Women in technology are a rare breed. Whilst gender disparity is being addressed in many other areas of life, electronics and engineering still languish far behind in comparison.
But that isn’t to say the pendulum hasn’t started to swing in the right direction. The green shoots of change are there. They just need to be encouraged to grow.
Heba Bevan is an electronics and computer engineer who is also CEO and founder of ground-breaking sensor company UtterBerry. Having been recently honoured with an OBE for her services to innovation, technology and STEM education, TDL sat down with this tech pioneer to understand a little more about her unique business model.
So what is UtterBerry and why should we take notice of the technology?
“UtterBerry is a technology company that develops low power wireless sensors with artificial intelligence. Our sensors are very small and light and form networks that monitor almost all aspects of the areas covered. The sensors process information and report it in real time and via the internet.
“UtterBerry sensors also analyse data trends to alert of pending and future events. These sensors have been deployed in numerous sites throughout the country, including the London Underground (Liverpool Street, Moorgate), Tower Bridge and Forth Road Bridge, delivering measurements in displacement, tilt/acceleration, temperature and humidity in real time to any internet-enabled device.
“The company has been running for 5 years. I started it while working on my PhD at Cambridge University. We employ 20 people and work primarily in construction, transportation and smart cities, although we are expanding into sport and health.
This puts you in a rather exceptional position because there is a disappointing disparity when it comes to men and women in technology?
“The number of women working in technology is significantly lower than most other UK employment sectors at just 17%. The number of women working in engineering fields is similarly low. Unfortunately, these fields aren’t generally seen as attractive to women however it doesn’t mean we have to leave things that way. Not long ago, few women considered going into legal services and becoming solicitors but today many of our most talented solicitors are women.
“Of course, as a country, we want the best talent entering the workforce and rising to the top, whether they are male or female.”
There is still a lot of evidence to suggest that these issues could perhaps be better addressed at an early age through education.
“In my opinion, the reason for the shortage of women in engineering is found in the development of career imagery at an early age. When you ask a young girl to picture a pilot and a nurse, the likelihood will be that most people apply gender stereotypes to these roles – the pilot will likely be a man and the nurse a woman. In a similar way, a young woman is likely to imagine engineering as a career path built upon fixing things and manual labour but engineering is much broader and needs to be seen as such.
“I think the solution is to change how the sector is represented to children, but we must also be mindful of how new this form of engineering is.
“Technology is a young industry and the image in young women’s minds needs to develop further for more women to work in this sector. To encourage more women into technology roles we need to normalise the idea of women in engineering at an early age, but it is important not to force the idea. The current push is quite strong and it can be off-putting.
“In my opinion, another important aspect to focus on is the creativity involved in the engineering and technology sectors. I believe UtterBerry represents this creativity well.”
When you consider these challenges do you feel that you have been treated any differently because of your gender?
“There have been instances in which I have been treated differently, particularly earlier my career. When it did occur, I found that it diminished once I was able to demonstrate my capabilities through my work.”
In a more general sense, do you believe that technology is causing issues for us as a society?
“Technology has brought incredible benefits to our society, including in the areas of information exchange and connectedness, but it has also created problems. One of the issues is the lack of boundaries.
“Online bullying is a key example. Bullying has always existed, but the ubiquitous use of mobile phones married with the amount of personal information, photos and videos now available online, take the whole challenge to a new dimension.
“Humans evolved without electronic technology – the existence of electronic technology is just a speck on the overall timeline of human existence. For example, mobile phone use at night can impact the quality of sleep, which in turn can snowball into a whole series of other health issues. Perhaps we need greater research into the health impact of technology so that we can minimize it while maximizing its benefits.
Much has been made about the negative impact social media and mobile devices are having on children. As a parent yourself do you limit your daughter’s time with phones, tablets or computers?
“As a mother, I do try to limit my daughters time with tablets and phones, but it is quite difficult given her homework often needs to be done on a tablet. She now associates smartphones and tablets with games and fun. This is understandable but slightly concerning to me because off-screen learning and activities are also important.”
What were your aspirations as a child?
“My aspiration as a child was to become a fashion designer, though my family wanted me to be a doctor. I loved being creative and enjoyed making things as well as fixing things. As far as deciding on a career path, I was good at mathematics from an early age but I only fell in love with engineering when I was 17.”
What major plans do you have for UtterBerry in 2019?
“This year, UtterBerry is looking to expand further into Asia, securing more business and opening an office in the region. We would like to work with a greater number of large companies in a collaborative way. We are also looking to make moves in Silicon Valley due to my history in the area.”
Outside of work, what are your interests?
“Some of my interests outside of work are art, painting, designing, visiting museums, and architecture. I also really enjoy attending Royal Ascot every year, which is one of the highlights of my social calendar.
“I also support STEM education and believe that it is extremely important for the future competitiveness of this country.”
You mention Royal Ascot and only recently it was announced that you would be receiving royal recognition yourself in the form of an OBE for your services to innovation, technology, and STEM education. How does that make you feel?
“I am absolutely honoured to have received this OBE, I still can’t believe it. I feel that the people around me helped me through my life and helped shape who I am today. I feel fortunate and blessed with all that has happened.”
Finally, what would you advise people interested in following your path to a career in technology and engineering?
“Ask yourself if you can solve problems, and if so, do you enjoy solving problems. The difference between scientists and engineers is that scientists think theoretically, and engineers apply practically, and you need to enjoy the practical part. And also you have to enjoy working with others and collaborating.”
If you would like to discover more about UtterBerry then be sure to visit the company’s website here.