Women in STEM – Oyinda Gunn

Last week Tuesday marked the 7th year celebrating women in engineering internationally. The International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) is an awareness campaign that raises the profiles of women in engineering and focuses attention on the fantastic career opportunities available to young girls and women in the industry.

It is a globally known fact that women are under-represented in roles within Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). According to UNESCO, only 33% of students in STEM fields are women.

So, what is the importance of having young girls and women in STEM?

The need for young girls and women in STEM roles goes beyond ticking a box for gender diversity. More women are needed in STEM roles to create useful and more accurate scientific innovations. When the seat belt was first invented, it was modelled solely on the physical attributes of men. This caused the death of several women and children because their physicality had not been considered.

For the future of innovation, more young girls and women should be encouraged to pursue STEM careers. This can be achieved in a number of ways:

  • Breaking gender stereotypes at an early age.
  • Instilling confidence in young girls and women.
  • Connecting young girls/women to female STEM mentors.
  • Providing learning opportunities through workshops.

As women become more prevalent in STEM careers, more and more young girls will begin to recognise the additional career opportunities open to them. 

To celebrate #INWED, I interviewed Oyinda Gunn—a Process Safety Engineer. Read more about Oyinda below. 🙂

About me
I studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Lagos, Nigeria and then completed a Master’s degree in Safety, Risk and Reliability Engineering at Herriot Watt University, Edinburgh. With over 12 years of post-graduate work experience in the Oil and Gas sector, my career in engineering has enabled me to work in many countries, including Nigeria, France, South Korea and the United Kingdom. I have worked on large scale engineering projects to design onshore and offshore facilities. I currently work as a Process Safety Engineer in an engineering consultancy company located in the North East of England.

What my job involves
As a Process Safety Engineer, I work on projects in the petrochemical and energy industry. My job involves identifying significant hazards associated with the processing facility and modelling fire and gas risks during the early stage of design. This allows me to specify safety systems that can eliminate the hazard or mitigate their effect. I have worked on a range of projects including the design of Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) facilities, production platforms and cryogenic storage facilities.

I am currently working on a project that involves the design of a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) storage tank in South East Asia. LNG stored in the tank will be converted from liquid to gas and sent to the National rid to generate electricity for industrial and domestic use. LNG is mainly liquid methane stored at about minus 160 degrees Celsius, which is super cold (cryogenic). When LNG spills, it rapidly vaporises and can expand to 500 times the liquid volume. Methane gas is flammable and will ignite if a heat source is present. The size of a typical LNG storage tank is about 180,000 cubic meters; this is a substantial amount of LNG that, if released, would quickly result in a fire or explosion. It is therefore crucial that I design a reliable safety system for the storage and distribution of LNG.

A typical day at work for me involves the following:
• Applying process safety principles to resolve design problems.
• Designing the fire protection system required.
• Designing the fire and gas detection system.
• Ensuring plant accessibility
• Participating in safety reviews such as Hazard Identification (HAZID) or Hazard and Operability Study (HAZOP) studies with other engineering disciplines and the client.

How I got into engineering
My initial motivation to study engineering was from my father, who is a Civil Engineer. He was involved in the design of the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, Nigeria. My dad always talked about the bridge and his involvement in the design phase. I remember being curious and always wondering how such a long bridge (12 km) could stand in water without sinking, and it fascinated me. I was about 10 years old, and I think that curiosity developed over time.

As a child, I remember having a discussion with one of my cousins about making a flying car. When I told my dad about the idea, he encouraged me to consider studying engineering. I eventually chose to study chemical engineering because I thought it was a better choice for a woman, as I associated mechanical engineering with using heavy tools or equipment. My first job after graduation was for an engineering design company, and I have stayed in this sector ever since.

What I enjoy about working in engineering
It is challenging and exciting at the same time. You get to see how these large and complex process facilities/structures are made and all the parts that go into them. You’re always asking ‘can this be done?’ As a woman, you bring in a different dynamics and outlook to getting things done. Sometimes that can bring resistance; however, it makes it even more exciting to be different and to think outside the box.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in STEM
Statistics show that 12% of all engineers in the UK are women. As a woman in a male-dominated sector, I’ve had to prove myself continuously—in my knowledge and my capability to do a good job. It’s a continuous process, and the system is such that there is little or no room for a woman to make a mistake. I’ve had to learn to be assertive and stand my ground sometimes, especially now that I occupy a more senior position with greater responsibilities. The low proportion of women in engineering means that there are fewer women in management positions, and the complex aspects of a woman’s life are mostly misunderstood and underrepresented.

What advice do you have for girls and young women considering a career in STEM?
There is clearly a need to encourage more girls to consider a career in engineering. The general impression is that engineering is a male profession, and it’s not welcoming to women; this is a myth. On the contrary, engineering is so broad and diverse that almost anything you can think of involves some form of engineering.

My career as a Process Safety Engineer has provided me with a great work-life balance. I have worked on different types of projects and travelled around the world. My career has allowed me to interact with people with diverse cultures. Engineering principles are the same everywhere and can be applied to so many fields from food to cars to chemicals etc. Engineers are always needed. It is very satisfying to see the results of completed projects and know that I’m contributing to the daily lives of people.

Editing by Ife Agboola

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