Female engineers: The women solving real-world problems

Tackling the big issues of the 21st century is easy – if you’re an engineer

Amy McLellan
Monday 19 October 2015 12:02
The UK currently produces the lowest proportion of female engineers in Europe, around 9 per cent
The UK currently produces the lowest proportion of female engineers in Europe, around 9 per cent

If you want to save the world, be an engineer. Politicians, campaigners and policy wonks may trade words, but when it comes to tackling the big issues of the 21st century – from climate change to poverty, from smarter cities to water management – it is engineers who are coming up with the solutions.

Emily Cummins is an award-winning inventor focused on solving real-world problems facing some of the poorest in the world. Her inventions include a sustainable refrigerator ‘powered’ by dirty water and a water carrier to help reduce the hours African women and children spent walking every day to collect clean water, time that can be better spent in school or building businesses.

Another home-grown investor is Sheffield-based Ruth Amos, who designed StairSteady, an aid to help people with limited mobility to use their stairs confidently and safely. Amos, just 16 at the time, has won a string of awards and plaudits for her design, including Young Engineer for Britain.

Other engineers are busy building and improving the energy, water, transport and communications infrastructure that underpin modern life. Helen Randell, a chartered civil engineer, who earlier this month won the prestigious Karen Burt Award, has worked on a range of transport and energy-from-water schemes across the UK while Laura Daniels helps big retailers analyse how they use electricity in order to accommodate more renewable energy on the grid.

Few jobs give you the chance to get ahead so quickly

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These are big jobs, developing key infrastructure, commanding multi-million pound budgets and managing large multi-disciplinary workforces. Nike Folayan is a telecommunications engineering consultant for the transportation industry, working on major projects like CrossRail, the upgrade of Victoria Station and a new station in Edinburgh. She still gets a thrill when she sees her ideas in action, be it the emergency communications network in the Blackwall Tunnel or a footbridge in Croydon. “It's such an exciting career,” she enthuses. “There are few jobs that give you the chance to get ahead so quickly.”

This is echoed by Avni Mehta, a civil engineer for St Edward Homes and currently working on the prestigious 190 Strand housing project in London, where there are 400 people and 15 different contractors on site. “There are very few organisations where you get these opportunities so early in your career,” says Mehta. “I love it. I love walking through the city and pointing out things I've worked on.”

There is no time to get bored in a job where every day is different. “We're constantly solving problems and finding solutions,” explains Mehta. “You have to be very creative.”

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