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Supporting gender equality: Allia celebrates International Women in Engineering Day

We talk to Catherine Hanley, a software engineer at Cambridge Bio-Augmentation Systems

Cambridge Bio-Augmentation Systems is one of the many tech for good companies that form part of the dynamic impact community at Allia Future Business Centre in Cambridge.

The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, with 2017 surveys indicating that only 11% of the engineering workforce is female. International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) was born to draw attention to these challenges and to encourage women to consider engineering as a career. Allia itself supports tech for good and those that aim to make positive change and address the most pressing global and local challenges, through inspiring workplaces, effective support and social finance. Allia also aligns itself with the UN gender equality Sustainable Development Goal to give women and girls, everywhere, equal rights and opportunity.

Cambridge Bio-Augmentation Systems are also graduates of the Allia Serious Impact Incubator programme which has an impressive uptake of female entrepreneurs on its programmes, including female founders.

Tell us about your background.

“My professional background isn’t straightforward. Following my degree in Geography, I worked for academic and legal charities, then for an intellectual property barristers chambers but it wasn’t until I moved to be a project manager for an engineering research and development company that I realised I wanted to start doing something technical. I did a Computer Science MSc which was a steep learning curve, but I am so glad I did it. It took a leap in terms of confidence, but it was the best decision.”

What inspired you to consider a career in engineering?

“I enjoyed STEM subjects at school, but never realised that engineering was a career choice. It was only when I was working at the R & D company that I really saw it as an option. I ended up doing work with Cambridge Bio-Augmentation Systems while I was there and was inspired by the work that they do, but never dreamt that by doing an MSci I would be joining them a year later. Looking back at previous roles, I naturally ended up helping with IT and IT support. Eventually I felt that what I really wanted was to be using my creativity to make something.”

What do you enjoy most about working in this sector?

“I love the fact the technical challenges at Cambridge Bio-Augmentation Systems are so varied, I am always learning something new. We are one of the first neural engineering companies in the world, and it involves a lot of disciplines of engineering and medicine to make all of those different parts work. If you are trying to understand what nerves are saying it becomes a big data problem, but Cambridge Bio-Augmentation Systems have the largest neural data set in the world and are doing cutting edge research on that data. I like the fact that you are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible all the time, that’s incredible. It is easy to be passionate about your place of work when you feel you are contributing to technology that will improve people’s quality of life.”

“It is easy to be passionate about your place of work when you feel you are contributing to technology that will improve people’s quality of life.”

How have you faced the gender gap?

“I’ve never been made to feel like the female engineer in the room, so I find the figures really shocking as my experience at Cambridge Bio-Augmentation Systems has been really positive. I’ve always approached my work by doing the best job I can and know I will be judged based on that. It is inspiring to see examples of women who have made huge contributions to the industry and who have been pushing the bar higher but it would be great to see more. Though, if only 17 percent of the sector’s workforce are women, it’s going to take time for change to filter up to senior management level. These numbers need to keep being shown to people – because it is a problem in the wider industry.”

What advice would you give to women considering engineering as a career?

“Do it, do it, do it! Career opportunities are incredibly diverse; if you study engineering as an undergraduate course, or belatedly find your way like I did, the sky is the limit. Perhaps focus on the practical application of what you’d be studying and the opportunities you will have. Try not to get too hung up on the lack of women in the sector. It is a problem, but ultimately everyone wants to do a good job and be appreciated for what they do, so don’t worry too much.”

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