FERM of the month: Professor Denise Bower


EDT’s FERM campaign (Female Engineer Role Models), is designed to raise the profile of inspirational women in engineering in order to enthuse the next generation of female engineers. Each month EDT will be nominating a FERM of the month to recognise and appreciate these women along with their significant contributions to the field of engineering.

EDT’s March FERM is Professor Denise Bower, not only is Denise the Director of the Engineering Project Academy at the University of Leeds and Executive Director of the Major Projects Association, Denise is also Chairman of ICE Capacity Building Panel. Amongst her busy working life Denise is also a mother to three children, demonstrating how focus and determination can bring success in both your career and personal life too, which is truly inspiring.

Denise’s career choice was initially motivated by her keen interest in History and Geography which led her onto the path of Civil Engineering, discovering that this area of Engineering was a great way to incorporate her passions into a career. She now heads up the Engineering Project Academy at the University of Leeds, which strives to lead sectoral change, by developing excellence in the people and organisations that deliver engineering projects.

During her career Denise has led a well established MSc programme in Engineering Project Management for a number of years , her expertise in learning and teaching earned her a National Teaching Fellowship award in 2009. During her career Denise has developed strong links across the academic community, collaborating on teaching and research activities which have led to her being widely published in academic journals as well as authoring and co-authoring key text books on the subject of Engineering Project Management.

As mentioned before, Denise is no workaholic, and even though she fulfils senior roles in various organisation, is published and has achieved many career highs – Denise still manages to maintain a balanced lifestyle, enjoying reading and running as well as spending the majority of her spare time with, in her own words, “her three lovely children.” She believes that you really don’t have to sacrifice a family life to be successful but you do need to commit to some “unshakeables”, she gave an example of sticking to a rule of no more than one night a week away from home, which may sometimes result in longer days and more travelling, but being disciplined needs to cross the boundaries of work to ensure a balanced lifestyle.

As Denise recalls her proudest achievements, she makes reference to the impact her career has made in the lives of others, “After teaching Engineering Project Management at both Undergraduate and Post Graduate levels for the length of time I have, it is always incredibly pleasing for me to see how well my former students are now performing in their very challenging roles. Most of them are now in leading positions in industry and to think I have made a contribution to this makes me so proud.”

Denise is also making an impact through her participation in a small, collaborative team, on the development, publication and application of the ‘Infrastructure Routemap’, to help infrastructure providers better identify risks and deliver value for money, which she also considers to be one of her career highlights.

With all this under her belt, it is almost difficult to understand or believe reports on females being ‘put off’ careers engineering. Denise is one of the many cases that prove you can achieve success in so many areas as a female, as well as having a life outside of work. In her experience Denise has not found anything in her career that has been difficult for her as a female in industry, and feels that she is well respected within her role. Speaking about diversity in STEM Denise said “I think that it would be helpful to find more role models that everyone can relate to at all stages of engineering careers, be it female or male - as long as they are great at bringing the excitement of engineering to life! Whether engineering is male dominated or female dominated does not make much difference. If we want world class infrastructure, we need a world class workforce to deliver it.”

The UK will need around 87,000 engineers, per year, over the next ten years to meet current demand. The statistics show that more recently there has been an increase in numbers of women entering into engineering disciplines, which is a promising sign, however employers must continue to improve opportunities and conditions in order to attract and more importantly to retain a diverse engineering workforce. Denise points out that “diversity will not only ensure that there are enough talented Engineers to fill demand, but it will also drive forward innovation, and increase the ability to offer imaginative and creative Civil Engineering solutions to society’s needs.”

When asked what advice she would give to prospective young females wanting a career in STEM, Denise said “my advice would be the same to everyone; work hard to ensure that you have a good grounding in the knowledge that you will need. Take every opportunity that you are offered to see how a wide range of people apply their engineering knowledge and ‘put your hand up’ to ensure that you get a wide range of opportunities to apply what you know. Understand the big picture – this will mean that you can plan out your career to maximise your potential. Behave collaboratively, most of the things you will do will be as part of a team so you need to work hard on your attributes that will lead to you doing this well.”

In celebration of Mother’s Day this Sunday, we commend Denise and all mothers working in STEM disciplines, proving that everyone can innovate in STEM, have a work life balance and still make a difference to the UK and beyond!


If you would like to nominate a FERM of the month, please email marketing@etrust.org.uk or tweet us @TheEDTUK using #FERM

Date published: 
March 12, 2015