To mark International Women in Engineering Day 2021, Madano was delighted to speak with five inspirational women from a variety of STEM sectors about the unique challenges women in engineering face, and any advice they would offer to young women starting their careers.
Now in its eighth year, International Women in Engineering Day is held on 23 June to celebrate the contribution of women in the field, and to raise awareness of the amazing career opportunities available to women and girls. The theme for INWED21 was Engineering Heroes, and Madano’s Michaila Hancock spoke to some of the very heroes Madano is lucky enough to count as client partners.
The conversations that took place were so engaging that we were able to summarise them in a video and provide the more in-depth write-up below.
Who or what inspired you to pursue your career?
I would love to say that I had a five- or 10-year plan. I don’t think anyone has that in reality. I think one of the major reasons I’ve ended up where I am now is because I really loved maths. I had an interest in it, but I had very little experience in coding and computer science early on. Really, I came into the software world on the business side and found a passion there. It opened my eyes to what the business world surrounding technology looks like, and what people with technical skills and analytical skills can bring in that space.
– Joanna Crown, Mind Foundry
I had a GCSE teacher who was just incredibly passionate about maths. He just had this infectious enthusiasm and I realised how beautifully maths underlies a lot of normal physics phenomena that we don’t notice day-to-day. When I got to university, I absolutely loved it. I’ve always thought that teachers are so crucial in your career.
– Nikita Chaturvedi, First Light Fusion
Back in the day, I don’t even recall thinking about ever pursuing a career in this direction. It’s more about what or who has kept me here. I love the diversity first and foremost – building, designing, creating, decommissioning and anywhere in between. Over 30 years, you make true friends and mentors. In fact, one is my current role model and he’s the person who taught me a lot about the human aspects of leadership.
– Pamela, nuclear industry
The very first person that really inspired me was my grandmother. She designed aircraft carriers during World War Two, so she’s always been this pioneer.
Nikki’s grandmother, Mary Kramer, during World War II
But nuclear engineering specifically? I was reading a Dan Brown book about antimatter and, at the time, I’m like: “Oh, this is science fiction!” But then I started flipping through my physics book and I stumbled on a chapter on antimatter, and it changed my life forever.
– Nikki Maginn, Energy Impact Center
Regarding the start of your career, were there many barriers that don’t exist anymore or have the barriers changed for women, do you think?
Maybe the question is best posed to the people who were put off doing A-levels in maths or computer science, or didn’t decide to go to university. Perhaps those people could have had a fantastic career in the technology sector and don’t because they went down a different path. I’m very lucky that I haven’t experienced any barriers in getting where I am now. I think I’ve been fortunate in many respects to have had a lot of support at different stages in education and beyond.
– Joanna Crown
When I was a shift supervisor at a chemical treatment plant, I had to request my own toilet. I was the only female on that site and I really had struggled to find size 4 steel toe cap chemical-resistant boots to do my job, so little things like that. They were some of the physical barriers that existed then. I’m pleased to say, over the last 30-plus years, times really have moved on. I’m aware there’s more to do but they really have changed, and I think we’ve started the momentum now and it will just keep growing.
– Pamela, nuclear industry
I think it’s still the same barriers. I think that I’ve figured out ways to navigate them, and I do a lot of work to make sure that other young female engineers can navigate through it. As someone who transitioned from engineering to policy, it’s a really difficult transition, so the big barrier is: how do I do this and will I be respected if I don’t have the same credentials as other people in my field?
– Michelle Brechtelsbauer, Energy Impact Center
It has changed, for sure. When I graduated, nuclear was not a topic of discussion at all. Now it’s at the forefront. I do work at a nuclear company, but I can’t read the news without hearing about nuclear, so I think it’s very exciting that that barrier to entry is very much removed and now we’re just hungry for people to come join us. I do think there are still some perceived barriers, in the sense that there aren’t a lot of women in engineering and we’re not hearing about them. It’s the perceived barrier for students or young girls, as we don’t hear these stories as much as we do for male counterparts.
– Nikki Maginn
How has it been being both a woman and a person of colour in your industry?
