To mark this year’s International Women in Engineering Day, self-proclaimed chemistry geek Eliska Krizova talks about how working in the cleantech sector was “meant to be” and the role phenomenal female engineers played in her journey to becoming a Product Systems Engineer at Bramble Energy.
When did you first become interested in engineering?
Growing up in the Czech Republic, I was a massive chemistry geek. I was absolutely fascinated with the subject; a fascination that I can thank my secondary school teacher at the time for sparking. She had an engineering degree and I remember even at that young age thinking she was awesome, really looking up to her and hoping one day I would have the same engineering title.
Fast forward a few years, I’m choosing a university course and I’m feeling a bit lost, not really knowing which direction to go. That’s when I discovered chemical engineering and embarked on a chemical engineering masters with a focus on oil production. Granted, this might sound a bit strange given that I now work in the cleantech sector, but studying oil was a vital part of my journey. The more I learned about the downsides of the industry, the more it became apparent that it wasn’t a sector I wanted to be in.
What was your first role in engineering?
I honestly think working in the hydrogen fuel cell industry was meant to be. After graduating, I was fortunate enough to get my first job as a fuel cell research engineer. That’s when I also made the move to the UK. It was a role for a fuel cell company that designs and manufactures fuel cells for various industries – automotive, aviation, UAV and manual handling sector etc. After 3.5 years, I felt I needed a change and that’s what led me to the opportunity at Bramble Energy.
What does a ‘day in the life’ look like for an engineer working in the hydrogen fuel cell industry?
When I first joined Bramble, I briefly worked on the development of electrolysers. This was an interesting experience and something I’d like to focus on more in the future, especially given that the green hydrogen industry is expected to grow massively in the next decade due to the increasing demand to reduce carbon emissions.
After this, I moved to the product systems team where I am now, helping the team work on the development of Bramble’s first hydrogen fuel cell stationary power product.
Truly every day is different and greatly depends on the stage of development the team is in. It’s a very dynamic and challenging role that requires a combination of technical skills, problem-solving and collaboration and could include anything from testing, troubleshooting and reviewing project requirements, to R&D, meetings or writing for The Engineer!
I’ve been in this industry for five years now and can honestly say there has never been a more exciting time for cleantech. It’s amazing to see more and more companies interested in this type of technology, which as hydrogen becomes an increasingly important part of the transition to a low-carbon economy, I can only see growing. The same applies to the entire cleantech sector. While there isn’t a silver bullet technology that would magically solve the environmental crisis we’re in, innovation is the key to fight this battle. The UK has set a huge target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, this will require a significant amount of funding from the government and I hope that they continue to fund businesses that ultimately make a difference to our environments and sustainability.
How important is it to see more women in this field?
It’s incredibly important! Not having a diverse workplace leads to a greater gender bias which unfairly impacts women, and leads to them being not considered in further development; a prime example being car crash tests. Cars are crash-tested rigorously before making it to market but the dummies used are 1.7m tall, which is a size of the average man, not the average woman. This leads to shocking statistics like the fact that women – despite being less likely to crash – if they are involved in a crash, are 47 per cent more likely to be seriously injured. This is just one of many examples we find across every industry. While I don’t believe it’s intentional or malicious, it’s a problem nonetheless; a problem we would see less of had the engineering workplaces been more diverse.
Unfortunately, there’s been numerous studies showing the hurdles women face in engineering as a male-dominated industry. Add this to the unfounded belief that women may not be qualified enough to be engineers, which is something I personally struggled with in the past. However, I’ve had the honour of working with some phenomenal female engineers in my career and being surrounded by strong females and seeing how they operate has really helped me push through.
What can be done to encourage more women into engineering?
To achieve a gender balance in the engineering world is going to take years. It’s true that more and more ladies are entering engineering and I love to see it, but the reality is that the progress is slow and we’re still a minority. The talent pool is lower among women, which makes it challenging for engineering companies to hire female engineers.
This problem runs deep and it starts at a young age. If young girls don’t see many women engineers, it’s hard for them to see it as a viable path for themselves. While Bramble is still a growing company, it’s doing a great job at promoting women in engineering by providing me and other female employees with various platforms to talk about our experiences and share our work with the world.
Companies can also encourage girls to pursue STEM education through school and lab visits. I once ran a career day for a class of year 4 students and it was such an uplifting experience.
Although studying engineering proved to be very challenging for me, and perhaps I wasn’t a natural like other people, I never gave up and rolled with the punches. In the end what matters the most is having the determination and confidence that you are capable of achieving your goals.
Eliska Krizova, Product Systems Engineer at Bramble Energy