Nike is a chartered engineer and gained a PhD in electronics engineering at the University of Sheffield. She has worked for Mott MacDonald, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and now WSP as Technical Discipline Leader - Communications & Control (Rail). Nike is also the founder and chairperson of AFBE-UK.
Nike featured in the Academy's Designed to Inspire project to encourage more engineering students to transition from education into engineering employment.
“I save lives and improve people’s quality of life! I know that sounds a little bit exaggerated for an engineer but my role, among other things, involves liaising with emergency services and other stakeholders in the built environments such as roads, railway and highway tunnels to design systems and infrastructure that ensures people travel safe, have the right information and can call for help and be rescued from confined spaces and in emergency situations.”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
I save lives and improve people’s quality of life! I know that sounds a little bit exaggerated for an engineer, but my role, among other things, involves liaising with emergency services and other stakeholders in the built environments such as roads, railway and highway tunnels to design systems and infrastructure that ensures people travel safely, have the right information and can call for help and be rescued from confined spaces and in emergency situations. I also support security services, including the police when evidence is required in crime situations through provision of good quality CCTV footage, while allowing passengers at stations and in trains to have a positive customer experience through provision of information and support of disabled commuters.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I chose engineering because I loved televisions. I always found TV aerials fascinating and wanted to understand how images got transmitted to the TV box via a metal rod structure.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
I love the variety of engineering. I like that every project has its unique challenges. I love that I never stop learning something new and the excitement of opportunities engineering brings.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
I’m most proud of the young people that have come through AFBE-UK’s programmes such as the Making Engineering Hot and Transition who now work as engineers in industry. From a technical perspective, I’m proud of the fact that I am one of the engineers digitising UK’s rail sector using new technology to transform the way we experience travel.
How do you think racial parity in engineering can be achieved?
Racial parity can be achieved by creating inclusive cultures where all communities can thrive. There is a clear need to support engineers from BME backgrounds not just from an attraction perspective but also recruitment, retention and progression aspects. The feedback from AFBE-UK members is that many BME engineers reach a glass ceiling and cannot see a path towards progression. Currently less than 0.5% are board members of UK’s engineering companies and less than 0.1% of university professors are Black. One can therefore infer that there are limited to no role models for BME engineers looking to advance to engineering leadership positions. Progression is therefore a key element in achieving racial parity.
Has being a BAME engineer had an impact on your career either positive or negative?
Personally it has had both positive and negative impacts. On the positive side, I am able to inspire other upcoming engineers to aspire to engineering leadership regardless of the perceived challenges they might face. I am also able to encourage them to be the best engineer and focus honing their skills so that they can in turn inspire others. The negative impact has typically been that I am expected to justify my views on diversity in engineering. Some feel that I should not have an objective view (as I am often seen as one of the lucky ones!). Additionally, I am often required to prove my expertise as a BME female engineer. Interestingly, this is typically not by the people I work with in my day job, but by others who explain my progression away as tokenism.
How has the ethnic diversity of the profession changed since you started working in engineering?
In 2007, when AFBE was founded, there were fewer BME people in engineering. Since then, there has been an increase from 6% to 7.8%, with diversity and inclusion recognised as a key component in filling the skills gap and in improving innovation. That said, more research is required to understand which ethnicities are actually represented in engineering as BME communities are not homogeneous. Although encouraging to see the increase, the engineering industry needs to recognise that the UK’s ethnic minority population is projected to make up 30% of the population by 2050. As such more needs to be done to engage and retain BME groups within engineering to secure the future skills requirement.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
Yes, you can. Find what makes you tick. The engineering industry has a vast array of disciplines and each engineer makes their own unique journey within the industry. Engineering gives one the flexibility that is needed to thrive in many industries.