Respected engineer and government advisor discusses gender balance in Engineering

The University of Sheffield’s Nuclear AMRC welcomed onedamesue of the UK’s leading science and engineering advisors, Dame Sue Ion DBE FRS FREng to give a talk to staff on Friday 1 July 2016.

Dame Sue is a former group Director of Technology at British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, former member of the UK Council for Science and Technology, Chair of the UK’s Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board, and the Royal Academy of Engineering’s representative to the government’s Energy Research Partnership.

She was invited to talk at the Nuclear AMRC to University staff about her career, focusing on her experiences of gender balance in the engineering sector, and why the engineering industries need a broad and diverse workforce to thrive.

Dame Ion enjoyed science and maths at school and was inspired to study by her supportive teachers at an all girls Grammar School. She went on to study Materials Science and a PhD in Metallurgy at Imperial College London.

Her twenty year career at British Nuclear Fuels saw her moving up the ranks quickly to the role of Director of Technology, and she enjoyed a prestigious career travelling across the globe.

During this time, Dame Ion has investigated reasons for the lack of women in senior roles in engineering companies, and in the engineering sector as a whole. Her experiences working in engineering have only been positive but she found the problem was formed at an early age when girls are taught that engineering was not for them.

The statistics concerning girls studying STEM subjects are worrying:

  • Girls make up only one-fifth of A-level physics students despite the number of girls gaining an A*-C grade at GCSE physics being almost equal to boys
  • 49% of state schools have no girls studying A Level Physics
  • 28% of 17-19 year old girls have considered a career in engineering compared with 46% of boys

Dame Ion’s belief was that engineers themselves have a responsibility to volunteer with schools and young people to open their eyes to the careers possibilities before young people decide to their options. Ion herself gives many talks to young people on the importance of studying maths and science at a higher level.

Her talk continued with her thoughts on the importance in having a diverse workforce in engineering.

The Nuclear AMRC invited Dame Ion to talk on the subject of gender in engineering as they have recently submitted their work to be considered for an Athena Swan bronze award.

The talk ended with a short Q & A and the opportunity to ask Dame Ion further questions over lunch.