Engineering a bright future for women in the sector

As our collective focus turns to International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June, it’s a time to reflect not only on past endeavours of female pioneers and to celebrate success stories of the many women breaking through barriers in the field today, but also to consider how the landscape of engineering will evolve and what that means for future women.

While gender parity in engineering may feel a long way off, it is attainable and should be a key goal for the sector, nationally and globally. Inspiring and retaining the next generation of female engineers is vital if we want to boost numbers long-term. We could then move beyond the ‘minority’ status many women hold in the industry to create a new, accepted normality; an equal ratio of females to males.

From my own perspective, I see evidence that the gap is closing. After some years working in a male-dominated engineering environment, I more recently joined the DigiTOP research team. This £1.8m project is developing a predictive toolkit to optimize productivity and communication between human workers and robots in digital manufacturing. I was heartened by large number of female engineers in the group and all they individually and collectively bring to the research.

To mark International Women in Engineering Day, I spoke to Ella Mae-Hubbard (senior lecturer at Loughborough University and DigiTOP researcher) to find out her experience of working in an engineering research setting.

What inspired you to become an engineer?

A few different things, it was certainly a journey! I think a lot of other people saw an engineer in me, a long time before I saw it in myself! My Grandad was probably my greatest role model and I had great guidance from my Design & Technology teacher at school.

Are there any challenges you find as a female engineer?

Do you know, there really haven’t been any so far. I’ve had some great opportunities and grabbed them with both hands when I did. I know that I am lucky and that a lot of people don’t have the same experience as me. I’ve reflected on this recently and now I’m trying to actively find and support others, to give them access to opportunities like the ones I had. Sometimes all it takes is encouragement – to tell someone ‘I think you would be really good at that, go for it!’

What do you love about engineering?

That it’s more about what you find out on the way than the destination. More than anything, I love the creativity!

Ella has recently created a ‘rich picture’ in order to communicate the many different facets encompassed within the digital manufacturing world, which is at the core of the DigiTOP research.

Ella’s ‘rich picture’ below has also inspired the design of the ‘DigiTOP Toolkit’ brand that will soon be launched on the DigiTOP website (summer 2020).

Figure 1 Digital Manufacturing Rich Picture, Ella Mae-Hubbard

The DigiTOP Toolkit is a compendium of best practice, data, and resources developed during the DigiTOP project (2018 – present). The Toolkit aims to be a community-building platform to inform and educate users on current best practice in implementing digital manufacturing technology (DMT) and its implications for workers and others who interact with the technology.

The DigiTOP Toolkit will contain resources to support work with a range of DMTs, including digital twins, virtual/augmented reality, industrial robotics, collaborative robotics, human-centred/physiological sensing for operator state monitoring, and system-oriented sensing. The Toolkit’s launch date is approaching over the coming months, so you will soon get to see how it all works.

You will soon be able to utilise the ‘Toolkit’ for yourself, so do keep an eye out on the DigiTOP website over the coming months.

Siobhan Urquhart, Project Officer – DigiTOP

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