For Olivia Sweeney, it was not a love for engineering as much as doing something good for the planet that led her to a career in science.
‘I didn’t know what chemical engineering was when I signed up for it. My passion for greenness has guided my decisions since I was quite young, through my GCSEs and A levels,’ she told Metro.co.uk.
Sweeney channelled this passion into a degree in chemical engineering at university and a master’s degree to top it off.
Just a few years after graduating, Sweeney was named one of the ‘Top 100 most Influential Women in Engineering’ by the FT in 2019.
Since then, Sweeney has been invited to COP26, the climate conference and created cosmetics brand Lush’s signature banana scent; an impressively varied list of achievements.
At at her first job working with aroma chemicals at Lush, she developed a deeper interest in the circular economy, which is essentially making things from waste.
‘When I chose to study chemical engineering, I thought that could give me the skills to make a tangible impact,’ she said.
That’s what she does at her current job as a consultant at Resource Futures, a sustainable waste consultancy, where she works with everything from primary data collection to identifying problems, developing policies and the impact they could have.
Sweeney thinks the engineering profession hasn’t been very good at communicating how human it is.
‘I think it’s so much more than the maths and science that it’s sometimes minimised to,’ she said.
‘It’s not just about tech because we might be building tech, roads or trains but that’s nothing without the humans that interact with them,’
That’s why she’s working with the Royal Academy of Engineering to spread the much-needed awareness about these jobs in time for National Engineering Day on 2nd November.
This year’s theme is about how engineering is a part of making a healthier and happier world for humans.
‘That was especially highlighted through the pandemic, with the role that it played in allowing us to be safe a little bit quicker than it might otherwise have been possible,’ she said.
Sweeny is also involved in engineering campaigns that break down stereotypes of what an engineer probably looks like.
‘Engineers come in as many different shapes and sizes as people do,’ she said.
For Sweeney, having an ‘amazing’ chemistry teacher planted the seed for pursuing a career in science.
‘Not only was she a woman but also her approach and personality were so opposite to how I had been taught chemistry up until that point,’ she said. ‘You can’t be what you can’t see and finding those role models to hold on to and aim for is so important,’
A decade into her journey as a woman of colour in STEM, Sweeney is happy talking about how her ethnicity and gender influences her work.
It’s her one piece of advice: to not be afraid of bringing your identity into your work.
Sweeney cautions against thinking ‘someone else must have thought of that’.
‘It would be surprising how often people haven’t because your life experience and perception of the world is shaped by who you are and what you look like,’
Given how engineers play a major part in designing and building the way we live and the way the world works, she thinks ‘the people inputting into that must be as diverse as the people that they’re serving’.
For example, AI identification isn’t as good for different accents, skin tones or ethnicities. She cites VR as another example as it is more likely to cause motion sickness in women because hormone cycles weren’t taken into account when building it.
‘So you can already see where there have been little holes and while they can be patched, it would be so much better if they weren’t there to start with,’ she said.
She thinks having people of colour in STEM is doubly important as they are more likely to suffer the negative impacts of climate change.
Her work with Black & Green Ambassadors, a group that works at the intersection of climate and racial justice, expands on this theme.
‘We could solve climate change with solar panels and electric cars but we’re still going to live in a world that has all the inequalities that it does now,’ she said.
‘This makes it important to think about the social side of the problem, which comes with diversity in decision making,’
Sweeney was recently named one of the 40 future leaders by the Black Cultural Archives and her advice to young people of colour is not to ‘feel like you have to put on a persona or fit a mould’.
‘People will want to work with you so much more if you’re as rebellious or as questioning or as artistic as you want to be,’
MORE : Without supplementary school, I would have been clueless about Black history
MORE : From fixing bikes in Peckham to Lewis Hamilton’s race team: George Imafidon is a Black success story
Black History Month
October marks Black History Month, which reflects on the achievements, cultures and contributions of Black people in the UK and across the globe, as well as educating others about the diverse history of those from African and Caribbean descent.
For more information about the events and celebrations that are taking place this year, visit the official Black History Month website.
Get your need-to-know
latest news, feel-good stories, analysis and more
Denial of responsibility! planetcirculate is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.