The BrightSparks winners who are Changing Perceptions
EW BrightSparks is an annual programme to celebrate the best young engineering talent in the United Kingdom. 30 engineers under the age of 30 are selected each year from the nominations and are presented with their awards at a ceremony in London.
When the programme started, back in 2017, the initial cohort of winners included just 2 females, Chelsea Back (AB Open) and Saloni Chhabra (Cadence Design Systems).
This low number representative of a much wider issue within the industry, where only 9% of the engineering workforce in the UK was made up of females in 2017. In addition to this, just 15.1% of engineering undergraduates in the UK were women in 2017, far below India where that figure exceeds 30%.
However almost two years later, we are starting to see encouraging signs that the momentum is starting to build and more females are embarking on careers within engineering.
The EW BrightSparks 2018 cohort included 7 inspiring young women, almost a quarter of the total winners. This was also supported by the Women's Engineering Society report showing that the female engineering percentage of the national workforce has increased to 11% during that period. And whilst that is still a long way from achieving an equal gender balance, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
Among the accomplishments of these women who were part of the EW BrightSparks programme is amazing work such as growing eyes from stem cells for blindness at Great Ormond Street Hospital and designing The StairSteady – an aid to enable people with limited mobility to use their stairs confidently and safely.
We sat down with them following the awards ceremony to discuss Women in Engineering and how they are helping to change perceptions.
You can listen to their views below:
Ruth Amos (Kids Invent Stuff) - "There is still a way to go, but at least we're all going in the right direction. If I look back ten years, when I first started out in engineering, compared to where we are now I can definitely see a shift and I just hope that it continues."
Rachel Rui Wong (Ph.D. Student, UCL) - "Children get influenced by things like YouTube and when they watch YouTube they will usually see things like women vlogging about beauty or something. But just because they like that doesn't mean that they have to give up on engineering. You can combine both and show young girls that as a woman you can like multiple and different things."
Melissa Berthelot (Ph.D. Student, Imperial College) - "I think that peer-to-peer conversations are crucial, as that is how we come up with solutions. Whatever you see with your imagination, you can make it happen. Anyone can do it, I've done it."
Yi Chen Hock (Student of Electronics) - "Don't even mention that guys should do a certain role and girls should do another role. We need to get to a point where people don't even think about it and are choosing science or technical classes because they enjoy it.
"If you end up in a class that is full of guys, like I am the only girl in my electronics class, then you should be encouraged to not be intimidated by it because as long as everyone is enjoying their subject it doesn't matter what gender they are."
Nicole Weckman (Research Associate, The University of Cambridge) - "I think it's important to have role models, who are very visible as women in engineering. This allows the external community to see these wonderful women who are doing engineering and show that they are there and doing a great job. They are engineers."
"Have fun with it, look for something that drives you and you can be passionate about. Engineering has just a range of studies so don't be pigeonholed into thinking that it is one thing or you might not like it. Just try it and see what you like, find what inspires you and makes you want to keep going in this profession."
Oshi Deb (Engineer, Rolls Royce) - "It was great to have a round table discussion with our fellow female engineers. It was very interesting to know each others views, perspectives on engineering and how we all found our career paths."