Womens Engineering Society: Inspiring women as engineers, scientists and technical leaders

Role Models

Joanna Kennedy

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Joanna Kennedy, OBE

Awards: FREng; UKRC Women of Outstanding Achievement 2008


As a leader of Arup Project Management, Joanna is responsible at any one time for a range of construction projects, often worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
After gaining a first-class honours degree at Oxford University, Joanna specialised in the design of structures such as bridges. She subsequently developed her skills in the leadership and management of large multidisciplinary projects.
Throughout her career, Joanna has been active in promoting her profession, and describes her own experience of engineering as ‘exciting, creative and practical’.
She has held a wide range of public appointments including membership of the Engineering Council.
In 1993 she was appointed a Trustee of the Science Museum by the Prime Minister and is a non-executive member of the Port of London Authority. Joanna was awarded an OBE in 1995 for ‘services to consulting engineering’ and is one of a handful of women to be elected Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
She had a key role in the launch of WISE (Women Into Science and Engineering) for promoting women in SET.

Joanna’s inspiration?

At school I was keen on maths and physics and wanted to use my technical skills to be creative and practical. I wanted to design buildings and was determined to go into engineering despite it being rare for a woman to do so.

What is the best thing about working in SET?

The fantastic variety of opportunities. My job isn’t just office based – I get to go out onto sites and take a hands on approach. It’s also all about improving people’s lives – our company works with organisations such as the Register of Engineers Disaster Relief and Engineering Without Borders who we sponsor to work in war-torn and under-developed countries, which is fantastically satisfying.

Proudest achievement?

There have been a number of highlights one of which was seeing my design of the M25 Runnymede bridge come to life, especially since it was so rare to see a woman on site in the 1970’s when I did it.
Probably my greatest achievement though is being able to have a fantastic career and bring up and support my family. I’m pleased to be able to demonstrate that you can get to the top and have a family life.

What would your advice be for other women thinking of starting a career in SET?

You need to get specific qualifications and nowadays there’s a huge variety of training you can do. My advice to other women is to go for it – the opportunities are enormous and there’s never a dull moment in engineering.

Advice to prospective SET employers?

Arup is great at attracting and retaining women because we have good policies for flexible working and encourage women to progress. More importantly though is getting more good science teachers to attract the brightest and most able students into careers like engineering. Companies also need to make sure they have attractive propositions for graduates to prevent them going into other industries.

How valuable do you think the UKRC is as a resource for women in SET?

I actually gave some input into the original report which the UKRC sprung out of, so I’m certainly supportive of it. It’s great that there’s one place where women from across science, engineering and technology can go for co-ordinated information, advice and support.

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