Enhanced by Engineering: the power of diversity in shaping our world

Author: Poppy Harrison

Date published

17 June 2024

The Institution of Structural Engineers The Institution of Structural Engineers
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Enhanced by Engineering: The Power of Diversity in Shaping Our World

Date published

Poppy Harrison

Date published

17 June 2024


Poppy Harrison

Poppy Harrison a mechanical engineer shares why International Women in Engineering's 2024 theme "Enhanced by Engineering" resonates with her and her passion for sustainability and the road to Net Zero.

I love my job. I have good weeks and bad weeks, and I suspect both friends and colleagues would say I'm a bit too busy for my own good. But at the core of it, I love what I do.
To me, this year's International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) theme, 'Enhanced by Engineering' is a fantastic way of succinctly describing why.
'Enhanced' is a great word - synonyms for it include intensify, increase, and amplify. This concept ties nicely to the fact that engineering isn't neutral; we don't exist in a vacuum. For example, I hope almost everyone reading this shares some of my passion for sustainability and the road to Net Zero. Engineers have so much ability, and therefore, arguably, responsibility to impact change in this space.
Shaping the world, addressing big problems like access to clean water and clean energy is complicated, and we have a real shortage of engineers to support this. So – why do we get into engineering, and what’s stopping more people from getting involved? This is complicated at every level (addressing the leaky pipeline of diverse talent?), but let’s take a look at school outreach.
The next generation enters our industry for a range of reasons. Common motivations include aptitude in STEM subjects, and influence from adults around them – teachers, parents, STEM ambassadors. Engineering is absolutely a technical,  problem solving career, and role models play an important role in inspiring new talent. But engineering is also a multidisciplinary field that encompasses creativity, problem-solving, and collaboration. I’d love to see a greater emphasis on the desire to change the world as a larger part of the drive for students to get into engineering. This means not only helping to develop innovative solutions to some of our biggest challenges, but also playing a part in transforming our culture and ways of working to ensure engineering is a field where everyone can thrive.
At a recent school’s event, I was asked why I care about and am involved with ED&I initiatives in engineering. There are some really basic reasons such as:
  • Why not? Why would we want to be exclusionary?
  • Isn't it just the right thing to do?
  • Diverse teams have been proven time and again to be more innovative, in a world that desperately needs innovation to solve complex problems.
But on the day, the answer I gave, was that engineering shapes the world around us. This includes our infrastructure, transportation, and energy networks. And I think that all of us should have the chance to influence the world we live in. The world that shapes us should reflect everyone. A great example of this is the kerb cut effect, where these disability-friendly features are used and appreciated by a larger group than the people they were designed for. If we think and design inclusively, we can benefit everyone.
There are, of course, lots of ways to change the world, and maybe I'm overselling my career of choice. But one of the coolest things about engineering is that it's a way to make a real, tangible difference. To be able to point at something and say, 'I understand that, was a part of that, made that' And if that isn't at least a little bit cool, I don't know what is. (I did once get a bit excited about a moving bridge when out with friends who very swiftly told me exactly how uncool this is, don't worry).
So - to summarise - if you're an engineer, don't underestimate the difference you can make, on people as well as the environment that surrounds us. And if you want just a few examples of ways you can get involved:
  • STEM Learning: I always recommend STEM Learning as a first point of call, not least because you can get a free DBS and good basic training (kids won't go easy on you!).
  • Your Institution: The IStructE supports a wide range of activities aligning with their values of competence, accessibility, and community, including supporting:
  • SheCanEngineer: a cross-institutional charity that takes an intersectional view on improving gender diversity in engineering, including through some upcoming INWED events.
  • ZERO: a global community with a focus on sustainability for construction, and a heavy outreach link to school initiatives such as DEC
Engineering can be a powerful force for good. So, whether you've been in the industry for years or are just starting out, remember that you can help shape the world you live in, the lives we lead.
So, please, get involved and help make a difference.

SheCanEngineer STEM video

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