Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) careers have often been under-represented throughout history. Even today, women only make up around 9% of the engineering workforce (EngineeringUK State of Engineering 2017 report). With the engineering skills shortage reaching a critical point, it’s vital that more young women are encouraged to consider careers in STEM. To help celebrate the valuable work of engineers and promote the contribution women have made to this profession, we’re sharing stories of some female trailblazers who are inspiring the next generation of Engineers.

 

1. Beatrice 'Tilly' Shilling OBE

“As a child, I played with Meccano. I spent my pocket money on penknives, an adjustable spanner, a glue pot, and other simple hand tools.”

Claim to fame: Beatrice Shilling was a British aeronautical engineer. During WWII, she invented the R.A.E. restrictor; a small metal disc similar to a metal washer. This restricted fuel flow to the carburettor, helping to prevent the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines from stalling in the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters and allowed the RAF to match the manoeuvrability of the Luftwaffe fighters. She was awarded an OBE after the war for her efforts.

How she inspired the next generation of female engineers

One of only two female engineering graduates from the Victoria University of Manchester in 1932 (in fact, women were so under-represented at the time that her student record card did not display female titles as an option), Beatrice paved the way for 20th century women (and beyond) to pursue their passion and successfully take on STEM careers.

 

2. Victoria Drummond MBE

Claim to fame: Victoria Drummond was the UK’s first female marine engineer and the first woman to become a member of the Institute of Marine Engineers. During WWII, she served at sea as a chief engineer in the British Merchant Navy. As a result of her bravery under fire, she was awarded an MBE in 1941, and also became the first woman to receive the Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea.

How she inspired the next generation of female engineers

Victoria allowed a whole new generation of women to consider careers in industries that were previously off limits to them. Today, 52% of naval engineers believe that diversity in their sector is improving (Matchtech’s Voice of the Workforce).

 

3. Katherine Johnson

”Know how to learn, then, want to learn.”

Claim to fame: Throughout her NASA career, Katherine Johnson calculated the trajectories, launch windows, and emergency back-up return paths for many flights, from Project Mercury and the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, through to the space shuttle programme. Even after the introduction of computers, John Glenn (the first American to orbit Earth) requested that she personally checked their calculations before his flight aboard Friendship 7 as her calculations were critical to the success of each of these prior missions. She has also performed calculations for the plans for a mission to Mars.

How she inspired the next generation of female engineers

Throughout history, women and people of minority groups have been drastically under-represented in STEM industries. Katherine’s participation in these NASA missions proves that anyone with the passion and determination to succeed can have a successful STEM career and shouldn’t be put off by the outdated perception of these professions.. With films such as ‘Hidden Figures’ now showcasing this ‘forgotten’ side of history, more young women than ever can be inspired.

4. Paige Kassalen

“The power to invent the future is really what motivates me to continue pushing the boundaries in STEM.”

Claim to fame: Paige is an electrical engineer who was part of the ground crew on the first ever solar-powered plane, Solar Impulse II. This plane was the first of its kind to complete a round-the-world flight without using fossil fuel. As the youngest and only female engineer involved in this project, she was listed on the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2017.

How she inspires the next generation of female engineers

Paige is an advocate for encouraging young girls to consider a career in engineering, and says that they “shouldn’t have to go through their childhood and education thinking that careers in STEM are only for men. It is one of my goals to break down that barrier and show young girls that it is possible to pursue a career in STEM and succeed at it.”

 

View our current engineering jobs here.

International Day of Women in Science is on Sunday 11 February. Find out more here.

 

 

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