The thing I keep repeating is that I came into this environment, which was largely white and male-dominated, and felt like I had to fit in, which obviously I couldn’t. Embracing that was very liberating. It didn’t change anything about the work I’m doing. It’s a colourful world, so I think just embracing my femininity and not being afraid to let that be very present is something I’d encourage everyone to do.
– Nikita Chaturvedi
What three things would you tell a young woman wanting to pursue a career in the engineering industry today?
Follow what you’re passionate about. I think you’ve got to enjoy what you do, you’ve got to be inspired by it, and it’s got to continually stimulate you. I think a commitment to lifelong learning, digesting information and learning more. Follow where your inspiration goes, learn more about it and gain skills that way. And I think if there’s a third one, I’d probably say connect. Connect with people and leverage the networks that you have around you. So those are probably my three. Follow your passion. Keep learning. Connect with people.
– Joanna Crown
Identify what you want to do and don’t be influenced by anyone else. It is an ongoing journey. I’m still in the process of discovery, but I think as much experience as you can get in different areas of work will help. Don’t be put off by the fact that you might be wanting to go into a male-dominated environment. It does have some challenges, and you might feel self-conscious, but that shouldn’t deter you from what you’re passionate about. Embrace your differences and the fact that you have a different background, because that might help you flourish in the workplace. It’s a wonderful thing to be female.
– Nikita Chaturvedi
The first thing I would tell that young girl is to embrace every opportunity that comes your way. There’s an opportunity to learn in everything you do, so be open-minded to learning and taking what life’s giving you. Also embrace your why. It fuels you and it helps to propel you forward instead of you having to push your way through. Finally supporting each other. It is something women are so good at.
– Nikki Maginn
Thank you to Nikita Chaturvedi, Nikki Maginn, Michelle Brechtelsbauer and Joanna Crown for their fascinating contributions, and for inspiring more women to shape the future of engineering.
Find out more about International Women in Engineering Day here.
For this year’s International Women in Engineering Day, we were delighted to host some powerful conversations with some of the inspiring women leading the charge in this sector. Engineering remains a vastly male-dominated field, meaning that increasing the representation and communication in favour of women is critical to enabling this to change.
Kicking off International Women in Engineering Day last week, Madano’s Michaila Hancock led a series of interviews with some of our client partners and discussed what it’s like to be a woman in engineering in 2021. Here are some of the highlights from those conversations. Thank you to Nikita Chaturvedi, Nikki Maginn, Michelle Brechtelsbauer and Joanna Crown for being part of the discussion and inspiring more women to shape the future of engineering.
In conjunction with colleagues from sister consultancy AXON, employees from Madano serve on the CSR Elective, a body formed to guide and promote responsible social programmes and activity on behalf of the two organisations.
In March and April, the CSR Elective hosted a Sustainability Series from Earth Hour (26 March) to Earth Day (22 April) with the aim of learning and sharing ideas that can inspire action. The series kicked off with four weekly TedTalk sessions, one of which has inspired our Healthcare practice to investigate pro-bono ways of supporting organisations combatting the health implications of climate change.
The series culminated with a live Q&A event on Earth Day exploring the link between climate and social justice with Ayo Sokale: chartered civil engineer, project manager and BIM lead for the Environment Agency’s Collaborative Delivery Framework Eastern Hub (Thames Valley, East Anglia and Herts and North London), Labour and Cooperative Councillor and public speaker. Below are some of the highlights of the conversation we had with Ayo.
Q: Can you remember the moment when you realised how connected the issues of climate, economic and social justice are?
A: I would say the first time I could articulate how connected they were was a lot later in my journey. I think I must have been about 25. But the point where I actually noticed it, but couldn’t put into words, was when I was nine and I chose to be an engineer. I chose that to be my tool to make the world a better place.
And that’s because I was growing up in a developing country and witnessed an engineering project that brought infrastructure. But it didn’t just bring economic benefit to the town. It brought healthy changes, such as children who had suffered with bloated stomachs from disease no longer had those diseases because they had access to clean water and better infrastructure. I saw economic infrastructure bring social change and create community cohesion.
Fundamentally, on a subconscious level, I’d actually noticed it at the age of nine, but it was a lot later, when I’d done the studying and the reading on the journey to becoming a chartered engineer, that I could actually put it into words and say: “Oh, these are the three pillars. It’s a social thing. It’s an economic thing. It’s an environmental thing.” So, I knew at nine, but I knew properly at 25.
