In celebration of International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) 2023, we had the privilege of interviewing some of the accomplished women engineers at FairHeat. FairHeat has become renowned for its unwavering support of young female engineers and a powerhouse at nurturing young leaders in the heat network industry. The women of FairHeat shared their experiences, challenges, and advice for aspiring female engineers, providing a unique and detailed insight into the world of engineering from a female perspective.

Breaking the Mould: Women in Engineering

Engineering, a field traditionally dominated by men, is gradually seeing a shift as more women enter and make their mark. INWED plays a crucial role in this transformation by raising the profile of women engineers and highlighting the exciting career opportunities available in the field. This day is particularly significant in the UK, where it was initially launched by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) as a national initiative.

In the heat network industry, though under-represented, women are making noise to shift the industry into being more diverse and inclusive. With groups like the District Heating Divas, WENA, WiC, Women into Construction… the hope for change, and to break the mould is en route.

“I’ve witnessed the sobering truth that women represent a mere 1% of individuals on-site in the Heat Network industry, and this is not a fabricated statistic, but a harsh reality. Throughout my career, I’ve been unafraid to confront the challenges and biases I’ve faced. I’ve initiated workshops, challenged the status quo, and paved the way for change within my organisation. I may not have been the first to speak up, but as one of the few women in this field, my actions have shed light on experiences that were often kept in silence. Many women may have walked away from this career due to these challenges, and it’s disheartening to witness the pressure some felt to toughen their exterior just to fit in. We need greater gender diversity and inclusivity in engineering to create a more equitable and supportive industry.”

Ellen Hassett, Consulting Engineer, FairHeat

The Journey into Engineering

Each of our interviewees had a unique journey into engineering, reflecting the diverse paths that can lead to this exciting field.

Nina Dungworth was drawn to engineering by her passion for math and science, particularly in the sustainable energy sector. Lucy Sherburn discovered her interest in engineering through her chemistry teacher and was excited about its potential to make a real impact. Francesca James pursued engineering due to her love for math and science, aiming to combat climate change. Kathryn Thorn was inspired by her grandfather’s passion for engineering. Simran Chaggar, Ellen Hassett, Faye Bautista, Laura Rashed, Faizah Ahmed, Sharon Mohan Kumar, and Ellie Hiscock all found their paths into engineering through their interests in STEM subjects, problem-solving, and the opportunity to contribute to a more sustainable world.

Overcoming Challenges

Despite their passion for engineering, these women have faced challenges in their careers. From being overlooked on construction sites to having to prove their knowledge and competency in a male-dominated industry, these women have faced and overcome hurdles with determination and resilience.

Nina Dungworth mentioned feeling overlooked in comparison to male colleagues, especially on construction sites. despite the challenges she faced Nina remained committed to her work and continued to contribute to making the industry more diverse. She overcame challenges by staying focused on her goals and not letting obstacles deter her.

Lucy Sherburn shared her experiences of gender bias on construction sites, where contractors and site workers would often address male colleagues first, even if they were more junior or not the lead engineer.

Ellen Hassett and Ellie Hiscock agreed with Lucy’s experience and added they also felt like an outsider, disrupting the usual male banter, and experienced exclusion and sexism. Ellen describes how her authority was often undermined due to her gender and perceived youth, and how she was wrongly viewed as an observer rather than a leader. Despite doing her job, she was seen as annoying or mean, a reaction not observed with her male colleagues.

They all overcame this challenge by asserting themselves more and demonstrating competence and leadership skills. They found a supportive and inclusive environment within FairHeat, leadership and team members guided and backed them through these challenges. An internal support group was created with regular meetings to record, track and address such challenges which further empowered them.

Francesca James mentions:

“As a young female in the heat networks industry I have felt at times that I’m not being taken as seriously as my male peers. Some examples include being called pet names, being referred to in emails by my surname (which is a male name), and being asked on a construction site if I was there to open up the kitchen. To deal with these situations, we have a very strong Women’s group within the company where we support each other, and have a company culture which fully promotes allyship.”

Kathryn Thorn touches on the challenge and pressure women experience to prove themselves in a male-dominated industry. While that is one challenge that will not disappear overnight, Ellen Hassett makes quite an interesting statement:

“I wish I had known before entering engineering that gender equality is still an ongoing struggle. While I was raised with the belief that women can do anything, the reality of constant obstacles in a male-dominated industry came as a shock to me. It’s important to acknowledge that despite the progress, challenges persist. However, if I had been aware of this, I would have approached it with greater determination and resilience. I would have embraced the obstacles as challenges to overcome, finding inspiration in proving myself. The engineering industry is growing, presenting an opportunity to drive positive change in behaviour and culture. Solving the gender equality issue is another problem-solving opportunity that I find fulfilling. Although it remains a significant issue, there is great potential for improvement and advancement. Being aware of the realities while maintaining a determined mindset can empower women to make a meaningful impact and drive positive change in the industry.”

Advice for Aspiring Female Engineers

Our interviewees had some inspiring advice for young women interested in pursuing a career in engineering. They encouraged them to believe in their ideas and abilities, to not be put off by stereotypes, and to pursue a career that interests them. They emphasised that engineering is a field where one can make a real impact on the world’s greatest challenges.

Kathryn Thorn advises: Believe in yourself, for you are stronger than you know. Don’t let self-doubt or societal expectations hold you back, trust in your abilities. Sometimes things may not work as you hoped but don’t let the bump in the road hold you back, with determination, perseverance, and a steadfast belief in yourself you can overcome any obstacle and continue on your road to success in engineering. Trust in your strength and it let guide you towards achieving your dreams.

