AT AeroWomen22, Leonardo aerodynamics and aeroacoustics engineer, Bianca Erwee highlighted that popular culture is still failing to reflect women’s achievements in engineering.

Bianca was speaking as a panellist alongside some of the leading luminaries of the aerospace industry who had gathered at the second AeroWomen event, hosted by Leonardo in Yeovil, in collaboration with the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Held on International Women in Engineering Day, the networking event seeks to increase the diversity of job applicants to the aerospace industry, in relation to apprentice and graduate opportunities and for experienced engineer roles or those returning to the industry.

The initiative seeks to strengthen networks linking existing and aspiring female engineers across generations, from students to established professionals, to mentor, inspire, and educate each other on how they might grow as professionals, whatever the stage of their career.

Chard & Ilminster News: Adam Clarke_New Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters (UK_PRESS photo)Adam Clarke_New Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters (UK_PRESS photo)

Born in South Africa, Bianca moved to the UK when she was four years old.

Her father was a civil engineer, and she grew up with a love of technology and science fiction that was woven into her family life.

However, she still struggles to identify positive role models within popular culture today who reflect the proactive and pioneering innovation women forge every day in the industry.

Bianca said: “When I first chose engineering everyone said ‘that is a very male environment’ and now that I work in engineering I can see that there are a lot of misconceptions about the industry.

“It isn’t that different to other industries and the expectations you bring can colour your perception, and some of that can be shaped by your formative experiences. “When I was a kid if I had been able to see a movie about a girl who flies a spaceship, it would have made me think ‘I’d really like to do that’.

“Even when I was a child watching Star Wars, Princess Leia was cool, but I remember thinking I’d much rather be Han Solo, because he seemed to be leading all the action.

“I think the culture we experience growing up has a subconscious impact on our sense of our own potential. That’s what makes networking events like AeroWomen so valuable, as it can help you challenge your preconceived ideas both about yourself, and industry.”

Chard & Ilminster News: AeroWomen 22 attendees came from many different backgrounds (UK_PRESS) AeroWomen 22 attendees came from many different backgrounds (UK_PRESS)

At Leonardo in Yeovil, Bianca is the lead aeroacoustics engineer on a number of projects, in both research and industry, where she suggests design changes to reduce the impact of helicopter noise on the environment.

A fascinating strand of her research has been exploring the difference between the perceived and actual noise levels generated by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.

Bianca’s fellow panellists included Alison Green, Head of Structures at Vertical Aerospace, Hannah Nobbs, HEMS 1st Officer at Dorset & Somerset Air Ambulance, and Fiona Payne, Continued Airworthiness Engineer at Leonardo Helicopters UK.

Other speakers who delivered presentations over the course of the day included Sophie Robison, Flying Qualities Team Lead at Vertical Aerospace, Laura Shrieves, Head of Engineering at Thales Training and Simulation, Alessandra Badino, Head of Sustainability & Environment at Airbus UK, and Sarah Cook, VP Operations at Leonardo Helicopters UK.

Stimulating discussions included individuals’ experiences of ‘imposter syndrome’ where they doubted their self-worth and the importance of taking a chance and applying for roles, even if they do not think they are fully qualified.

This was the first ‘in-person’ AeroWomen event, since last year’s inaugural event had to be held virtually due to the pandemic.

This year’s AeroWomen22 saw over 90 attendees, along with other participants joining virtually from across the UK.

The day comprised of speeches, a panel discussion and workshops organised by a Leonardo team that included Bryony Venn, Eilidh Seville, Sophie Furniss, Charlea Boucher, Megan Williams, Jennifer Miles, Alannah Brannagan-Fuller, Temitayo Adepipe, Rosie Leishman, and Evelyn King.

At the event, Adam Clarke, the new Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters UK, expressed his personal commitment to diversity and inclusion at Leonardo.

He said: “It is widely recognised that having a variety of people from different backgrounds, cultures and approaches can, and does, enhance the working environment whether that’s working remotely, in the office, or like here in Yeovil on the assembly line.

“We strongly believe that the more diverse the range of employees, the richer the innovation. Such a workplace fosters mutual respect amongst colleagues and allows each individual to bring their whole self to work and perform at their best.

“A culture of inclusion goes on to create an environment for greater collaboration, innovation, and opportunities to develop us as an organisation.”

In March 2022, Engineering UK reported that women make up 16.5 per cent of the engineering population in the UK, compared to just 10.5 per cent in 2010, representing a 6 per cent increase in the proportion of women in the engineering workforce.

Leonardo has committed to achieving a 70:30 gender balance by 2025, in order to increase the diversity of its workforce.