Tag Archives: engineering profession

Slicing the cake equally or engineering justice

Decorative photograph of sliced chocolate cakeIn support of the research being performed by one of the PhD students that I am supervising, I have been reading about ‘energy justice’.  Energy justice involves the equitable sharing of the benefits and burdens of the production and consumption of energy, including the fair treatment of individuals and communities when making decisions about energy.  At the moment our research is focussed on the sharing of the burdens associated with energy production and ways in which digital technology might improve decision-making processes.  Justice incorporates the distribution of rights, liberties, power, opportunities, and money – sometimes known as ‘primary goods’.  The theory of justice proposed by the American philosopher, John Rawls in the 1970’s is a recurring theme: that these primary goods should be distributed in a manner a hypothetical person would choose, if, at the time, they were ignorant of their own status in society.  In my family, this is the principle we use to divide cakes and other goodies equally between us, i.e., the person slicing the cake is the last person to take a slice.  While many in society overlook the inequalities and injustices that sustain their privileged positions, I believe that engineers have a professional responsibility to work towards the equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of engineering on the individuals and communities, i.e., ‘engineering justice’ [see ‘Where science meets society‘ on September 2nd, 2015].  This likely involves creating a more diverse engineering profession which is better equipped to generate engineering solutions that address the needs of the whole of our global society [see ‘Re-engineering engineering‘ on August 30th, 2017].  However, it also requires us to rethink our decision-making processes to achieve  ‘engineering justice’.  There is a clear and close link to ‘procedure justice’ and ‘fair process’ [see ‘Advice to abbots and other leaders‘ November 13th, 2019] which involves listening to people, making a decision, then explaining the decision to everyone concerned.  In our research, we are interested in how digital environments, including digital twins and industrial metaverses, might enable wider and more informed involvement in decision-making about major engineering infrastructure projects, with energy as our starting point.


Derbyshire J, Justice, fairness and why Rawls still matters today, FT Weekend, April 20th, 2023.

MacGregor N, How to transcend the culture wars, FT Weekend, April 29/30th, 2023.

Rawls J, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge MA: Belknap Press, 1971

Sovacool BK & Dworkin MH, Global Energy Justice: Problems, Principles and Practices, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Image: https://www.alsothecrumbsplease.com/air-fryer-chocolate-cake/

Reasons I became an engineer: #1

Photograph of aircraft carrier in heavy seas for decorative purposes onlyThis is the first in a series of posts in which I am going to reflect on my route to becoming an engineer.  These events happened around forty years ago so inevitably my recollections probably have more in common with folklore than reliable history.  Nevertheless, I hope they might be of interest.

I was good at mathematics at school but also geography and when required to specialise at the age of sixteen would have preferred to study mathematics, geography and perhaps economics.  However, my parents and my school, had other ideas and decided that partnering chemistry and physics with mathematics would give me more opportunities in terms of university courses and careers.  Physics was manageable but Chemistry was a complete mystery to me.  I left school shortly before my eighteenth birthday and joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman.  I went to Dartmouth Naval College where, as part of my training to become a seaman officer, I was taught to march, navigate, fight fires, sail yachts, drive motor launches and fly helicopters as well as spending time with the Royal Marines.  After my basic naval training, which included time at sea on HMS Hermes, I went to University sponsored by the Royal Navy with a free choice of subject to study.  So, I chose Mechanical Engineering because I thought as an officer on the bridge of a ship, perhaps eventually in command of a ship, it would be useful to understand what the engineers were talking about when they asked for a change in operations due to technical difficulties.  At that stage in my life, I had no intention of becoming an engineer, but with hindsight it was my first step in that direction.

Reflecting on the lack of women in engineering

It was International Women’s Day last week which caused me to reflect on parlous state of the engineering profession.  Despite many initiatives and substantial expenditure of resources, the percentage of women in engineering in many Western countries has remained around 20% for most of my career.  For instance, in the UK, women made up 14.5% of all engineers in 2021 according to the Women in Engineering Society and 21.8% of women work in the engineering sector; while in the USA women secured 22% of all Bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 2018 (wwwstemwomen.com).  So, why have the many apparently well-supported initiatives made so little progress towards creating a gender-balanced profession?  Perhaps, they are not as well-supported within the engineering profession as they appear to be; or they are the wrong solutions for the problem because we do not understand the problem.  I suspect that both of these reasons for failure are relevant.  The lack of progress would suggest that most men in engineering are not worried that their profession is unrepresentative of the society it claims to serve and if they are concerned then they do not understand the issues sufficiently well to be able see a viable solution.  We can start to gain a better understanding by listening to women in science and engineering.  This can be done in everyday conversations, by attending events such as those organised on International Women’s Day, or by reading about women’s experiences such as in ‘Invisible Women: exposing data bias in a world designed by men’ by Caroline Criado Perez or in ‘A Fly Girl’s Guide to University: being a woman of colour at Cambridge and other institutions of power and elitism’ by Lola Olufemi, Odelia Younge, Waithera Sebatindira and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan.