Recognising the Engineers of the Bristol Initiative for International Women in Engineering Day

Louise Holland
Social Media Executive | Business West
21st June 2024

International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) was first launched by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) as a national initiative. After year-by-year growth the day has reached global audiences and achieved UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) patronage.

Some of our Bristol Initiative members from the National Composites Centre, Arup and Stantec have joined us in celebrating International Women in Engineering Day, sharing their stories and experiences. 

We are proud to support businesses who in turn support women in their careers and build a better working environment for our region and beyond.

We heard from Dominika Mackiewicz, Associate Engineer from Stantec, Hannah Swinbourne, Research Engineer at the National Composites Centre, Lissa Mathew, Associate Engineer at Arup and Helen Charlick, Associate at Arup. 

Hear what they had to say:

What does International Women in Engineering Day mean to you?

Dominika Mackiewicz from Stantec:  

For me IWED is an opportunity to reflect on how far the UK civil engineering industry has come in the last 15 years. When I started my career as a setting out civil engineer on Crossrail in early 2010’s, I was often the only woman on site, had to wear ill-fitting PPE and hearing questionable comments was not uncommon. 

Things have changed a lot since those times. When I worked for Taylor Woodrow, a contractor, we introduced a range of women’s PPE. During my time at National Highway, I had the pleasure of working on a major highways scheme where the senior leadership team happened to be made up of nearly all women. And now that I work in a consultancy in central Bristol, we see a much greater proportion of women joining the civil engineering profession after education. 

I’m glad to look back and see all the positive changes which make the industry more welcoming to a diverse workforce. 

Hannah Swinbourne, Research Engineer at the National Composites Centre:

International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) is an important reminder to check in on the successes and ongoing areas for improvement when it comes to equality in engineering. 

It is an excellent opportunity to continue to champion the work women do as tangible role models for the next generation. It is also vital that we’re always on the lookout for what we can do better, including being better allies and stronger champions of under-represented groups in engineering.

Lissa Mathew from Arup:

International Women in Engineering Day aims to create a fair and innovative engineering field. First, it is a day dedicated to celebrating and recognising the invaluable contributions of women in the engineering field, both past and present. It highlights the achievements of women engineers and showcases their innovative work, which is incredibly inspiring. 

For me personally, INWED is a powerful reminder of the progress we’ve made in breaking down gender barriers in engineering and STEM fields at large. Reflecting on the stories of women engineers who have paved the way for future generations is both inspiring and empowering. 

INWED is also a call to action. It reminds of the need to support and encourage young girls and women who want to pursue a career in engineering. By promoting role models, sharing success stories, and providing mentorship and resources, we can help ensure that women have equal opportunities to excel. 

It’s a day of celebration, reflection, and commitment to fostering an inclusive environment where everyone, regardless of gender, can thrive and make impactful contributions to the world through engineering. 

Helen Charlick from Arup:

It celebrates the achievements of women in engineering, I love to hear about other women’s experiences in engineering and reflect on my own. 

It’s important for us all to recognise the valuable contributions that women make to shaping our world.

What does having a career in Engineering look like for you?

Dominika Mackiewicz from Stantec: 

In one word, varied. Over the years, my working days have looked very different depending on the projects I’ve been involved with and my role. From setting out drainage on a railway in the freezing night under a Christmas possession, attending all-day contract negotiation workshops in Birmingham with suppliers, to meeting with local politicians to provide updates on our projects progress. 

Every day has been different. However, there is a common thread through most of my engineering career which is trying to serve society. Most of my days are spent problem solving technical, logistical, and commercial constraints to deliver an outcome which is most beneficial for society. 

Hannah Swinbourne, Research Engineer at the National Composites Centre:

My engineering career is focused on sustainability and how we can be more careful with the resources we use from the planet. As an engineer in composites research, I work with customers from a range of industries – including automotive, marine and motorsport - to understand their product sustainability challenges, and work with them on potential solutions. 

I am most excited about the work we are doing across sectors to enable a circular economy for composites.  

Helen Charlick from Arup:

I am an Associate in Arup’s Bristol office, and I co-lead the Integrated Energy team. Our team’s mission statement is “to take our clients from vision to on the ground delivery, we are a team of multi-disciplinary integrators working to enable the whole energy system transition. Our projects realise a just and affordable zero carbon economy, underpinned by technical excellence and a healthy dose of commercial realism.” 

My career has been really varied, I have always worked in energy consultancy, but I’ve worked at three different firms and gained experience of different ways of working and lots of low carbon energy technologies from strategic planning and feasibility, to testing their performance. I have been able to direct my career to what I’m passionate about – which is supporting a low carbon energy transition.

I feel lucky because I absolutely love my job. My career allows me to care for others via being a team leader, to care for the planet via the projects I do and to care for every area that I have undertaken energy planning in. Daily, I work on projects which shape how an area can become low carbon, working with an amazing team that we’ve built over the last 6 years. 

I also balance my work and life with having a family and feel supported by Arup to do this. When I first started at Arup, I was a brand-new mum, and my team leader always encouraged me to leave on time to get home to my baby and supported me to express at work.

