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Pioneering programmer and self-taught civil engineer top poll of inspiring women

Civil engineer Emily Warren Roebling and mathematician Ada Lovelace have topped a poll of the most inspiring women engineers throughout history carried out by the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE).

Another interesting feature of the poll was the wide variety of women suggested from the last three centuries, with more than 25 names put forward from fields as diverse as civil engineering, computing, aircraft engineering and naval engineering. The pair edged out aviators Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson, also pioneers in their male-dominated fields.

In nominating these women as the most inspirational women engineers, participants were keen to point out the practical applications of the work that they did which often had far-reaching consequences, as well as the personal difficulties that many of those nominated had to overcome in order to succeed in a historically male-dominated profession.

Participants also singled out unsung heroes, particularly in the Building Services sector. Among these women were Edith Clarke, who continued to study and write on electrical engineering for decades despite struggling to break into the career, before finally becoming the first professor of electrical engineering in the USA. Also represented was Dr Mary E Pennington, the first female member of ASRE and the foremost authority on home refrigeration in her day.

Modern engineers were also nominated from a great range of fields including Environmental Design, Renewable Energy, Mechanical Engineering, Structural Engineering and Energy Consultancy. Citing their leadership and inspiration for younger engineers as well as their technical achievements, voters particularly highlighted Tamsin Tweddell, Senior Partner at Max Fordham, and Cathie Simpson, founder of Building Simulation Ltd. and CIBSE vice-president.

Laura Dunlop, Chair of the Women in Building Services Engineering (WiBSE) group, said: “It is great to see that so many people took the time to respond to the survey and did such a fantastic job of reminding us all of what has been achieved by women in the engineering field.

“The education, experience, dedication and perseverance that these ladies had make them amazing role models for women who are thinking of moving to or starting a career in engineering, as well as motivating all of us who have worked in engineering for a while to aim higher.”

Despite proving the most popular nominees, Ada Lovelace and Emily Warren Roebling were far from the only candidates submitted. British aeronautical engineer and pilot Amy Johnson was also popular for her work in becoming Britain’s female ground engineer, as well as American Amelia Earhart who became the first trans-Atlantic woman pilot. Other nominees included Dame Caroline Haslett, Florence Parpart, Alice Perry and Hertha Ayrton