I became an engineer because I was curious about how things work. I recall trying to understand how images got to our TV screen from a TV aerial and how radios work as a child. As my Dad is an engineer, it seemed an obvious choice to consider a career in engineering. Yet, choosing a career was difficult because my mum thought architecture would be more suitable. In the end, I chose to study electronics engineering because I could see myself enjoying it long term.

I now work as a telecommunications engineer within WSP, a world-leading engineering design and professional services company.  I design systems and networks using SMART technology within the transportation environment. My designs apply digital systems and wireless technology to provide real time information on various modes of transport to customers. Using SMART technology ensures that information can adapt automatically to help commuters make better informed choices, safer and seamless travel from location to their destination.  Some of my design projects include Crossrail, the Blackwall tunnel and Edinburgh Gateway station. As well as making a difference in what future technologies can meet customer’s transport needs, my work also contributes to saving lives. I am responsible for designing networks for end-users, including the fire, ambulance and police services and members of the public.

With WSP, I have worked on some amazing projects in the UK, Africa, Middle East and Australia and have a fantastic team of engineers who I support, and who support me, to achieve set targets.

My role provides me with a diversity of opportunities I have always desired and it also gives me a sense of purpose.  It may sound a little bit corny, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Championing engineering among ethnic minority groups

Engineering is typically perceived as dominated by a particular gender. It is seen as an unusual career choice for women and uncommon among ethnic minority communities.  The reality is we need more engineers in the UK regardless of gender or ethnicity. Therefore, with UK ethnic minority communities estimated to double within 50 years, now is the time to engage with this group.  7% of UK engineers are from ethnic minority backgrounds, with an average of 21% of engineering university graduates from BME backgrounds.

Alongside my role as a telecommunications engineer, I chair of the Association for Black Minority Ethnic Engineers in the UK (AFBE-UK). AFBE-UK champions higher achievements in engineering among ethnic minority groups across the UK. Our mission is to increase the number of BME Engineers who succeed professionally and support young people to explore a career in engineering. We do this by presenting an active network of BME engineers and showcasing the variety of opportunities in engineering.

This year, AFBE-UK celebrates its 10th anniversary. I am immensely proud of what we have achieved to date, reaching up to 6,000 BME individuals across the UK and supporting them into employment.

A diverse workforce opens up a wealth of possibilities, encourages creativity and fosters innovation. An organisation with a range of employees is well placed to understand the needs of a wide range of customers, and can interact with a broad client base. Engineering is a global profession and diversity places organisations in a prime position to recruit and keep talented individuals in a competitive labour market.

Visions of the future

In recent years engineering organisations have begun to acknowledge the importance of diversity. An example is the signing of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s ‘Diversity Concordat’ by key industry leaders. This is a commitment by professional engineering institutions to increase diversity amongst membership and registration and to monitor and measure their progress towards equality and inclusion. The uptake to date is very encouraging.

My hope for the future of engineering lies in an industry where engineers from diverse backgrounds have a sense of belonging, are accepted as members of the group and not the exception, and feel truly valued within the industry. I hope for a future when we can engage with diversity in a way that goes further than recruitment practices and where diversity translates into inclusion, nurturing and retaining talent. Such long-term impact is what AFBE-UK aspires to achieve through its programmes.

The United Kingdom has a long standing history of engineering achievement, and there is no doubt this will continue. Incorporating diversity and inclusion into the culture of engineering will guarantee a future of higher achievement and growth in the UK.

Nike Folayan

Nike Folayan

A chartered engineer with a doctorate in electrical engineering, Nike earned her PhD from the University of Sheffield. Alongside her work in communications and control at WSP, Nike is the chair of AFBE-UK, working to increase the number of BME engineers succeeding professionally and to support young people to start a career in engineering.
Nike Folayan

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