As part of International Women’s Month, we’re speaking to our colleagues in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Women accounted for 24% of the STEM workforce in 2019. This is only expected to rise to 29% by 2030.
To celebrate International Women’s Month and promote gender equality in the fields, we’re highlighting colleagues who are “breaking the bias” and bringing innovation into their subjects.
About Dr Deborah Andrews
Dr Deborah Andrews holds a PhD in Sustainable Design and Manufacture. As well as being an Associate Professor of Design in LSBU's School of Engineering, she is currently the academic lead for Circular Economy for the Data Centre Industry (CEDaCI). The CEDaCI programme supports the data centre industry’s transition towards a more environmentally sustainable economic model.
About the Data Centre Industry
The data centre industry is resource and energy hungry. It currently accounts for 1% of global energy consumption and emits the same amount of carbon as the pre-Covid airline industry every year. Projected to expand by approximately 500% by 2050, Deborah’s role as lead academic for the industry’s sustainable future is more pressing than ever.
Women in Engineering: Breaking the Bias
In 2020 Deborah won the LSBU Sustainability in Action Staff Award for her contribution to sustainability at the University. Developing a sustainable future means finding new approaches to current challenges. In a field that is still heavily male dominated - women currently make up just 10% of engineering professionals - women in engineering bring a diversity of thought into future product development.
Read on to understand Dr Deborah Andrews’ role, work, and role models.
Hello, please tell us about yourself?
My name is Deborah Andrews, I have a PhD in Sustainable Design and Manufacture and some students call me Dr Deborah!
I am an Associate Professor of Design in the School of Engineering; I teach under and post graduate students about sustainable design & manufacture, the Circular Economy, inclusive and user-centred design, design contexts and communications. I am also involved in research in these areas and regularly collaborate with industry in various sectors. I was very proud to win the 2020 LSBU Sustainability in Action Staff Award for my contribution to sustainability at the university.
I am currently the academic lead for CEDaCI – a €4.4m EU funded project with partners in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Ireland. I integrate research, enterprise, and teaching to ensure that what I deliver to students is up to date. I also help them to build career paths from BSc to MRes and PhD. I have also found work placements and employment in businesses with which I collaborate. Several former students have also become lecturers at LSBU.
How long have you been working at SBI/LSBU?
I have worked at LSBU for a number of years and have collaborated with SBI on all sorts of projects - including Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, and more recently, Sustainable Innovation and SimDH projects. Working with SMEs and start-ups is exciting, and I have recently helped businesses with projects including eco-friendly women’s hygiene products, and an inclusive digital tool to encourage older and vulnerable users to increase day-to-day activity and exercise.
I have also worked with the British Blind and Shutter Association for about 10 years on PhD & MSc research as well as an on-going Low Carbon London project - all of which demonstrate the benefits of solar shading as environmentally and user-friendly energy - and carbon - saving products that improve building occupants’ wellbeing and comfort. The importance of this work is becoming increasingly recognised and is included in a 2021 report published by the UK Government Climate Change Committee.
Please describe to us what your day-to-day life looks like in your job?
I do not have ‘typical’ days but I invariably work many hours in addition to my contractual hours to ensure that I get everything done and delivered on time.
I teach BSc Product and Engineering Product Design and MSc Building Service students, spend time planning and writing lectures, developing design and other projects, alongside interactive activities to ensure that students engage with and learn about the subject matter. I also spend quite a lot time in meetings: these could be discussing, planning, and reviewing research activities or developing new research and enterprise proposals with academic colleagues at LSBU and other institutions and/or SBI staff.
I also develop and write academic journal and conference articles, and book chapters to share research and knowledge with experts and the public. I am regularly invited to speak at industry events and conferences such as the Open Compute Project Global Summit in November 2021. In December I delivered a keynote presentation at the Innovative Technologies in Mechanical Engineering conference in India which showcased my own and colleagues’ work at LSBU and summarised what I do: “Integrating research, enterprise and teaching to accelerate sustainable design, engineering and development.”
Have you had any challenges in your education or career because of your gender? If that's the case, how did you overcome them?
Personally, I haven’t encountered challenges in product design even though it tends to be a male-dominated profession. Nevertheless, there are many highly talented and very respected female designers working in the field who offer different perspectives and approaches to problems and are therefore employed by forward-thinking businesses.
I work a lot with the tech sector, which is even more male-dominated, and I have experienced ‘invisibility’ and being ignored at industry events, but this is slowly changing. A male colleague in the Data Centre industry recently commented that the number of women involved in the sector is increasing and that many women have roles associated with sustainability. This is becoming more and more important across the sector, so we are slowly attracting attention and driving change!
What is the most valuable piece of advice you've ever received?
Not advice from anyone but a quotation from Maya Angelou:
“Nothing will work unless you do.”
What can we do to encourage more women to enter STEM?
This is a big challenge and a chicken and egg conundrum: employ more female STEM teachers who will be positive role models in school. But how can more female teachers be trained unless more female students are recruited? Organisations like WISE and STEMettes are doing a great job so hopefully this will encourage more women teachers in the future!
What is the most crucial message you would like to express to young women considering careers in STEM?
Be brave – take risks and push yourself – you will be surprised how much you can achieve!
Is there somebody in your professional life who inspires you?
Too many to mention….
Which inspirational women, living or dead, would you invite to dinner and why?
I have been inspired by many women but being in their company would be over-awing so I don’t know whether I would join them for dinner or just listen to their conversations. They include:
Beatrice Shilling - a trailblazer: an amazing motorbike rider who competed against men and won many races! She was the second woman to study engineering at Manchester and she invented a component for aircraft engines that stopped them from cutting out when nose diving.
Charlotte Perriand – an incredible designer and architect. She applied for a job with Le Corbusier in his studio and was told by him that ‘We don’t embroider cushions here’. Rather than being deterred, a month later she exhibited design work at a Salon, which was seen by Le Corbusier – he was dazzled by her talent and vision and employed her. In 1984 she said
“I think the reason Le Corbusier took me on was because he thought I could carry through ideas. I was familiar with current technology, I knew how to use it and, what is more, I had ideas about the uses it could be put to.” She was also a socialist who wanted to use design and architecture to improve everyone’s quality of life!
Hedy Lamar – another trailblazer who combined two very different careers. She was an Austrian-American film star (although she disdained the celebrity lifestyle) and largely self-taught inventor. During World War II she worked with radio technology and developed ‘frequency hopping’. Although this was initially rejected as cumbersome, she continued to ‘tinker’ and eventually her ideas were adopted and evolved into ubiquitous technology on which we have all become dependent including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cordless and mobile phones.
There are many artists such as Paula Rego, Bridgit Riley, Sonia Delaunay, Gwen John and Cornelia Parker, whose work is sometimes beautiful and always thought-provoking. There are also many writers including Kate Atkinson, Toni Morrison, Isabel Allende, Maya Angelou, Rose Tremain whose work I admire because of their command of language and ability to transport the reader to other places.
There are many less-recognised women too and I learned recently about Parveen Tokhi – a head teacher in Afghanistan who is fighting for the rights of girls and women to be educated. This is very humbling.
Want to know more about Dr Andrews' work? Read a news story about her latest publication at LSBU’s website.
If you're looking to transition your skills into a career in STEM, you could access free accredited units in Construction (including engineering), Creative, Digital or Health from our new programme, ASPIRE London.
Find out more and start your learning journey today at www.aspire-london.com.