International Women in Engineering Day 2023

International Women in Engineering Day is celebrated on June 23rd every year around the world, to honour women in the field of engineering. It focuses on raising the profile of women who are changing the field of engineering one degree at a time.
This day was created by the Women’s Engineering Society. This is a charity which began in 1919 following the end of the First World War, as many women had taken engineering jobs during the conflict and wished to keep working.
Elizabeth Bragg and Julia Morgan became the first women to receive a bachelor’s degree in engineering, by the University of California, Berkeley – U.S.A, in civil engineering (1876) and mechanical engineering (1894).
Nina Cameron Graham graduated from University of Liverpool in 1912 with a degree in Civil Engineering. She was the first British woman to qualify as an engineer.

In this article ten women share their recommendation for a woman engineer from the past who is inspirational and whose legacy has encouraged other women into engineering.

Top row left to right: Adalet Yurtcu, Ifunanya Kanu, Aisha Hassan Mustapha, Judith Lesowiec, Laura McFalls Bottom row left to right: J.C. Newell, Ebi Tumbo, Denise Williams, Sheba Winfred Kirabo, Jessie Moffitt
Top row left to right: Adalet Yurtcu, Ifunanya Kanu, Aisha Hassan Mustapha, Judith Lesowiec, Laura McFalls Bottom row left to right: J.C. Newell, Ebi Tumbo, Denise Williams, Sheba Winfred Kirabo, Jessie Moffitt

Adalet Yurtcu inspired by Sabiha Rıfat Gürayman

Sabiha Guerayman
Sabiha Guerayman

Adalet is a Rope Access Technician and Work at Height Instructor based in Turkey.
Sabiha Rıfat Gürayman was Turkey’s first female civil engineer, who also took part in the construction of the Anıtkabir, This is where Atatürk, the world-renowned leader of Turkey, rests, and the Turkish Grand National Assembly is held.

Thanks to the freedoms granted to women by Atatürk’s revolutions, she studied at the all-male Istanbul Technical University. She was the only female student and graduated in 1933. Because she was a woman in business life, she was given desk jobs and expected to work in the office.

She could not stand this situation any longer and asked to work in the construction of a bridge in a small district of the capital Ankara. Despite the fact that she was not allowed to work outside the city nor stay at the construction site there because she was a woman, she worked as the only woman in the bridge construction. In a short time, she adapted to construction site life and gained the love and respect of both her colleagues and the people of the village. She also completed the construction of the bridge by convincing the workers who wanted to quit because they could not get their money.

The bridge, which the local people named ‘Girl’s Bridge’ after Gürayman, is still standing stubbornly today despite the prejudices against women in business life.”

Aisha Hassan Mustapha inspired by Martha J. Coston

Martha J Coston
Martha J Coston

Aisha is a Biomedical Engineer for Jhpiego based in Ghana.
“A woman engineer who is an inspiration to me and who I would like to celebrate is Martha J. Coston. The reason for my choice is that, after her husband’s demise, she managed to pick up engineering from interpreting notes he made on flares even without having any engineering background. She was able to help ships communicate by developing these flares known as night signals. Martha was and still is a great inspiration to young women. She was resilient and intelligent.”

Denise Williams inspired by Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson

Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who all worked for NASA
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who all worked for NASA

Denise worked in Global Field Services Operations for Schneider Electric and is now the Leader of RDS (Real Document Solutions).
“The movie ’Hidden Figures’ was an eye opener for me. Women engineers working for NASA to enable space exploration. Three brilliant African American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – accelerated the USA’s place in the ’space race.’ Despite discrimination and exclusion, these women were major contributors, and elevated the work of women in engineering.

Ebi Tumbo inspired by Joana Maduka

Joana Maduka
Joana Maduka

Ebi is a marine engineer and based in Nigeria.
Joana Maduka is my choice. Joana is a Nigerian engineer. She became the first female fellow of the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) in 1974.
She also founded the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria.
In 2016 she became the ninth President, and the first female President, of the Nigerian Academy of Engineering.
I am choosing her because she did it when others couldn’t.”

