CEO, Women’s Engineering Society
The theme for International Women in Engineering Day 2021 had to be Engineering Heroes, showing the impact of women engineers on society, during the pandemic and at other times.
Derived from the Greek word hērōs, “hero” literally means “protector” or “defender”. In Greek mythology Hero was a woman, so the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) saw no need to feminise an already feminine word.
The major role that women engineers around the world have played in 2020-21 in protecting and defending us from the pandemic needs to be celebrated. For example, virologist Minal Dakhave Bhosale delivered India’s first testing kit in a record six weeks, submitting the kit for evaluation the day after she gave birth.1
Influencing public policy
Professor Catherine Noakes from the University of Leeds is an expert in ventilation and its effects on cognition.2 This led to her appointment on the UK Government’s SAGE committee, advising on airborne transmission of the virus and the importance of ventilation.3 Noakes was presented with a Royal Academy of Engineering President’s Special Award for Pandemic Service in recognition of her work, which includes the addition of “Fresh Air” to the public health campaign to stop the spread of the virus.
At the same time, the pandemic has brought into sharp focus how engineers also deliver and maintain critical services and infrastructure and keep civic society functioning at every level, supporting lives and livelihoods.
The pandemic has highlighted the important work that engineers do and shown that women are playing a major part in serving society
The collapse of the Toddbrook Dam in August 2019 brought engineers to the fore. Not only did the dam itself need to be shored up, but millions of litres of water in the reservoir had to be removed into an area where the water table and surrounding streams were saturated, all while evacuating the nearby village and dealing with the world’s press. Major Angela Laycock from the Royal Engineers led the engineering effort at the Dam and helped build the Birmingham Nightingale Hospital at the NEC.4
More engineers, more heroics
It shouldn’t take a crisis to demonstrate the need for more engineers, and obviously, we all wish for restrictions to be lifted once it is safe. However, the pandemic has highlighted the important work that engineers do and shown that women are playing a major part in serving society. We need engineers in ways previously unseen and hopefully this will inspire more women and girls to consider engineering careers.