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Ruth Mallors-Ray – INWED 2023

In this Women in Engineering series CFMS speaks to female pioneers from across the engineering industry to celebrate their achievements, unlock valuable insight into how best to diversify the industry, as well as inspire the next generation of budding engineers.

Introducing, Ruth Mallors-Ray, a consultant facilitating discussions between industry, government and academia. Ruth’s current portfolio spans a range of sectors including manufacturing, aviation and hydrogen.

Ruth has held positions including Chief Operating Officer of the Aerospace Technology Institute and Director of the Aerospace, Aviation and Defence Knowledge Transfer Network. Ruth is a Non-Executive Director of the National Composites Centre offering her wide understanding of innovation, but also diverse sectoral experience. Lastly, Ruth is chair of the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) Environmental Sustainability Panel providing advice directly to the CAA on all matters concerning the environment.

Ruth holds a BSC and PhD in Chemistry, is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and was awarded an OBE in 2015 for services in science and innovation.

At the start of the interview, Ruth was keen to comment that as a scientist working in sectors dominated by engineering, there is more to do to bring disciplines together combining the scientific whys and the engineering hows to create the much needed solutions of our time.

What sparked your interest in science? Can you describe the moment you realised this was a field you’d like to pursue?

There are several factors that led me to pursue chemistry as a student. From a young age, I had a natural affinity for the subject and was captivated by understanding the inner workings of this hidden, atomic-scale world around me. For something you can’t “see” I totally got it.

Additionally, my passion for science was fostered by our chemistry teacher, Mrs Evans. She provided us with exceptional care and support, having experienced discrimination within the school based on gender, she was particularly inspiring to the girls in our class. Her encouragement instilled in me a desire to excel.

Engineering and science are considered to be intense fields of study, what are some of the challenges you faced whilst you were studying? Did you ever experience any uncertainty that this was the path for you?

Throughout my academic journey, I wouldn’t say I have experienced significant challenges. I can safely say that I thoroughly enjoyed my educational journey. I was unsure which career path to take when I graduated so I decided to pursue a PhD, and continue studying which had a hugely positive effect on my early career. I did find it difficult not knowing my “path” at this stage, wherever I turned, others seemed to know their path.

Being immersed in the role of a research scientist proved to be a transformative experience for me. It was within this realm that my curiosity was ignited, and my passion for science began to flourish, or certainly the application of its knowledge, I liked that the research had a clear reason. The process itself captivated me, allowing me to explore and delve deeper into the wonders of scientific inquiry.

Can you describe some of the challenges you faced when you joined the workforce as a junior scientist? And do you think the junior engineers and scientists today face the same challenges?

Starting work straight after full time studying was challenging in terms of a new language (KPI for instance), structures that were obvious to those in them but not to those new into the world of full time work. I learnt early on that not every battle is worth battling, so I started to pick what I was more bothered about fixing over letting somethings go.

Reflecting on some of my past interviews, I recall being questioned about how I would handle entering a predominantly male-dominated industry. In response, I asserted my belief that my appropriateness to the role was justified based on my skill and qualifications – I chose consciously not to “battle” the gender discrimination of “you won’t cope”. Whilst I may have been unfamiliar with aerospace and defence at the time, I emphasised my expertise in building strong networks and navigating complex challenges. I also knew that it was me in the interview rooms that had been on an oil and gas platform, not them, that it was me that had dealt with overt discrimination on a daily basis. The questions were in many ways insulting but mostly a reflection on their own world views, not mine.

What is it like to be a woman in engineering and science? Do you feel that your gender gives you a different perspective and experience from your male counterparts?

Both science and engineering are very much “we sports”, not “me sports” and research has found that women think in more of a collective manner in comparison to men. I believe that women bring a complementary perspective and consider a broader range of issues, which is why companies that have more gender balanced representation on their boards tend to outperform those without.

Do you feel there is enough being done to close the gender gap? The issues are being addressed?

The awareness of the issue is there, but there is still a lot of work to be done. This is not an issue created by women and cannot be sorted by women alone; I believe there are a set of interventions that we can do collectively across science and engineering that over time will have an impact. Looking at the recruitment process for example and job adverts, and just neutralising the job adverts will start to make a difference. But ultimately, decision making to affect change resides at board and C-Suite levels of business. This is where decisions and changes have to be determined and then actioned upon.

On an individual level, I am constantly learning about how the subtlety of words and language can have a massive impact. We all need to be wary of our unconscious bias and the words we use when talking about roles within engineering and science. With this in mind, I believe that organisations need to consider their policies and language so that it is more neutral, suitable and inclusive.

What advice would you give to young girls that are doing GCSEs?

If you’re interested in science then do it; studying science doesn’t stop you from branching off into other subjects or industries. Engineering and science are about problem solving and I always say if you like it, do it. Society as a whole needs more people to have a grasp of the basis of science, engineering and evidence based insights. We need more people to question perspectives by asking for evidence, we need more research and development into creating the solutions of our future – new energy systems, new medicines, new education systems –it is the scientists and engineers who are coming up with those solutions and we need more of you! So come and be a part of that solution.

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