Find your local transport provider

For information on local transport, select your area to be taken to your local transport website

Raising Awareness On International Women in Engineering Day

Tuesday 23rd June 2020

In this special insights piece, Transport for the North’s Planning and Scheme Development Manager, Karen Sanderson explains why International Women in Engineering Day is important to her.

I’ve been a “Woman in Engineering” for the last 35 years.

When I graduated in Civil and Structural engineering I was one of two women out of a class of 45.

I worked as a site engineer and site manager for seven years, on sites all over the country from Devon to Durham and several points in between!

Karen SandersonI was the first female engineer working for two of the contractors that I worked for, and also their first female site manager.

In 1992, when I was managing a site in Chesterfield, it was such fun to see the faces of suppliers and subcontractors when they asked to see the manager, and I told them that was me.

One of the main challenges at that time was PPE (personal protective equipment). Hard hats were too big and slipped off my head, site boots had to be specially ordered in a size 6 (but I am size 4 so they were still too big), reflective jackets and trousers had to have the legs and sleeves rolled up so I didn’t trip but that covered up the reflective stripes. It was a wonder I didn’t come a cropper at some point as I waddled around the site.

I became a chartered engineer in 1992 and then went to work for Highways Agency in 1993, and later worked for engineering consultants as a design manager.

Over the years I’ve managed the delivery of many major highway projects from concept to design, through Public Inquiry, through construction, and then managed ongoing maintenance.  When a scheme is designed and constructed properly, it’s very rewarding to see something you have helped deliver become real and improve conditions for road users, residents, wildlife, and local businesses.


National Women in Engineering Day

Of course now I’ve achieved the highlight of my career – working for Transport for the North in the Major Roads team.

I feel I’m making a difference in looking at what we can do to improve transport, for passengers and businesses, right across the north.

My colleagues at TfN have a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, and it’s a great place to work (even during lockdown).

But why did I chose a career in engineering?

It all started when two female engineers gave a presentation at our school when I was 13. I thought that was something I could do and sounded like fun.

So over the years I’ve taken the time to go into schools and colleges, guide groups and careers fairs to raise awareness of what a wonderful profession engineering can be for girls, and boys.

Of course nowadays, things have changed since I was young … or have they….?

At least nowadays we can get PPE in the right size, and there are more women in engineering, but the numbers are still not as high as they should be.

Eleven per cent of all engineers in the UK are women, and the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe.

I think the problem is that stereotypes are formed at an early age.

Watch this video to see what I mean:

I support International Women in Engineering Day because it’s all about raising awareness to show that a stimulating and worthwhile career in engineering is available to all.

So, back to the present day – although women in engineering are still under-populated, this is not just down to one single thing there are just too many to mention, but, there are opportunities to make a difference – if you want to know more let’s talk.