George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer and MP for Tatton, salutes the women enjoying huge success in the worlds of science and engineering
Britain has always produced pioneering women in science and maths, and all eyes are set to be on this vibrant sector this year thanks to the opening of the mathematics gallery at the Science Museum, the Tomorrow’s Tech Leaders Today career fair for women (28 January) and Scotland’s Women in Science Festival (5-13 March).
More women than ever work in STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] careers and make up 14.4% of the workforce. But that figure is still low so it’s encouraging that 2015 saw more girls taking A-level maths than ever.
Here, the current generation of inspirational women explain how to make it in this sector.
Dr Melanie Windridge, 35, plasma physicist (above)
Melanie combines science with adventure, travelling everywhere from the Himalayas, to test the effects of intense cold to Norway to research the Northern Lights. With a PhD in fusion energy, she’s now business development manager for Tokamak Energy, who are trying to accelerate the development of sustainable energy. She says, “Follow your interests. If you enjoy something, you’ll be better at it.”
Eleanor White, 23, studies medicine at the University of Exeter
While Eleanor was studying for her first degree in medical sciences, she won the Quintiles Women in Science Prize, which I presented to her [in 2014], for acting as an ambassador for women in science. Her mentality to “seek out any opportunity that comes your way – don’t agonise over whether it is perfect”, is exactly what others need to emulate. As she says, “Find someone who inspires you and learn from them.”
Ruth Amos, 26, director and inventor of StairSteady Ltd
When Ruth was 16, her teacher, whose father had suffered a stroke, challenged her class to invent something to help people with limited mobility. Ruth invented StairSteady, an innovative safety handrail, for which she won Young Engineer for Britain. Two years later, she launched her company, which sells StairSteady around the country. For anyone eager to launch a business, she says, “When you’re out of your comfort zone, you find out what you’re made of.”
Roma Agrawal, 32, structural engineer
As an award-winning engineer, Roma has transformed London’s skyline working on buildings including The Shard, where she designed the iconic ‘Spire’. After gaining a degree in physics, she studied structural engineering and now, as a founding member of the Your Life campaign, she champions the need for more female engineers through TED talks and speeches to students around the country. Her advice? “Ignore all stereotypes. All that matters is passion.”
Bernadette Collins, 29, Formula One engineer
I met Bernadette when she was part of the team responsible for ensuring the efficient running of Jenson Button’s McLaren car. She developed an interest in motorsport during a student project to design and build a race car. She has since become senior strategy engineer at Sahara Force India Formula One team. It was great to meet someone who shows others what an exciting, dynamic career engineering can offer. She says, “I would encourage any girl who is interested in the field to research all the possible options and then choose a training course that fits what she wants to do.”
My 2016 pledge to women
“I want to ensure women in the workplace are paid a fair wage. In April the Government will introduce a new National Living Wage, meaning a pay rise for up to 6 million workers. Two thirds of these are expected to be women, who will see their pay increase to over £9 an hour by 2020.”