Ifunanya Kanu inspired by Annie Jean Easley

Annie Easley
Annie Easley

Ifunanya is a Marine Engineer based in Nigeria.
“My choice is Annie Jean Easley.
‘I’m out here to do a job and I knew I had the ability to do it, and that’s where my focus was, on getting the job done. I was not intentionally trying to be a pioneer.’
These words, spoken by Annie Jean Easley, African American rocket scientist, mathematician, computer technician, counsellor, and teacher, remain as inspiring as they are true for women in a field such as engineering.
In a time of racial segregation and bias, Annie graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. She then secured a job at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. She worked as a human computer, performing complex mathematical calculations in its flight propulsion laboratory.
Her role evolved to that of computer technician in the advent of electronic computers, adapting and implementing code to energy conversion research and alternative power technology analysis.
While her professional trajectory is quite impressive, what I find to be perhaps her most inspirational quality, is her dedication to the job itself as evidenced in the quote above.

Encouraging women into engineering

Many women often shy away from male dominated fields such as Engineering because there are not many other women in the field, and the spotlight is often shone brighter on the actions of those in it, for better or worse. Mistakes are highlighted and attributed to a sort of gendered incompetence, to strengthen the age-old myth that women do not belong in certain spaces. This often leaves many women running in the opposite direction into “more conventional” paths, away from the responsibility and scrutiny a career path such as engineering brings.
But if we all viewed engineering as something we are passionate about, a job we love to do and can get done. Then maybe we just might enjoy the ride with all its highs and lows and inspire other women to ignore the noise and focus on getting the job done.”

J.C. Newell inspired by Hattie Peterson

Hattie Peterson
Hattie Peterson

JC has worked as a Biomedical Engineer and is now CEO of Newell Recruiting and Consulting. She is based in Texas in the United States.
“I would like to use Hattie Peterson, considered first Black woman in the U.S. to hold an engineering degree, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. She was a Civil Engineer. Hattie was an advocate for women to go into Engineering and she paved the way for women of colour. She inspires me as I push for the same things as she did. More women in STEM fields, more women of colour in Biomedical Equipment Technology, and to not let anyone deter you from your goals.”

Jessie Moffitt inspired by Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr

Jessie is a Wind Turbine Technician and based in the United States.
“I would choose Hedy Lamarr. My reason being that she was an actress and also an inventor. Hedy is an excellent example that you can be proficient in more than one trade.
Hedy Lamarr was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for the development of her frequency hopping technology in 2014. Such achievement has led her to be dubbed “the mother of Wi-Fi” and other wireless communications like GPS and Bluetooth.”

Judith Lesowiec inspired by Laura Annie Willson

Laura Annie Willson
Laura Annie Willson

Judith is a Lead Engineer with Atlas Copco and based in the UK.
“For the inspirational woman engineer I would say Laura Annie Willson. I think it’s incredible that not only did she co found the Women’s Engineering Society in 1919 and pioneer women into engineering that way, but she also used her position to help other women who were undernourished while working to create a works canteen. All of that and she was a suffragette as well! I am inspired by her legacy of using her position in engineering to help those around her.”

Laura McFalls inspired by Mae C. Jemison

Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison

Laura is an IT Ops Engineer at Shell and based in Texas in the United States.
“The one that keeps popping into my head is Mae C. Jemison. I always wanted to be an astronaut growing up. I remember watching her break barriers as the first African American woman in space. Then pushing the needle to further show women and women of colour could be engineers. Furthermore, that they should absolutely be in space!

Then, I gave a presentation on her when I was in grade school. I remember thinking, I hope I am half as successful as she is some day. Funnily enough when I began my engineering studies I started out in Chemical Engineering (but soon learned it was not my passion) which she also studied. Women and underrepresented individuals who take first steps toward breaking barriers and shattering glass ceilings will always have my utmost inspiration. Mae C. Jemison is a personal hero and a fantastic Woman in Engineering to highlight on June 23rd.”

Sheba Winfred Kirabo inspired by Dr Dorothy Okello

Dr Dorothy Okello
Dr Dorothy Okello

Sheba is a Field Service Engineer for Scientific and Medical Products and is based in Uganda.
“My choice is Dr Dorothy Okello. She has a BSc as well as a MSc/PhD in Electrical Engineering. She is the Dean, School of Engineering at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology at Makerere University in Uganda. Dorothy is a past president of Uganda Institution of Professional Engineers (UIPE) and was the first female President of UIPE. She has worked to get more women and rural communities engaged in the information society.
In October 2012, Dr Okello was awarded the Women Achievers Award for her service in empowering women and girls through Science and Technology. She is a highly respected researcher. Dr Okello has carried out most of her work with netLabs!UG. NetLabs!UG is a research centre within the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the university.

Further reading

International Women’s Day – some of our women members share tips and advice for Women in Field Engineering
Field Engineers from over 100 countries

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