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Then and now: Nine inspirational female pioneers in engineering



Today is International Women’s Day, a day which celebrates women throughout the world and their wonderful achievements, so today we want to shine a light on some empowering female engineers past and present in an effort to inspire more girls into engineering careers. 

In an Accenture survey last year, more than two thirds of girls interviewed still believed that the science and technology sector lacks high-profile female role models. There are many reasons as to why few women end up in STEM careers, an obvious reason being a lack of representation.  However, there are still many existing female role models within STEM that young women can look up to and be inspired by. 

Below are just nine of our top inspiring women in engineering. Of course, there are so many inspirational women who have made, and continue to make important impacts into the world of engineering but unfortunately if I was to write about all of them I would probably be finished by International Women’s Day 2020! 

Limor Fried

International Women's Day


MIT hacker & engineer, Limor "Ladyada" Fried was the first female engineer to be featured on the cover of Wired magazine.

In 2005 she founded Adafruit and her goal was to create the leading place online for learning electronics and making the best designed products for makers of all ages and skill levels.

In 2009, she was awarded the Pioneer Award by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for her participation in the open-source hardware and software community. Two years later, Fast Company named her one of the Most Influential Woman in technology. And, in 2013, she was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Entrepreneur Magazine.

Margaret Conway
International Women's Day
(McAleer & Rushe)
Recently named Construction Manager of the Year by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), Margaret Conway is the first woman to win the overall title at the CIOB awards, which have been running for almost 40 years.

Margaret, who took charge of building Belfast City Council's new headquarters oversaw the construction of the building, which was completed under budget, two months ahead of schedule. She was commended for keeping the budget "under tight control" and for introducing a new software system to streamline the snagging process.

The institute also said she had "used her role to inspire and encourage young people - especially women - to enter the industry". She did this by securing work-experience placements for joinery, plumbing and electrical students and arranging tours and lectures with local colleges.

Nancy D. Fitzroy
International Women's Day

(Edison Tech centre)

Dr. Fitzroy was among the first engineers to work on the heat transfer of nuclear reactor cores. “I was always working on things on the forefront of technology and that’s what made it interesting,” she says. In 1963 she worked as a specialist heat transfer engineer with the Advanced Technology laboratories and 2 years later became a heat transfer consultant with the Research and Development Centre, working on gas turbines, space satellites and other technologies.
During 1979–1982 she was a manager of energy and environmental programs with GE's Turbine Market and Projects Division. Henceforth she worked as a consultant involved with gas turbines, nuclear energy, and space vehicles. From June 1986–87 she became the first female president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers—the first woman to head a major national engineering society. 

The Nancy DeLoye Fitzroy and Roland V. Fitzroy Medal was established in 2011 by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to "pioneering contribution to the frontiers of engineering leading to a breakthrough(s) in existing technology or leading to new applications or new areas of engineering endeavor". Nancy serves as chair for the committee that selects the recipients.

Amy Rimmer
International Women's Day
(Handout, Publicity Picture)
Last year Dr. Amy Rimmer won Autocar magazine’s Rising Star Award for British women in the car industry. A panel of judges recognised her significant work as an autonomous vehicle research engineer and her passion and commitment to the car industry. In addition, she won the Vehicle Development category award.

Rimmer said, “I am thrilled to have been named Autocar’s Rising Star. To be recognised for my work in future autonomous cars is really exciting. Encouraging young people to consider automotive careers is so important to the future of our industry”. 

Rimmer’s passion for numbers led her to study mechanical engineering at Cambridge University, with placements at the McLaren F1 team. She then completed a graduate scheme at Rolls Royce Plc, before studying for a PhD, working on autonomously reversing trucks with trailers. She joined Jaguar Land Rover in 2015 and now works as a research engineer on ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) and autonomous systems, and is developing vehicles which can navigate urban environments autonomously.

Reates Curry

International Women's Day

(Rutgers Engineering)

Reates Curry, is a technical expert in research and innovation. Curry holds a PhD in biomedical engineering and her focus is human-machine/computer interaction with emphasis on developing safe and efficient in-vehicle systems and technologies. She is a member of the VIRtual Test Track EXperiment (VIRTTEX) laboratory, which houses one of the world’s most advanced driving simulators. She has co-authored more than 55 technical reports, conference papers, and journal articles, and her technical achievements have been recognized with Ford’s prestigious Henry Ford Technology Award, not once, but twice. 

In 2017 she was honoured with a Spark Award for mentoring women and underrepresented minorities who dream of changing the world through STEM. 

Jill Hruby 
International Women's Day
(Society of Women Engineers)

Jill Hruby is the director of Sandia National Laboratories. She got the job in 2015, becoming the first woman to run one of the nation's three nuclear weapons labs.

Hruby joined Sandia in 1983 and did research in thermal and fluid sciences, solar energy, and nuclear weapon components. During her career, she has been engaged in nanoscience research, hydrogen storage, mechanical component design, thermal analysis and microfluidics.

 In 2016, the Society of Women Engineers honoured her with its "upward mobility" award, for breaking the glass ceiling in one of the world's most respected engineering organizations and for helping other women in the field as well.

Anne Aaron


Starting off as a senior engineer, Anne Aaron has worked her way up and is now director of Video Algorithms at Netflix. Aaron holds a PhD in electrical engineering and distributed video coding.
She leads a team of software engineers and research scientists. They make the software that enables more than 86 million Netflix members worldwide to watch streaming with the best possible quality. In 2017 she was named as one of the 43 most powerful American female engineers by Business Insider.

Marilyn Jorgensen Reece 

International Women's Day


When Marilyn Jorgensen Reece was in college, women who had an aptitude and bent towards the technical were often encouraged down the path of teaching. Reece enjoyed mathematics, but didn’t want to be a teacher so she became an engineer. She was the first female to earn full licensing as a civil engineer by the state of California in 1954. Following this she went on to be entrusted with the design of the San Diego-Santa Monica freeway interchange in Los Angeles, became the first women to serve as an associate highway engineer for the state, and the first women to design an interchange.

Among design critics, Reece's spiral design for the I-10 and 405 exchanges is noteworthy for how it looks, but the designer herself spoke of the engineering behind the curvature and how the ultimate goal was to keep traffic moving by allowing drivers to maintain speed through the curves. And Reece also acknowledged that as a woman in engineering she had experienced few obstacles to slow down her career, having found help and support among her male colleagues. 

Julia Collignon


Julia Collignon is senior manager in Tesla’s Renewable Energy Development sector.

After earning her masters degree in engineering, Julia worked as a structural engineer, designing structures like townhouses, concert halls and stadiums. But driven by her desire to see every American household and business tap into the power of the sun, Julia pivoted her career, and began working in the energy space as a project manager and later, a senior manager of engineering at SunPower Corporation.

Now, Julia oversees the development of Tesla’s Powerpack, a cutting-edge battery system that’s infinitely scalable, completely turnkey and offers commercial consumers and energy providers greater control, efficiency and reliability across the electric grid.

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Then and now: Nine inspirational female pioneers in engineering - Time to read 7 min
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