Q: Which organisations would you say are doing good work at this intersection between sustainability and social justice? For people who want to get involved, where would you recommend they start?
A: The first practical thing I would recommend is actually Surfers Against Sewage. They have this amazing toolkit for tackling single-use plastic in your community, which I think was created with the end user in mind. We follow their toolkit very closely and started off doing litter picks, bringing the community together to understand that there’s this pressing issue of environmental degradation.
We did a mass unwrap with Waitrose, and they do amazing work. They worked in partnership with us and that raised awareness in the community about this issue. And then we started encouraging people to use the free recycling programmes offered by TerraCycle, and that was led by another local community group. We started connecting the dots, working with refill organisations.
So I would start with the toolkit that’s online. You can download it and get started today! It will allow you to put in place a really well-defined infrastructure through which to take positive steps, but it will also get you connected with other social groups doing the same work in your community, which will then allow you to create social and environmental impact, and economic benefits, for your community.
Friends of the Earth are amazing too. They actually inspired me to take action to address some of these causes. A member of Friends of the Earth on Twitter introduced me to the organisation and then I started looking into them myself. That led to my writing a motion about ways of increasing wild flower numbers and bees in a certain town and working with the lead counsellor. So thank you Friends of the Earth for sparking that innovation. Everyone should check them out. They are an amazing resource and they just know so much.
Q: What steps can communications consultancies like us take to support local communities who are suffering negative environmental impacts such as air pollution?
A: As a communications company you have a complete skillset that could be useful. For example, communities in areas affected by high air pollution are often deemed hard-to-reach, but actually they just need more engagement that’s specific to them. So you could run campaigns aimed at those communities to raise awareness of the health risks they’re suffering, but also explain how they can play a role in tackling that risk.
For example, they could sign a petition to ask their local council to reconsider the local plan and see what they can do to change it. I think a lot of communities are unaware of the risks they face and just need the right communication tools. Maybe Madano, with the communication skills, knowledge and experience you have, could do some of that work, particularly through your CSR Elective.
Q: How can we talk to clients and get them to buy into this? How can we speak their language and make them understand that this is beneficial for everyone?
A: Align the conversation with the clients’ KPIs. As a consultancy, you have to understand your clients’ needs almost as well as they do, so you know the desired outcome and how they’re measuring their own performance. So align this environmental justice work with their KPIs and explain it in terms of CSR or their net-zero targets, and then you can influence them through that self-benefit. Make it matter to them.
Q: As a civil engineer, what more should your industry be doing to play its part in combatting climate change?
A: Starting with a positive example, the Thames Tideway in London has not just delivered a project, but removed plastic from the river and its banks, and transported material using barges instead of HGVs. But as an industry that has a huge potential to create assets and increase energy expenditure, the questions we need to ask ourselves are: “Do we need this infrastructure in future? Should we retrofit our infrastructure? Should we focus on asset management and get away from creating new capital assets? If we are creating capital assets, what standards should they meet? Not just BREEAM Excellent, but how can we go beyond that?”
So we’re facing the challenge of whether we should be building new assets and, when we consider that, we really have to think about the problems we’re trying to solve. Because that’s what we do as engineers: we solve the problems of the day.
Inspired by Ayo’s rallying cry, members of the CSR Elective have already joined Friends of the Earth, and stopped eating meat. If you’re interested in working with organisations who are driving positive environmental change to shape the future, then check out Madano’s latest vacancies: http://madano.com/careers/
By Jessica Garner, Senior Account Executive in Madano’s Healthcare practice
Madano is looking for a driven Social Data Scientist who will play a key role in the delivery of research and key innovation projects.
Madano is committed to building a better world through intelligent and creative communications, which are firmly rooted in evidence and insight. But what does that mean actually mean? We simplify complexity, enabling individuals and organisations to make informed decisions on the issues that matter. Our work is underpinned by our insights capabilities, which allow us to provide evidence-based, intelligence-led strategies and plans.
This is an opportunity to join a high-performing team who know how to get results, but also how to have fun along the way. For more information on this vacancy and to apply, please click here.