10 female engineers on how to #BeBoldForChange #IWD2017

Today is International Women’s Day.

Celebrating the achievements of women, and various successes in gender parity, it provides us with the perfect opportunity to shine a light on the important issue of diversity in our profession.

The percentage of female undergraduates studying chemical engineering in UK is just above 25%. It’s higher than any other engineering discipline, but there’s still more to be done.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is #BeBoldForChange. To celebrate, our member-led diversity network has shared ten inspiring quotes from their popular ‘Women in Engineering’ webinar series on changing attitudes, highlighting how the engineers featured #BeBoldForChange in their careers.

These women (and one man!) are all at different stages of their fulfilling careers. Their words should inspire you to be #BeBoldForChange too.

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Top 5 UK Women in Chemical Engineering #NWED2016

The Top 50 Women in UK Engineering was published today by the Daily Telegraph, in partnership with the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). It celebrates female engineers across a broad range of sectors and disciplines to mark National Women in Engineering Day – 23 June. Over 800 nominations were received, so to make the Top 50 is a huge achievement.

But which chemical engineers made the list?

1. Dame Judith Hackitt

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The first chemical engineer to make the list (coming in at number 18), Dame Judith Hackitt, spent 23 years in industry before moving on to represent various professional institutions and boards. She was the Chair of the Health and Safety Executive for 8 years, and has recently become Chair of the EEF.

Judith was IChemE President 2013-2014, is an IChemE Fellow and an active member of the Institution. She is passionate about valuing diversity, and is strongly opposed to positive discrimination and tokenism. An interview we did with Judith for International Women’s Day is available here.

TOP QUOTE: “Teachers are ill-informed about engineering. They don’t know what it is and they have pre-conceived notions that it’s dirty, its greasy, it’s all these things which it’s not. And they say ‘No, that’s not for girls.’ You still find that even now, forty years later.”

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“It’s about valuing diversity”, an interview with Dame Judith Hackitt for #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2016

Today is International Women’s Day, and to celebrate we decided to put a chemical engineering leading lady in the spotlight – Dame Judith Hackitt.

Judith Hackitt, who was IChemE’s second female president (2013-2014), has had an eventful 2016 so far. The Chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), was made Dame in the New Year Honours, and has recently announced her new appointment as Chair at the EEF, the manufacturers organisation.

We sat down with her to look back on her career so far, and get her perspective on the gender debate, and the future of chemical engineering.

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Thanks for joining me today Judith. You have had quite an impressive career. I’m sure you’re a bit sick of this question but what was it like to be made a Dame in the New Year’s Honours List?

Well on a day-to-day basis it doesn’t make any difference, I’m not using the title anywhere and everywhere and insisting people call me Dame Judith! I was at home on the day the letter arrived, it was first of all a big surprise but also a massive honour. It’s hard to describe but you feel like it’s something special. I really am genuinely honoured to be offered this, and it was a delight to write back and say yes, of course I’d accept.

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Chemical engineer develops sanitary towels to help girls stay in school (Day 335)

Here in the UK and other developed countries, it’s all too easy to take some things for granted, such as access to education, to clean water and to sanitary facilities.

When we look at the developing world, it can be difficult to comprehend the challenges people face on a daily basis.

Photo Credit | Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

Photo Credit | Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

In Ethiopia, as many as 18 million young girls and women have no access to sanitary towels. This forces many young girls to drop out of school. But the good news is that one chemical engineer is trying to change that.

For most girls, their first menstrual cycle is awkward and embarrassing, but seen as a natural transition towards womanhood. However, in Ethiopia it can be an incredibly taboo subject. As a consequence, misinformation, negative beliefs and myths hold sway.

In the rural Tigray region of Ethiopia, where chemical engineer Freweini Mebrahtu grew up, young girls found out about their menstrual cycle through overheard rumour and myth; often leaving them shocked, confused and afraid.

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Differences make us stronger – International Women’s Day (Day 285)

Diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means that each individual is unique and that there is a need to recognise our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of age, sexuality, disability, race, religion, social background or gender.

It can be a very sensitive topic. On the political landscape there are issues around immigration and skills. At a more personal level, many people are conscious of the need to avoid discriminatory behavior and to avoid causing offence. Yes, it’s a tricky business, but I firmly believe that diversity is something that should underpin everything we do. And I am reminded of the quote attributed to the leading business thinker and author, Stephen R, Covey, who once remarked: “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”.

international womens dayDuring my career, I have encountered many senior figures from  industry and academia. The overwhelming majority have shared my view that diversity is essential; not just because it fosters innovation and growth, but because it right.

Gender, culture, age, background and life experience bring different perspectives to the table, enriching us all in the process.

Today is International Women’s Day, and on this day we will focus on the achievements of women and the drive for equality. This year’s theme is ‘Make it happen’.

I believe, as I’m sure you do, that chemical engineers make it happen. I am proud that, relative to many other engineering disciplines, chemical engineering is a diverse profession, but I am also aware that there is more to be done.

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In the spotlight (Day 204)

As we approach the year end, lots of chemical engineers around the world are picking up their accolades for a year of hard work.

I’ve selected two stories for today’s blog from Malaysia and New Zealand – countries with very active and enthusiastic IChemE members.

Curtin University - design award

Curtin Sarawak chemical engineering students awarded at Design Project Award ceremony. Image courtesy of Curtin University

On 2 December in Miri, Malaysia, ten projects were showcased by final-year chemical engineering students of Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia at their annual Design Project Award presentation ceremony.

Congratulations to Team ‘Innovazione’ who claimed the Best Design Project Award for its project: ‘Design of an offshore prelude floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG)’.

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Gender’s not the only issue (Day 97)

Career keyhole

35 per cent of IChemE’s students across the world are women.

Like most of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, the chemical engineering profession can suffer from a lack of diversity.

The most common diversity angle is the gender balance issue. While there is plenty of room for improvement, we can be proud of the fact that around 35 per cent of IChemE’s global student members are women.

A closer look at IChemE’s membership data shows how the chemical engineering profession is thriving, from a gender perspective, in some countries.

Malaysia tops the list with women accounting for 49 per cent of chemical engineering student members. New Zealand (40 per cent), Australia (35 per cent) and Singapore (31 per cent) also post strong performances for gender balance.

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‘Beeting’ down the barriers (Day 63)

A group of 8 female Chemical Engineering students from Strathclyde University spending the day at the Newark site.

A group of eight female Chemical Engineering students from the University of Strathclyde spend the day at British Sugar’s Newark site.

When you’re responsible for processing 7.5 million tonnes of sugar beet each year to make one million tonnes of sugar annually, you’re always on the look out for engineering talent – regardless of their gender.

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Elephants in the room? (Day 8)

Elephant in the roomI had an interesting message from IChemE member and MediaEnvoy Keith Plumb overnight.

It covers a sensitive and sometimes controversial issue – the growth of human population – but he also points out the power of individuals to make a difference.

Using Keith’s words he says: “The elephant in the room with respect to climate change is the growth of the human population. I used to think that chemical engineers could do little until I read an article about a man in India who developed a simple machine for making sanitary towels.”

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