What are your experiences of being a woman in Engineering?

Dominika Mackiewicz from Stantec:

They are overwhelmingly positive because I have been lucky enough to forge a career in which I am always learning and growing. Thus far, I have had the opportunity to influence the environment I live in for the better and most of the time I get the satisfaction of seeing a physical thing built as a result of my work, which is hugely motivating. 

The fact that I am woman in civil engineering does not define my experience. Although it does provide a certain perspective to the challenges, we can all face in our working lives. 

Hannah Swinbourne, Research Engineer at the National Composites Centre:

I have been extremely lucky with the team and colleagues at the National Composites Centre (NCC). With ready mentoring, allyship and a great support network to turn to, my gender has never felt like a barrier to career aspirations. 

Before university, I worried that a “good engineer” would mean having to change my personality to fit in – that my natural people-focused, emotional approach to work and life would be a disadvantage to succeeding in the workplace. I have since found these characteristics to be core strengths which have benefited all teams I have worked with; be it design and manufacturing or project management.

Helen Charlick from Arup:

My experiences have varied over the years. I am very well supported in my current role, but there have been times when language used around me has been negative towards women in general, or the expectations of what a woman can do are different to those of men. I have been asked last minute to present at things because I’m a woman, and asked when I’m going on maternity leave which always feels a tad intrusive!

What career opportunities are available to women interested in Engineering?

Dominika Mackiewicz from Stantec:

The civil engineering industry comprises a wide range of careers including office and site-based roles. There really is something for everyone. As a civil engineer you can be a designer, a builder, a project manager, an environmentalist, a data analyst, and a whole host of other specialists in the fields of health & safety, biodiversity, buildings, asset management, water, geology, materials, stakeholders and much, much more. 

However, it is worth noting that the civil engineering industry is changing by the impacts of the green and technological revolutions we are all currently living through, so the range of career opportunities in different specialisms and disciplines is ever growing and evolving. 

The career opportunities in civil engineering in 5 years’ time will include roles which don’t currently exist, which is exciting. 

Hannah Swinbourne, Research Engineer at the National Composites Centre:

An interest in engineering can be tailored to the strengths and career paths of an individual. For example, opportunities can range from being involved in engineering projects through research or project management, right through to working in a Communications function. 

The NCC recognises that some under-represented groups, including women, tend to hesitate to apply for jobs if they think they do not meet every qualification or criteria – even when they do. To counter this, we have coaching programmes for managers to support development conversations with team members; internal mentoring support; flexible, hybrid working practices to support balancing work with other responsibilities and are currently working on career workshops to boost confidence of internal applicants.

Helen Charlick from Arup:

I think women can do anything they want within the engineering space. On average, Arup has hired 50% of the graduate intake being female over the last 3 years, and 48% of experienced hires, so I believe that the door is open for women at all levels.  

How do you support women to achieve their potential in the workplace?

Dominika Mackiewicz from Stantec:

I have been lucky enough to meet some inspirational women in the early days of my career, who were living proof to me that engineering leaders can be women. I still remember the value their mentorship, coaching and friendship offered to me, so I try to pass that on. 

Nowadays, I am intentional about providing positive support to women I see across the civil engineering profession through sponsorship, mentorship, and coaching. In short, I am particularly mindful of the type of role model I offer them.   

Hannah Swinbourne, Research Engineer at the National Composites Centre:

I have recently become the co-lead of the NCC’s Women’s Led Network, an employee-led affinity group open to all genders, focusing on experiences faced by women in industry. As a network, we’ve been able to influence the NCC’s recruitment process, and provided feedback which has improved advertisement success and put more women on interview panels. 

I took on this role because I would like to improve the day-to-day experiences for women at the NCC and I am passionate about supporting their success. I’m learning what it is to be a true ally and am working to demonstrate this every day. 

For me, it boils down to enabling a safe space that allows women to be their authentic selves. This means actively listening, learning from individuals how they want to be treated, and making a conscious effort to call on quieter voices in meetings and hear all ideas and opinions.

Helen Charlick from Arup:

I offer mentorship to women in other teams, supporting them to get chartered and supporting them to navigate the workplace.

Why is it important that more women get involved in Engineering careers?  

Dominika Mackiewicz from Stantec:

Women working in civil engineering is very important for a number of reasons but my personal top two are: firstly, civil engineering offers really fulfilling and interesting careers so women should benefit from those work opportunities; secondly, civil engineers make lots of decision which impact how we all live, travel and interact with the world around us, so women need to have a voice in those decisions if we want to live in a world which is designed for us all. 

The diversity of thought in civil engineering design is essential for creating a built environment which serves the needs of all, not the few.   

Hannah Swinbourne, Research Engineer at the National Composites Centre:

There are a lot of creative, hard-working women out there who would make excellent engineers. It would be a real loss to engineering if we fail to invest in unlocking this potential.    

Helen Charlick from Arup:

It’s important that we have people from different backgrounds and perspectives to shape a world that recognises that everyone is different, and there is not a one size fits all. I’m sure we have all experienced poor design - I recommend reading Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in Women by Caroline Criado-Perez for some great examples of how women are ignored in the world.

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