In My Defence: Poem written to inspire current and future women engineers

23 June 2021

Poetry might not be the first medium you would expect an engineer to choose to convey their experiences to the next generation of engineers. However, it has proved to be the perfect tool for Leonardo’s Engineering & Projects Director, Paula Clarke, who has released a poem to mark International Women in Engineering Day (INWED).

Paula first wrote her poem when she was asked to present at a virtual conference for the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) in November 2021. The response from attendees was so positive, that she has released a filmed version of the poem, featuring verses read by a number of Leonardo’s leading women engineers, to celebrate INWED on 23 June 2021. INWED is an international awareness campaign that seeks to raise the profile of women in engineering, by celebrating their achievements and highlighting the full breadth of career opportunities available to women and girls in the industry.

 

Paula felt that she had no right to challenge the next generation of engineers to go out of their comfort zone in their professional environment, unless she was willing to do so herself.

“I wanted to subvert expectations by taking a risk,” explains Paula. “Some of the UK’s most eminent engineers were assembled for the conference and I thought ‘well what do I have to offer that is a bit different?’, and that’s where the idea for the poem came from. I decided to share a very personal part of my experiences as an individual, because sometimes a good way to start an important conversation is by having the courage to be the first person willing to be vulnerable. I’m not a poet, so in doing something out of the ordinary, I wanted to show that opening yourself up to criticism and doing something you wouldn’t normally do is ok.”

Paula presents her poem in the film, with fellow women engineers from across the UK and Italy picking up verses to show their support for its powerful messages. Paula called the poem ‘In my Defence’ in a play on words. The poem simultaneously describes her experiences where she has felt the need to justify herself to forge and strengthen her identity in a professional environment, while the title also refers to the new inclusive environment she is building around herself within the defence industry, where people are given the freedom to be themselves. 

“I wanted to be a bit playful and open up the conversation, sharing some things you probably won’t read about in books. It’s not about being a feminist – it is about being totally authentic. I would like to think I am different from the archetypal female leader who can be portrayed as somewhat harsh. I’m an employee, a mum, a daughter, a sister and I happen to have pursued a career in engineering, just like millions of other women worldwide. But there aren’t enough of us and it’s still perceived as less accessible for women…and that’s just not true!” Paula states clearly.

“If we want other women to join the club, we need to show them we all have the same challenges, fears and aspirations, and that those perceived barriers can be overcome if engineering is your passion, by taking accountability for the way you operate in your own environment.”

Themes covered in Paula’s poem include finding ways to respond positively when you feel you are being judged for your accent, background or demeanour, and your performance as a mother juggling professional and personal responsibilities. 

A key paragraph in her poem says: 

“They should ponder how it feels to be judged
More by perception than what they do
And I commit to promoting on merit
So that you can really be you.”

“Even in the last decade, studies still show that women are expected to act a certain way to fit in. That can mean suppressing their natural expressiveness and drive them to feel a need to behave more like men. The future of engineering should be one where we actively encourage people to be themselves whatever that self may be, since when you’re being authentic, you can contribute so much more of yourself to a business. For businesses, that means more engaged employees, more invested employees and in the future, more women in engineering and leadership,” adds Paula. 

Watch the full video on Leonardo’s You Tube channel