Dr Jo Douglas-Harris believes “A more diverse workplace brings a wider range of ideas to the table. A more inclusive workplace ensures all the voices around the table are heard and valued. Together, these two things lead to more and better innovations.”

Darlington based Jo moved back to The Tees area to be closer to family in 2019. Prior to her return, she completed a master’s degree in Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Bath. Jo now works in Wynyard for Venator as a Product and Applications Scientist.

During her PhD, Jo learned about Chemical Engineering and decided that is what she wanted to do. Jo now strongly believes that everyone should know what engineers do.

“STEM skills contribute to life’s challenges, whether climate change or the pandemic,” she says. “We need to attract young people into these careers, particularly as we are facing a skills gap in the STEM sector.”

Jo’s advice for people thinking about STEM is “absolutely go for it. The career possibilities are endless, and the jobs available are changing as technology improves. In my career I’ve worked to analyse the chemicals in whisky to prevent fraud, measured the effectiveness of fabric softener and investigated how to make the white ink on a can of fizzy drink really pop.”

Throughout Jo’s interesting career she has been heavily involved with the Women’s Engineering Society (WES). After having many roles, including founding and chairing several groups, Jo was the youngest WES Vice President when voted in at the tender age of 28. WES and its partners have supported women in engineering and have educated the public about women engineers for 101 years. Jo is the Cluster Coordinator of our local Tyne and Tees Cluster who put on local events and networking opportunities.

Under Jo’s leadership, the North East members have featured heavily in The Women Engineer journal, showcasing some of the great work they have undertaken in and around the Tees. Currently the Women in STEM series is back underway after the Lit and Phil events earlier in the year were cancelled. Past events have included ‘Shaping the World by Influencing Inclusion’ which celebrated the diversity of engineering to mark International Women in Engineering Day (www.inwed.org.uk).

These events are very important as women still face many challenges in the workplace. Things are improving as more organisations become aware that diversity leads to a better financial bottom line. Workplace culture is improving and working towards becoming truly inclusive, but most agree there is still a way to go.

There are many contributary factors to what WES calls ‘the leaky pipeline’ where women drop out of STEM. One very interesting initiative used by a number of WES Partners is Reverse Mentoring. A junior staff member, often from an underrepresented group, mentors a senior manager, providing the opportunity to accelerate the junior’s experiences whilst simultaneously creating an understanding of real issues at management level.

WES recognises the importance of having men as allies and Jo stresses that all are welcome at WES events. “Real change will not occur if we don’t all work together,” she adds. Jo lives by this motto by collaborating with many different organisations including Tees Valley’s Engineering Together group (www.engineeringtogether.com).

Jo is particularly proud of the #WESLottieTour which started as an initiative of the WES Early Careers Board. Lottie, a doll based on the proportions of a 9 year old girl, with age appropriate clothing and no makeup, visits many workplaces with female and male engineers. When she is on site, she dons her high visibility vest and hard hat, and she also has protective goggles and a white coat for times when she visits a lab. This campaign highlights the huge range of careers in engineering and provides role models to encourage more girls, and boys, into a STEM career.

So if you are in a STEM field and wish to hear more about the industry, network or work towards having representation in the sector which reflects our society then please get in touch at TeesandTynesidecluster@wes.org.uk.

Interview by Paula McMahon, Engineering Together Chair and WES Fellow


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