What I am Thinking: Structural Designer Of The Millennium Wheel And Role Model Jane Wernick

In the coming decade, the United States will have to add 250 000 civil engineers to its workforce in addition to replacing those who will retire. However, only 12.2% of the current American civil engineers are female. These statistics indicate the need to encourage young people, especially from underrepresented groups in civil engineering, to pursue engineering opportunities in their education.  As a PhD student in the 90’s I met the structural designer Jane Wernick at the IASS conference in Denmark. She offered a positive influence on my educational and career plans. A few years later I ended up working with her at her own engineering consulting office Jane Wernick Associates (London, UK). Jane believes that structural engineers can have a great impact on the built environment and hence the quality of life of people, yet they have to remember that they have a huge responsibility to the planet and its sustainability. She states that her biggest achievements are “.. my involvement in the Millenium Wheel and starting my own practice”[1].

In a gender equality survey only 35% of people could name a famous, outstanding or senior female engineer. Next to chemist Marie Curie and the scientist and Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr, Jane was named in that survey most often [2]. Jane was recently awarded a Commander of the Order of the British Empire award for her services to structural and civil engineering.  On women’s day (8th March), I would like to find out why she became an engineer

“I attended a girls’s school which had produced no engineers. When I was 14, a woman engineer spoke to us. She said she enjoyed the job because she was good at maths and physics and liked making things. That summed up my feelings. So I read about it and realized there was almost nothing I could see around me that hadn’t been influenced by an engineer. I decided to go for civil engineering.“
Jane Wernick  [3]

and how she thinks we can get more women into engineering.

“I believe that the main problems are cultural. It is a generalisation, but women tend to be less assertive when it comes to seeking pay rises and promotion. If they put themselves forward they are seen as pushy and aggressive, whereas it is expected that men should behave like this.  I have seen nothing to suggest that women are less capable engineers than men. There are plenty of numerate, imaginative, creative, collaborative, precise and articulate women engineers.“
Jane Wernick [4]

Wernick herself on the place of women in the engineering community Britain’s Hidden Talent: Women Engineers (BBC radio 4, 2015/05/01)

Author: Sigrid Adriaenssens


[1] University of Southampton, Engineering and the Environment, Alumni Hall of Fame
[2] Famous females in engineering, New Civil Engineer, 2011/03/17
[3] Jane Wernick, How to get more women engineers: tell girls about it, The Times, 2011/10/28
[4] Do women engineers enjoy the same opportunities for career progression as their male colleagues? , The Engineer magazine, 2013/11/04

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