To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, engineer and entrepreneur Heba Bevan discusses her work as a STEM ambassador and her mission to encourage more women and girls to take up a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Formerly a doctoral student at the EPSRC-supported Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction, in 2013 Heba launched UtterBerry, a wireless sensor system for civil engineering instrumentation and monitoring that has won several awards and been used in major infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and Thames Tideway project...
As a passionate engineer I believe in the talent and potential in this country, evidenced by the centuries-old structures which are still in use such as Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament, and the innovation that Britain continues to offer the world. UtterBerry itself has been monitoring iconic structures, such as London’s Tower Bridge and Listed Greenwich pumping station. This country contains a rich pool of talent, and it is important to ensure that talented young people are aware of how rewarding a career in engineering can be, and the routes into engineering.
A Balancing Act?
For too long the notion that a woman would find it impossible to balance a career and a family has prevented talented females from taking up careers in STEM. It is time for this idea to be shown to be outdated and incorrect. For many female engineers, including myself, it is absolutely possible to bring up a family whilst enjoying a successful career.
I think that one of the major barriers to encouraging women into STEM occurs in early education. I have served as a STEM Ambassador for primary and secondary schools and have experienced first-hand the importance of developing certain ways of thinking at an early age. A passion for problem-solving is integral to a successful career in science and engineering and this, in my opinion, is not developed enough in young girls. Toys and games such as chess, cars and Lego are heavily orientated towards boys and in many cases this leads to a lack of developed interest in these areas from girls. Instead of looking at an engineering career, a highly motivated woman may be more inclined to become a lawyer or a doctor as they were not exposed to practical, engineering-style activities when they were younger. Along with many others, I am working towards affecting change in this area through my involvement in youth programmes, by actively speaking with young people to help their interest in engineering.
Strength in Diversity
Of course, it is not all about what a career in engineering can do for women, but what more women in the field can do to transform engineering as a whole. Diversity in the workplace is essential to increasing creativity and can enhance the work environment, making it more enjoyable and productive for every employee. Multiple, diverse perspectives can lead to a more dynamic engineering process and a better developed end product, particularly if women are the end users.
Attracting the right people
I am concerned that the field of engineering is sometimes slightly undervalued as a profession. It is often seen as male dominated, dirty and labour intensive when it can in fact be quite the opposite. I believe that engineering as a profession should be more widely presented to all walks of life; it can open up an array of exciting career options from robotics and space to fashion design and environmental management. Most importantly, the vast reach and importance of engineering in the world today means that, by choosing a career in this exciting industry, you can really make a difference.
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Heba Bevan is the CEO and founder of UtterBerry, a technology company providing cutting edge wireless systems for smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT). Her inventions include the award-winning UtterBerry sensor, the world’s smallest wireless sensor and the only sensor with embedded artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine learning capabilities.
Heba was previously a central processing unit (CPU) architect for ARM and was an integral designer of the ARM Cortex found in virtually all mobile phones today. She read electronics and computer engineering at university, receiving a first for her robotics visualisation project, and conducted PhD research on low power wireless sensor networks at Cambridge University.