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Four women changing perceptions in a male-dominated industry

23 June 2017

With International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June, NT CADCAM is joining the mission to encourage more women to consider a career in the sector.

Ping Fu - Co-founder of NT CADCAM’s cutting-edge scanning software Geomagic Design X

It’s no secret that the biggest challenge to the UK engineering sector right now is people. The UK needs 200,000 engineering graduates each year. That’s double the current number joining the sector, so it’s no wonder six out of 10 engineering employers see a shortage as a threat to their business. But despite the UK’s infamous engineering skills crisis, women still make up less than 10 percent of the UK engineering workforce. 

Ian Weston, director of NT CADCAM says: “With such a shortfall, it raises the question why the employment rate for female engineers is so embarrassingly low - a mere 6 percent. The lack of skilled men available for work should open the door for more career-minded women, and the sector certainly needs more women to survive.”

But as NT CADCAM has discovered, you don’t have to look very far to find some truly inspirational stories about women doing great things in engineering. 

• Allie McAdam is one of the world’s leading railway engineers behind the St Pancras International refurbishment, High Speed One and Crossrail;

• Ping Fu is the woman behind NT CADCAM’s reverse engineering scanning software, Geomagic Design X; 

• Lisa Su is now CEO of its hardware partners AMD and has just been named one of the ‘World’s Greatest Leaders’ by Fortune magazine; 

• while ex-RAF avionics mechanic Julie Brierley is now working with NT CADCAM’s STEM partners at RAF Museum Cosford, showcasing the opportunities and life skills a career in engineering can bring. 

For those who assume the sector is just for men, here’s what these women in engineering have done to change perceptions:

Allie McAdam

On Allie’s Crossrail project, an above average of 30 percent of engineers employed were women, and she says events like International Women in Engineering Day are key to raising awareness and inspiring future generations.

“Women can feel drawn to being part of a team that’s doing something to help the world,” says Allie. “Engineers have a direct impact on people’s lives, sustainability, the environment, disadvantaged countries and communities.”

With an estimated million engineers and technicians needed before the end of the decade, Allie continues: “I know mixed teams make more sense – they’re more profitable, but that’s not all that matters. I visit schools and I know that many girls don’t have the right information about engineering to make an informed decision.”

Ping Fu 

Co-founder of NT CADCAM’s cutting-edge scanning software Geomagic Design X, Ping’s story is a true tale of triumph over adversity. Born in China, at eight-years-old she was separated from her family in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution and sent to a re-education camp in another city with her four-year-old sister to protect. Exiled from China in her early twenties with no money and little English, Ping was deported to America with just $80. 

Lisa Su has gone on to establish herself as a pioneering engineer in the semi-conductor industry

Ping made it through with waitressing jobs and enrolled at university to study computer science. She went on to gain more than 20 years of software industry experience (she was part of the team that initiated and managed the NCSA Mosaic software project that led to Netscape and Internet Explorer) and co-founded Geomagic in 1997.

A 3D imaging software, Geomagic Design X is the industry’s most comprehensive reverse engineering software that allows solid modelling extraction and accurate exact surface fitting into organic 3D scans, mesh editing and point cloud processing. 

Lisa Su

A budding engineer by the age of 10 – when she used to take apart and then fix her brother’s remote-control cars to see how they worked – Lisa Su has gone on to establish herself as a pioneering engineer in the semi-conductor industry. A major industry achievement was being a driving force behind IBM’s work to replace the industry standard aluminium interconnects that were used in nearly every major chip with copper.

Lisa joined NT CADCAM’s hardware partners AMD in 2011 and played a prominent role in pushing the company to diversify beyond the PC market to place AMD chips in Xbox and PS4 game consoles.

Made CEO in 2014, Lisa was recently announced by Fortune Magazine as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders after she quadrupled the company’s stock price in 2016 with plans for a whole new family of microprocessors, dubbed Ryzen. AMD’s professional graphics cards are designed for advanced SOLIDWORKS workflows. 

Julie Brierley 

At school, Julie discovered a natural flair for electronics and was encouraged by her teachers to consider swapping her chosen vocation of nursing to become an engineer. She enrolled with the RAF as an avionics apprentice, learning about air radar and communications, before becoming the first female Avionics Mechanic onto 17 Squadron Germany. 

Fixing Tornado and Jaguar aircrafts, she served two tours in Saudi Arabia and a post in Incirlik, Turkey. She is now a STEM ambassador at the RAF Museum Cosford encouraging the next generation of engineers. 

Julie says: “Being a female avionics mechanic has its advantages – we often worked in confined spaces and I’d find myself upside down in cockpits repairing equipment before a flight. The roar of the aircraft and the job satisfaction when they take off is incredible. 

“International Women in Engineering Day is so important to highlight the vast opportunities and wide range of roles available for women in some typically male-dominated industries. The opportunities, training and life skills that are available in the RAF gave me the opportunity to pursue something I feel passionate about.”

At RAF Museum Cosford, Julie hopes to inspire young women to follow their ambitions and showcase aviation as a possible career path.

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