INWED 2022: Paths to Engineering

23 June 2022

Happy International Women in Engineering Day!

Organised by the Women’s Engineering Society, International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) is celebrating its 9th anniversary this year.

The international awareness campaign aims to raise the profile of women in engineering and to focus attention on the amazing career opportunities available to women and girls in this exciting industry.

To celebrate INWED this year, we're sharing the stories of a few of our female engineers' paths from school to their careers in engineering. Enjoy!

Joanna John, Senior Engineer and Partner

Joanna JohnAt the age of 13, when I was choosing my Standard Grade (Scottish equivalent to GCSEs) subjects, top of my list for career aspirations was to study architecture. For many years buildings had had a fascinating draw for me. However, in the time it took to finish high school I have to admit I somewhat lost my bottle - I thought, "What if I don’t like architecture? It’s a 7-year course!" Seven years seemed almost inconceivable in the prime of my teenage years.

So, instead, I went on to study Physics at the University of Leeds having always performed well at and enjoyed the sciences. I really enjoyed my time at university, both academically and socially, and grew in confidence as a person there. By the end of university, however, I was ready to move on from the academic side of things, but wasn’t really sure in what direction to head. It was possibly the first time there had been no clear ‘next move’ to make.

In the end I decided to try teaching. I trained for a year in Liverpool and then got my first teaching job in Surrey. In short, I did not enjoy it and in the process my confidence took a knock! Teaching was not the career for me, but making that decision to change tac, especially right in amongst a global recession (it was the late 2000’s) was no mean feat, but ultimately was a decision I’m proud I made.

After that I was very unsure where to go next. Having had a break from academia I considered returning to study for a PhD. I also considered training for a role in medical physics as I liked the idea of a people-oriented job. But I also wondered if there was a way for me to get a job connected to buildings and architecture, the first career I’d really aspired to. And it was in searching for this possibility that I came across Max Fordham and the concept of a building services engineer - and haven’t looked back in nearly 11 years.

So, careers and career paths aren’t always straight forward, they don’t necessarily follow a clear path from aspirations in younger years. And even the not-so-great bits of careers can still have positive sides - without time teaching I never would have met my husband! So go forth, try out careers, but don’t be afraid to change direction if something's not right for you - that’s how I ended up as a woman in engineering!

Katie Clemence-Jackson, Senior Engineer and Managing Partner

Katie Clemence-Jackson

I’m the sort of person who is interested in everything, so I had no clear idea what career I wanted throughout my school years. During sixth form I came up with various ideas of what I might do, from an advertising creative to a forensic scientist. In hindsight, these may have been influenced by whatever TV shows or books I had seen at the time! In the end I decided to go for a technical degree. I went for Civil Engineering with an additional module in Spanish, because I thought it might combine academic study with creativity in design, and allow me to continue studying a language. In a way I think I partly chose engineering because I’m a bit of a contrarian - I thought nobody would expect me to do that. I studied at Imperial College in London.

After getting my degree, I had a brief spell where I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into engineering. I worked for an educational start-up company and got into final interviews for some jobs in insurance. I didn’t get those jobs, which now I think may have been fate. I knew that I really loved working with people, being creative, and also coming up with technical solutions to problems. When I stumbled across Max Fordham I realised that a career here could tick all of those boxes, and I have worked here ever since. I’m still interested in everything, and this has led me to expand my career into sustainability, and now into helping run the business itself as one of the Managing Partners.

Patricia Steven, Senior Engineer and Partner

Patricia StevenMy path has been pretty clear. There was a brief period when I wanted to be a vet, but I dismissed that when I fainted while doing work experience at a vet's office.

My dad is an engineer and I've always been amazed by his ability to fix just about anything. He knew I would follow in his footsteps when, as a child, I rigged up a piece of string to allow me to turn off my bedroom light from bed. Additionally, I was good at math and physics at school so it's no surprise I ended up in engineering.

Mechanical engineering seemed to me to be full of possibilities and could lead you just about anywhere. My path led me to building services at Max Fordham because they really care about the environment and reducing the impact of buildings on it.

Ingrid Berkeley, Principal Sustainability Consultant and Partner

Ingrid BerkeleyWhen I left school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I was always good with numbers and enjoyed science at school so did a degree in physics. After I finished my degree, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do! So, I took a gap year and did various work placements to help me decide. I really commend this as it’s hard to understand what’s involved in a job until you try it, even just a week shadowing someone can give a lot of insight.

During my gap year, I worked as a research assistant at the University of Edinburgh on a project funded by Mars (the chocolate company) looking at the physics of chocolate! I also did a placement at a nuclear power station and did some STEM Ambassador work promoting physics at schools. What really inspired me to work in this field was attending EcoBuild – a conference about sustainability in architecture. At this conference I heard Max Fordham speaking passionately about sustainability, which I’ve always cared about, and that’s when I decided to combine my love of architecture and passion for mitigating climate change, and applied for a Master’s in Architectural Engineering at Heriot-Watt University. I really loved this course, enjoying it much more than pure physics and it was during this master’s that I knew this was going to be the right career for me. A few years ago, I was invited back to the Industry Advisory Panel at Heriot-Watt University for this course, which has been a real honour as it was a big turning point in my career.

After university, I got a job as energy engineer at KJ Tait Engineering, before moving to work at Max Fordham LLP. It’s really great being able to work for the business that inspired me all those years ago at EcoBuild!