Sharon Mohan Kumar comments:

“My advice would be to believe in your abilities and don’t be deterred by stereotypes and biases. Seek out mentors and role models who are able to guide you. Be proactive, gain experience and engage with the industry. Remember that you, no matter what stage in your career, as a woman, have the potential to make significant contributions and shape the future of engineering.”

Faye Bautista encourages young women interested in engineering to embrace their passion for the field, as their unique perspectives and diverse contributions are essential for driving innovation. She emphasises the importance of confidence in one’s abilities, citing a statistic that men often apply for jobs even if they meet only 60% of the qualifications, while women tend to apply only if they meet 100% of them. Faye advises women to take more career risks, overcome self-doubt, and be aware of impostor syndrome. She underscores the value of women’s skills in engineering and the importance of self-advocacy.

Faizah Ahmed encourages young women interested in engineering to have confidence in themselves and to embrace challenges. She highlights the dynamic and evolving nature of the field, especially with the push for net zero by 2050, and the need for adaptability. Faizah advises them to grow their professional network, including seeking mentors in the industry. She also emphasises the importance of speaking up, expressing oneself, and not being afraid to ask basic questions, reminding them that everyone starts from somewhere and that performance, not gender, should define their presence in the field.

Ellie Hiscock comments:

“If you do choose a career in Engineering and find yourself on site, even if you’re at the start of your career, don’t be afraid to speak up and let yourself be seen. it’s OK to not know something you don’t have to know everything and engage with others introduce yourself, ask questions, show curiosity. Engaging with people lets them know you’re interested and breaks down the barriers.”

Promoting Gender Diversity and Inclusivity

The engineers also shared their thoughts on how organisations and the industry can promote gender diversity and inclusivity in engineering. They highlighted the importance of education, support, and creating a more positive and encouraging atmosphere. They also highlighted the need for safety measures for women in the heat network industry, such as female facilities on construction sites, PPE suited for women, and creating a safe space to discuss and report uncomfortable situations.

Francesca James suggests that organisations and the industry can promote gender diversity and inclusivity in engineering by hiring from a diverse pool of candidates, not just from the same universities. She also recommends having a diverse interviewing panel, as candidates often perform better when interviewed by someone who resembles them. Additionally, she advocates for sponsoring or facilitating work experience for younger students to help them envision themselves in engineering roles.

Kathryn Thorn and Simran Chaggar both suggests that promoting gender diversity and inclusivity in engineering requires collaborative efforts with schools to inspire students and ignite their passion for engineering at an early age.

Sharon Mohan Kumar suggests that organisations can promote gender diversity and inclusivity in engineering by implementing inclusive policies, encouraging diverse representation, challenging stereotypes and biases, and collaborating with educational institutions for increased accessibility. She also emphasises the importance of celebrating achievements within the field. These measures collectively contribute to creating an engineering environment that empowers and supports individuals of all genders and cultures, fostering a more inclusive and diverse industry.

Kathryn emphasises the importance of diverse representation in leadership positions, which can empower and inspire future generations. Fay Bautista and Ellen Hassett both aligned with this statement and touched on the importance of organisations and the industry promoting successful women engineers as role models in the field and encouraging women to be more visible like attending/speaking at conferences to inspire and empower the next generation of women engineers.

Laura Rashed highlighted the lack of awareness among young individuals and aspiring engineers regarding the wide range of opportunities available to them. To address this, she emphasised the importance of promoting industries like the heat network industry, as it plays a crucial role in attracting and nurturing young talent. By increasing awareness and showcasing the potential within these industries, we can inspire and encourage more individuals to pursue rewarding careers in engineering. she comments:

“Let’s raise our voices and create more awareness about engineering, our organisations, the heat network industry, and the abundant opportunities it offers! It’s crucial to highlight the diverse industries and career paths within engineering. Many, including myself, used to associate engineering solely with cars and mechanics. However, I’ve had the incredible experience of working in Ice Cream Research & Development and now in an Engineering Consultancy focused on decarbonizing heating. This journey has shown me the vast possibilities that a Chemical Engineering degree can unlock, which I wouldn’t have imagined a few years ago. Let’s share these stories and inspire others to explore the exciting breadth of engineering.”


The spotlight on FairHeat engineers sheds a small light on the experiences, challenges, and advice of women in engineering. It is evident that the field is gradually evolving, with more women breaking barriers and making their mark. However, the industry still faces significant gender disparities and biases that need to be addressed.

The personal journeys of these engineers have showcased the diverse paths that lead to a career in engineering, emphasising the importance of following one’s passion and embracing challenges. They have shared valuable advice for aspiring female engineers, encouraging them to believe in themselves, challenge stereotypes, and make a real impact in the field.

Promoting gender diversity and inclusivity is a collective responsibility. The engineers have highlighted the need for education, support, and a positive atmosphere within organisations. They have also emphasised the importance of safety measures and creating a safe space for women in the industry.

It is essential to raise awareness about the heat network industry and the multitude of opportunities it presents. By dispelling misconceptions and showcasing the breadth of engineering fields needed, we can inspire more individuals to pursue careers in this exciting industry.

As we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, let us continue to support, encourage, and empower women engineers. By fostering an inclusive and diverse environment, we can create a future where women thrive in the heat network industry and contribute to solving the UK’s greatest challenges.