentors for a seed fund and incubator company based in silicon valley, and is a mentor for the Astia Women Entrepreneur’s Programme. She is very much for encouraging women into male dominated jobs.              

Elsie MacGill (1905 - 1980), Chief Aeronautical Engineer, Canada Car and Foundry (CC&F)
Elsie MacGill is a historic engineering female hero. She was the first woman in Canada to earn a degree in aeronautical engineering, and the first in the world to become an aircraft designer. Under her guidance, during World War 2, operations were streamlined the CC&F production line to produce over 1,400 Hurricanes.

Inspired by her mother, Canada’s first female judge, Elsie was also a committed women’s rights activist. I feel inspired by this woman who led the way for money other women in engineering.

Ada Lovelace, 1815 – 1852, Mathematician and the world’s first computer programmer
Then we have Ada Lovelace. Whilst working with the world’s first mechanical computer; Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine; Ada Lovelace wrote an algorithm encoded for processing by the machine. This is considered to be the first ever computer program. To have this kind of female brain must be an amazing thing.

Lovelace foresaw the development of computer software and the ability of computers to go beyond mere calculation. Her “poetical science” approach led her to ask basic questions about the Analytical Engine analysing how people and society connect to technology as a collaborative device.

With such a small representation of women in the world of engineering, those leading the way take a keen interest in encouraging more women to consider engineering as a career. They work tirelessly with other industry leaders, organisations such as UNESCO and WES, and governments to set up numerous initiatives across the globe: from seminars, workshops and school visits, to funding initiatives such as scholarships and mentoring programmes.

So today, we are encouraging females to explore this world of engineering – you can make a difference like these women mentioned and who knows you may be an award winning female engineer one day.


Jenny Beswick is currently a freelancer in the engineering world working on global engineering projects that she runs as a female project manager through her
engineering telegraph job
. She has an academic background in science, engineering and business and is continuously expanding her education.

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