Tim Johnston meets Kirsten Bodley CEO of The Women’s Engineering Society

Kirsten Bodley – Engineering Update interview 


Q: Hi Kirsten, thank you for taking the time out to speak with me today. Not long now until the 4th annual NWED (23rd June) We have been lucky enough to cover the day in previous years. What should our readers look out for that day?

With the success of the event over the past three years, this year the event seeks to celebrate the achievements of women in engineering and inspire younger generations by going global. This year, therefore, will be the first International Women in Engineering Day (INWED17), coordinated by the Women’s Engineering Society under the patronage of UNESCO.  

INWED is the UK’s largest such women in engineering initiative, consisting of hundreds of events and activities, from talks, tours, open days and debates to competitions, networking events, site visits, videos and campaigns – more than 550 last year. Through partnership with The Daily Telegraph, INWED also highlights the achievements of inspiring younger women through the ‘Top 50 Women in Engineering under 35’ list announced on 23 June 2017.

With the support of UNESCO, and as international events have already been included in previous years’ programmes, INWED has the potential to spread far and wide to many other countries. Working in partnership with many of the engineering world’s globally recognised names, we seek to foster a spirit of cooperation, collaboration and enthusiasm to celebrate the role of women in engineering, to highlight positive role models, and to inspire future and current generations to achieve their potential.


Q: As an industry some fear we are heading into testing times over the next few years. What can we do as an industry to encourage more women to remain in the engineering sector following a career break?

Returnships is a top priority in the engineering sectors and engineering companies, including many of WES’ partners, are attempting to readdress the gender diversity balance.  Although it is very much on their agendas, many employers are unsure of what actions to take and this is reflected in the low number of engineering employers offering returnship programmes.

I have spoken to lots of engineering companies who genuinely want to take positive action, but who are not sure where to start. One of the key issues is that recruiters often hesitate to put those that have been on a career break forward as a “gap” on a CV is frowned upon; employers also see this as a loss of skills. In addition, women that have been on a career break, especially if it is over 6 months, lose confidence and often do not apply for roles or apply for roles that are below their skills level.

Finally, engineering companies are not perceived to offer flexible working, which is often needed by women who bear most of the caring responsibilities outside work.

A big step would be for employers to be clear that they welcome those that have had a career break and offer support once back at work including mentoring. Being clear that they also offer flexible working is important.

A further step would be to also consider how women can use their skills by transferring from other engineering sectors.

Q: I really enjoyed the launch of the 90 for 90 campaign. This was great way of letting people know about influential women engineers of the past and present. are there any plans coming up soon for our readers to keep an eye out for? 

WES has its centenary in 2019, which is a wonderful opportunity to raise the profile of women in engineering and support a transformation in gender diversity in the sector. The Centenary Challenge is 30 by 30 so that 30% of engineers are female. This aligns with other partners’ aims.

WES will support this through the 100for100 programme will be a key activity of WES2019. This follows on from the 90for90 – 90 inspirational women for WES 90th anniversary.

This is a programme of engineering employer collaboration bringing together 100 partners who share our vision for a more diverse engineering workforce. We are now looking for interested and ambitious partners to become part of this elite group of 100. There are three elements to this programme:

  1. Recognition in the form of Awards to 100 Companies – for actions and impact in the area of gender diversity in engineering, applied sciences and technology
  2. Knowledge Share – through identifying the actions that work, WES will be able to create a library of 100 examples of good practice that could be emulated by others
  3. Pledges for Future Change – with the Award comes the responsibility to promise 100 further steps to further diversity and inclusion. This may include projects with WES.

Please contact us to hear more about this exciting programme! Please email [email protected] or telephone 01438 765506.


Q: We are nearing a 100 years of WES and what a great century it has been. What does the future hold for not only WES but the female engineers of tomorrow?

WES2019 will be about telling compelling stories from our past to share our legacy; to celebrate our achievements as a society, as women engineers and as partners; and to shape our future by leading transformation. There is still a lot of work to be done and WES will continue to increase its reach, encourage more women in engineering and to return to engineering, and support more women into leadership positions.

As I mentioned earlier, working with partners, we are challenging the engineering sector to achieve 30 by 30 and we would be really pleased for partners to join us in this!