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Women in engineering

The whole concept of engineering can seem extremely daunting to the average person. It’s a varied industry involving the use of science and maths to solve problems; from space exploration and robotics to the abyss that we call the Internet, it can seem like a never-ending subject to master.

It’s also a tough industry for women to get into – but through no fault of their own. Many women who obtain engineering degrees don’t end up working in the industry, often due to a lack of confidence and mentorship. There are many influential women in engineering that we should all know and take inspiration from.

June 23rd 2022 will be the ninth International Women in Engineering Day, aiming to give influential women in engineering the representation they deserve within the industry.

It is an incredibly important day, as it plays a huge role in encouraging young women and girls to kick-start their dream careers in engineering. As of March 2022, women make up only 16.5% of all engineers. International Women in Engineering Day aims to raise awareness and excitement about the engineering industry among young women and girls.

The theme for this year is Inventors and Innovators, giving women around the globe the tenacity to #ImagineTheFuture.

To mark this inspirational occasion, we at HRS would like to highlight five influential women in engineering who made their mark on this life-changing field. These are the women who dared to dream, and changed the world of engineering as we know it.


1. JoAnn Morgan

The first female engineer at NASA and instrumentation controller for Apollo 11

16th July, 1969. A day of giant leaps in the eyes of aeronautical engineering, but it was also a momentous day for JoAnn Morgan.

Amid a galaxy of white shirts and dark ties within the Launch Control Centre, JoAnn Morgan sat as the only woman in the launch firing room for the lift-off of Apollo 11, the first spaceflight that landed humans on the moon. The ‘precocious little kid’ who loved maths and science was now at the forefront of making history. 

After graduating, Morgan was inspired to join the space programme at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to become an Engineer’s Aide, a position available for two students over the summer. It was here where Morgan gained experience in designing rocket launch computer systems for the initial NASA flight programmes, working alongside inspirational mentors such as Wernher von Braun.

In 1963, Morgan began her full-time employment at Kennedy Space Centre as the only female engineer. In her words, she would ‘remain the only woman there for a long time’. In fact, she worked in a building where she didn’t even have her own bathroom.

After 45 years of service, Morgan retired in 2003, with an abundance of prestigious presidential honours, awards and medals to remind her of her inspirational career.


2. Hedy Lamarr

Austrian-born engineer and pioneer of wireless communication

Hedy Lemarr is most frequently remembered as a glamorous film star of Hollywood’s golden era, and one of the greatest movie actresses of all time. It is lesser-known that she was also an extremely gifted engineer, and a pioneer in the field of wireless communication.

In fact, she contributed to what led you to this blog - an influential engineer for certain! Her research and work are now used by people around the globe on a daily basis, such as within the development of GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi technology. Just think where we’d be without all of that…

From a young age, Lamarr loved to work on projects and inventions in her spare time. She even set up a workshop in her home, full of books and calculations. She had an avid passion for mathematics and the need to create something remarkable.

‘All creative people want to do the unexpected’, in her own words – and that is exactly what she set out to do.

During the summer of 1940, George Antheil and Lamarr began to develop what is now known as ‘frequency hopping’ – a process which allows both radio receivers and transmitters to change frequency randomly. An unbreakable code was formed, preventing intercepted signals or interference from the enemy. This was incredibly important following the outbreak of the Second World War.

Subsequently, this ‘spread spectrum technology’ made a huge dent in the digital communications boom, and provided foundations for fax machines, mobile phones, and many aspects of wireless technology.

Despite Lamarr being primarily known for her beauty and acting talent, there is so much more to be said about her brains. Hedy Lemarr is frequently mis-remembered as an influential women in engineering, due to her glamorous beginnings.


3. Mary Jackson

NASA's first black female engineer

Mary Jackson’s path to an engineering career at NASA was far from a straight trajectory. After graduating with the highest honours from high school, she went on to earn a dual degree in Mathematics and Physical Sciences. After this, it would take three career changes before she could land at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

After two years in the lab’s computing pool, Mary received an offer that could not be refused. It was there that Mary received hands-on experience from Kazimierz Czarnecki to conduct experiments within the facility, and it was here that Jackson’s determination shone through prejudice.

To gain a promotion from mathematician to engineer, Mary had to take classes at a then-segregated high school. For this, she needed special permission to join her white peers.

She persevered, and earned the promotion that she so deserved to become NASA’s first black female engineer in 1958.

A Langley Researcher profile from 1976 summarises Mary’s tenacity, spirit and character perfectly: ‘a gentlelady, wife and mother, humanitarian and scientist’.

She truly is a female engineer to be championed.


4. Edith Clarke

The first woman to be professionally employed as an electrical engineer in the USA, and the first female professor of electrical engineering in that country

As a woman of many firsts, Edith Clarke used mathematics to improve the understanding of power transmissions. She specialised in electrical power system analysis, and led a boundary-breaking career for influential women in engineering.

Clarke is vastly well known for her invention of the aptly-named Clarke Calculator – a simple graph-based calculator used for solving line equations. This creation would allow electrical engineers to simplify calculations in power transmission lines.

But this wasn’t all she had under her belt – Edith figured out how to use an analyser to obtain data about power networks. This work also helped to gather data about the power grid, and contributed greatly towards the beginnings of ‘smart grid’ technology.

This work led her to become the first female professor of electrical engineering in Constantinople College, Turkey, and then return to the United States as the first woman professional employed as an electrical engineer.


5. Barbara Liskov

Institute Professor of Engineering at MIT, and Forbes' Most Influential Female Engineer

Born in 1939, Liskov is a computer scientist who has made pioneering contributions to programming languages and distributed computing.

Her work on Liskov’s substitution principle, type theory and object-oriented programming meant that she received the 2008 Turing Award, the highest distinction in computer science.

Not only that, but she is one of the earliest women to have been granted a doctorate in computer science in the United States. She is still putting her knowledge to good use, as an Institute Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her work will inspire and educate the influential women in engineering for decades to come.

In 2002, Discover magazine recognised Liskov as one of the 50 most important women in science, and she repeatedly receives recognition for fundamental contributions to programming languages, programming methodology, and distributed systems.

In fact, her most recent project with the Programming Methodology Group at MIT focuses on the Byzantine fault tolerance – feel free to look into this field if you want your mind blown.

'There's always demand for anyone who can do a piece of good work' - Edith Clarke

These are five out of many women who persevered through prejudice, and these are the women who carried on learning in the face of doubt. Their inventions and research are far more than a piece of good work, and they should all be rightfully recognised as influential women in engineering.

Use our job search tool to browse the latest engineering vacancies from across the UK. We update them constantly, so be sure to check on a regular basis. And, who knows, one day you may find your name on this list, too!

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