Engineering a career path for young women

Alice Delahunty, Head of Network Optimisation, Electricity Transmission, was pretty sure she wanted to pursue a career in engineering from an early age. She even wired up a power supply to her dolls house at the age of eight! Who better then to speak about the importance of being a role model for future female engineers?

I remember the huge dolls house I had as a child. I must have been about eight when I wired up a power supply, working out things like the voltage needed for the light bulbs. I was curious about how it all worked.

At school I was much better at maths and physics than I was at languages, so engineering was always in my mind as a career option. At the age of 18 I had the choice of going to art college or moving into engineering. I opted for an Electrical Engineering degree at University College Dublin and then completed an MSc in Management Science.

In Ireland you can choose which options to take much later than in the UK. I think being 18 allowed me to make a more mature decision. My family were very supportive – my sister is also an engineer and it always felt like a natural choice for me.

I’ve worked in the energy sector for about 15 years and before I joined National Grid in April 2018, I was Head of Offshore Wind at E.ON. The opportunity to tackle climate change has always been my motivation.

My current role is extremely varied. I’m responsible for all the investment decisions we make for the network and for our 24/7 control room that helps make sure the power always stays on. I enjoy the constant challenge of solving problems and finding new and better ways to do things.

If I had one piece of advice for young people in general, it would be to focus on getting those firm technical foundations in place.

I’m also very aware of the challenge facing young women who want to become engineers. Throughout my education I had great support. I did have to deal with some negative perceptions earlier in my career when I gained my first promotion. It came as a bit of a shock, but I knew that I had an excellent technical grounding which gave me credibility and I had a good network of people who supported me.

If I had one piece of advice for young people in general, it would be to focus on getting those firm technical foundations in place before moving on to the next challenge.

We do need more girls in engineering. I think it’s a combination of making sure the opportunities are available and accessible, and that we help to challenge parents’ perceptions.

The best engineers are curious about the world around them. Today’s engineers need to look not only at finding the right technical solution but also the commercial aspects of a project or solution. It’s not just about understanding the science.

I’m very aware of the need to be a good role model for young women coming into engineering. A lot of people in my career helped me as mentors and I enjoy that side of my role. I have many conversations where young people say how important it is to see a female role model in these senior engineering positions. It’s proof that there is a career path they can follow successfully.