Spotlight Feature – Dawn Bonfield MBE

Dawn Bonfield is currently Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence at King’s College London, and Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor of Inclusive Engineering at Aston University. She is the Founder & Director of Towards Vision, a Company which works towards a vision of diversity and inclusion in engineering, and founder of the Magnificent Women social enterprise which celebrates the history of women in engineering, and uses our inspiring heritage to encourage the next generation of engineers. She is also the Past President and former Chief Executive of the Women’s Engineering Society. 

Dawn is a materials engineer by background and spent many years working in the aerospace industry on composite materials. She is the UK representative on the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO) and Deputy Chair of the Women in Engineering Committee focusing on the application of engineering and technology to address the Sustainable Development Goals, with particular emphasis on addressing the disadvantages faced by women. I have recently been a member of the Engineering Design T level Panel. 

Other roles include:  

  • Working as a consultant advising companies on diversity and inclusion in engineering: how to change corporate culture; how to recruit more diverse teams; and how to retain talent 
  • Member of the Royal Academy of Engineering Education and Skills Committee 
  • Member of the EPSRC Engineering Strategic Advisory Team 
  • Board Member of the Commonwealth Engineers Council 
  • Advisory Board Member of GE’s Next Engineers Programme  
  • Member of the Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) committee of Institution of Civil Engineers 

 
What attracted you to a career in Maritime/Engineering? What guided you towards this path?  
I am a materials engineer by background and to be honest, a career in science or engineering was really never in doubt. My Dad is an engineer, and I spent a number of summers working at the Pilkington factory where he worked, and took maths, pure maths, applied maths, physics and chemistry for A level – so really there was no other choice at that point! But the thing that helped me choose which one was a summer school at Bath University, which completely converted me to materials science, and I loved it. It is a great mix of many disciplines, and really gave me a great start.  

From there I went into automotive and then aerospace as a materials engineer, and loved it. It did all come to an end though when I had children, and that’s what started me on the second part of my career really, which has been in what I now call ‘inclusive engineering’ – or making sure that we are not including bias and inequality into our engineering products. 

What are you most proud of in having a career in Maritime/Engineering?  
In terms of what I am most proud of achieving – it is probably the impact that has come from International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) itself, as its founder. 

In terms of what I am most proud of in having a career in engineering – definitely here it is the ability to make change in the world – change towards social justice, gender equality, sustainable development and generally being involved in the redefining of engineering as a people centred discipline. 

What is the most exciting part of your day-to-day job?  
The most exciting part of my job is the variety, I would say. I work with so many different people, and am hugely lucky to see and have the capability to get involved in the things that interest me most – that is the beauty really of working for myself – I can really choose the areas that I feel are important, and then I find a way of getting involved. This involves a fair amount of energy and initiative on my part, but generally that pays off, and I find that I get lots of opportunities by making connections, and being proactive. Although I feel like I give a lot to the profession, I also get a huge amount back and I learn something new every single day. I have two ‘steady’ types of employment at the moment at two Universities – I lecture at one (Aston) and am Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence at another (King’s College London). My husband is also in the University sector, and two of my children are still at University too, so I feel like I get great visibility of a different range of Universities through these sources. 

What is the biggest misconception about your job?  
I think that the biggest misconception people have about engineering is that it is a dirty profession that is aligned with either fixing things (i.e. like a car mechanic or boiler repairer), or that it is about maintaining railways. Both of these are forms of engineering, of course – and needless to say hugely valuable, but engineering is such a broad profession that this is what people focus on, and don’t realise that there are many other types of engineering too – and many that are essential to things like clean energy, and climate resilience. 

What would you say to young females thinking about a career in Maritime/Engineering?  
I think that engineering is the place to be at the moment. And especially for women. You might know that engineering has a lack of gender diversity, which means that the voices of women are not being heard as much as they should be. We are at such a pivotal point in the world, where solutions need to be found to so many different challenges and problems (just look at the Sustainable Development Goals to understand these) – we absolutely need as many people with a range of talents as we can possibly get. And engineering is becoming much more complex, with solutions being found at the boundaries of disciplines. The people we need in the future have a different skillset – we need people who can multitask, understand creative design, communicate, innovate, be passionate about change…. these are much broader than just the sciences and maths skills that we wanted when I started my career in engineering. Whoever is involved in creating these solutions today is creating the world we will live in tomorrow, where we waste less, travel more efficiently, eat more healthily, exercise more, stay well for longer….so this is the place to be. This is why we need you in engineering.  

PS I recently went on a trip to Orkney to see first hand the testing of tidal and wave energy solutions – it was absolutely awesome and inspired me so much – the energy mix that they were working on there, with wave, wind, solar, hydrogen, battery storage technologies…absolutely the future! What an exciting industry this is at the moment – where anything is possible. 

 

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