Video: Engineer from defence giant Leonardo uses poetry to inspire next generation of female talent on International Women in Engineering Day 2021

Poetry might not be how you would expect an engineer to convey their professional experiences to the next generation of industry talent…

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 4:55 am
Leonardo's engineering and projects director, Paula Clarke, with her children (right) and Heather Dalgarno, project engineering lead at Leonardo in Edinburgh (left). Pictures: Leonardo
Leonardo's engineering and projects director, Paula Clarke, with her children (right) and Heather Dalgarno, project engineering lead at Leonardo in Edinburgh (left). Pictures: Leonardo

But it has proved the perfect tool for defence giant Leonardo’s engineering and projects director, Paula Clarke, who has released her own poem to mark International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) on June 23.

INWED is a campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering by celebrating their achievements and highlighting all the career opportunities available to women and girls in the industry.

Paula decided to release a filmed version of her poem - featuring verses read by a number of Leonardo’s leading female engineers - after it struck a chord when she read it out at a virtual conference she was asked to present to in November.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It is entitled ‘In my Defence,’ a play on words which simultaneously describes her experiences in having to justify herself to strengthen her identity in a professional environment, and the inclusive environment she is building around herself within the defence industry.

Paula felt she had no right to challenge the next generation of engineers to go out of their comfort zone in their professional environment unless she was willing to do so herself.

She said: “I wanted to subvert expectations by taking a risk. Some of the UK’s most eminent engineers were assembled for the conference and I thought ‘well what do I have to offer that is a bit different’ and that’s where the idea for the poem came from.

“I decided to share a very personal part of my experiences as an individual because sometimes a good way to start an important conversation is by having the courage to be the first person willing to be vulnerable. I’m not a poet so in doing something out of the ordinary, I wanted to show that opening yourself up to criticism and doing something you wouldn’t normally do is ok.”

Paula said the industry is still perceived as being less accessible for women which she says is “just not true.”

She continued: “If we want other women to join the club, we need to show them we all have the same challenges, fears and aspirations and that those perceived barriers can be overcome if engineering is your passion by taking accountability for the way you operate in your own environment.”

Themes covered in Paula’s poem include finding ways to respond positively when you feel you are being judged for your accent, background, or demeanour and your performance as a mother juggling professional and personal responsibilities.

Heather Dalgarno, project engineering lead at Leonardo in Edinburgh was among the group of female engineers who read some of the verses of Paula’s poem and found the words had special meaning for them.

Heather said that increasing gender diversity within STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers is a topic close to her heart and that, as a woman working in engineering, she wants her children to grow up with the idea that women belong in that environment.

Leonardo employs more than 2,000 people at its Crewe Toll site in Edinburgh.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription at