Liz Fry, Materials and Innovation Manager, Pritex Limited

I didn’t want to be an engineer. My Dad was an engineer. He renovated classic motorbikes and always seemed to be covered in muck and talking to gruff men. My Mum was an engineer. She studied Mechanical Engineering and worked in the automotive industry. She was amazing but always seemed to be struggling against prejudice. No, I definitely didn’t want to be an engineer.

When it came to A levels, I picked the subjects I enjoyed. Maths, Chemistry, Textiles, Psychology. Such a mixed bag! But this wasn’t really giving me a clue as to what I should be. I loved Maths and Science but at times the subjects felt a bit dry and I wasn’t sure I fitted in. I loved Art and Design but I was always being told that I wasn’t creative enough and I wasn’t very good at drawing. So I didn’t really fit in here either.

One night I was doing some homework on Technical Textiles. I read about how invisibility cloaks could be real with advances in smart textiles. I read about how spiders silks was as strong as steel. I read that you could make yarns out of goats milk. Now this is what I wanted to do!

Several years later I graduated from the University of Manchester with a first class degree in Textiles Science and Technology. My first job was with a UK technical textile manufacturer as a Textile Engineer. Hang on a minute, I didn’t want to be an engineer! But what is an engineer anyway?

It is the creative application of mathematic and scientific principles to design, invent, build, research and improve. That’s exactly what I was doing. And that was exactly what I really loved doing. I wish someone had told me this before!

Fast track seven years and now I am the named inventor on 4 different patent applications. I have designed fabrics with PTFE yarns which make them incredibly durable. I have made fabrics with special metalized yarns to help stop static build up in electrically sensitive environments. I have designed composite fabrics made from nylon and aramid to utilise their separate benefits. I have used plasma technology to make very chemically resistant polymers have better adhesive properties. The list goes on and on. My designs are literally all over the world - in funny places you would never think about.

And now I am an Innovation Manager for a company manufacturing acoustic components for the Automotive industry. My job is to make sure that peoples brilliant ideas get turned into new products and that everyone in the company is encouraged to be innovative.

However, to be truly innovative you need varied ideas. And to get varied ideas you need diverse teams of people. So to me, the fact that the UK is the worst European country to represent women in engineering is a total travesty. 9% is not enough. I want to challenge all the young women who think they don’t want to be engineers and show them that they might just be wrong. Because if they succeed, we all succeed.