As CEO of a startup, a key part of my role is to read the market. I try to anticipate which trends are long term shifts that will shape our industry, versus those that will burn out quickly.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the competition for digital talent will be fierce. There is increasing demand for STEM skills in every industry – from the creative industries to the tech sector. The engineering sector in the future is going to have to compete more widely for skills and talent. For digital skills this is a global market.
One of the key challenges that we face in engineering is our lack of diversity. We are wasting the talent from people who have studied engineering, or other STEM subjects, but who don’t choose to pursue a career in this area. In particular, many talented black engineers don’t go on to work in the sector after completing their studies. Overall, the industry is 92% male and 94% white, which can make women and those from Black and Minority Ethnic groups feel isolated.
I have worked in science and engineering since 1996 and started my first company in 2000, aged 24. ‘Intelligent Space’ was a pedestrian modeling consultancy dedicated to improving the way cities work for pedestrians. At times I have felt lonely being the only woman in the room; at other times being different has given me more visibility and the ability to attack problems in different ways.
The Royal Academy of Engineering understands these challenges; both the need to increase the diversity in the sector, and to ensure that engineering is seen as a great career for all.
Alongside working with the Royal Academy of Engineering on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, I also have the privilege of working with young engineering entrepreneurs in the Enterprise Hub as a judge on the ‘Launchpad’ and ‘Future of Engineering’ competitions.
When I see these engineering entrepreneurs pitching for investment, I am inspired by the breadth of ideas put forward, spanning from medical tech to consumer products; and by the variety of disciplines the entrepreneurs have studied. The future leaders building engineering business have degrees in chemistry, product design, computer science, engineering and medicine. They see engineering being about problem solving; they want to be seen as engineers.
What is striking to me is that the engineering sector has a unique opportunity to increase diversity, catalysed by the changes already taking place in our sector. There is the appetite for people to think of themselves as engineers. We can build on this further and make engineering both dynamic and more diverse. This will enable the UK engineering sector to compete globally for talent – and win.
In celebration of International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June 2017, I will be chairing a discussion panel exploring the ways in which we can improve diversity and inclusion in engineering, looking specifically at the ecosystem of technology and engineering startups. Joining me on the panel will be leading venture capitalists, business angels and successful entrepreneurs. Click the link below to find out more and register for your place at the event.