Celebrating British Female Engineers
Women have long stood at the forefront of innovation. Be they ground-breaking developments in science, remarkable leaps in technology or revolutionary changes to our infrastructure, female engineers have been quietly making the UK a better place for hundreds of years.
The problem is, these inspiring figures are rarely given the credit they deserve.
Take Sarah Guppy, for example. For most, this name means nothing – yet, if it was not for her first invention – a method of safe piling for bridges – Thomas Telford wouldn’t have built his magnificent Menai bridge. Beyond bridges, Guppy’s career spanned from technological innovations designed to improve the safety and wellbeing of British citizens to philanthropic achievements – notably the founding of the Society for the Reward and Encouragement of Virtuous, Faithful, and Industrious Female Servants.
But Guppy is just one of many influential female engineers that this country can be proud of. The list of understated accomplishments that women have brought to the profession is long, and despite the fact that the industry remains highly male-dominated, women continue to challenge this stereotype every day with their game-changing contributions to the field.
Below, we celebrate just a few of the female engineers that are shaping the modern world today:
1. Jean Venables
Professor Jean Venables CBE, BSc, MSc, DSc, FREng, CEng, CEnv, FICE, FCGI, MCIWEM is a British civil engineer and former chairman of the Thames Regional Flood Defence Committee. If the additional letters that follow her title aren’t indicative of her success, her achievements in the field of flood risk management along with the role she has played in inspiring fellow female engineers puts Venables at the top of our list.
In 2008, Jean Venables was the first women to become President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, having already received an MBE and an OBE for her contributions to flood defence.
2. Dawn Childs
Having joined the RAF straight from school after receiving a cadet-ship as an engineering officer, Dawn Childs undertook 3 degrees, over 30 different training courses and held 13 different postings throughout her career in the air force. For the most part, Childs was the first woman to hold these RAF officer posts and went on to become the first female head of engineering for Gatwick airport.
If anyone was proof that perseverance and passion pays off, it’s Dawn Childs, a remarkably talented engineer who has consistently worked to encourage more women to join the profession. Today, she is the Group Engineering Director at Merlin Entertainments who are responsible for over 127 attractions worldwide.
3. Karen Holford
Our list would not be complete without a Welsh female engineer, and what better example than Professor Karen Holford CBE, FREng, CEng, FIMechE, FLSW, FWES. A chartered engineer and a chartered physicist, Holford has led projects in revolutionary automotive design for companies including Jaguar, Rover and BMW.
Since kickstarting her career in academia, Professor Karen Holford has published over 160 research papers and over 80 peer-reviewed journals. It’s no surprise that her extensive work in the field of damage assessment has earned her several awards such as Royal Academy prize for Engineering Excellence in 2002 and Welsh Woman of the Year in Science and Technology in 2006.
4. Benita Mehra
President of the Women's Engineering Society and British Engineer, Benita Mehra continues to play a key role in encouraging gender diversity to the field of engineering. Not only was it Mehra who ensured National Women in Engineering Day became recognised internationally, it was she who actively campaigned for women in engineering roles to be allowed back into the workforce following maternity leave and she who worked to encourage small businesses to explore job-sharing for mid-career workers.
Having attained her engineering degree over 25 years ago, Benita Mehra has held pivotal positions in the aviation, housing and health sectors; her expertise contributing towards the design and construction of major terminal buildings and runways at Heathrow airport.
5. Pamela Liversidge
Elected in 1997 as the first female president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Pamela Liversidge has certainly earned her place on our list for the inspirational role she has played in the industry since earning her degree at Aston University. In a traditionally male occupation, this talented engineer started her extensive career at GKN but soon founded her own business to manufacture specialist metal powders for medical engineering.
It’s not hard to see how this industrial entrepreneur went on to win prestigious awards and appointments for her commitment to the profession, including Senator of the Engineering Council, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Deputy Lieutenant of South Yorkshire, and former High Sheriff of South Yorkshire. In 1999, she received an OBE for her services to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.