Benita Mehra's initiation into her WES Presidency

I welcome the opportunity to serve you as President and having been in the role only less than four days, the Ada Lovelace day was upon us. WES was approached by the BBC for a spokesperson and if they could attend the BBC news TV - as they were running a piece on 'too hot to be an engineer'. They wanted to know if someone could go on air. I received the email and started to come up with excuses: "I need more time", "I haven't been in office long enough" and "what do I know?"

A couple of the people around me, (all men I hasten to add) said: "well, you have two hours before you go on air and you can do it". Self belief, I need some now. I sent a one line email to my boss and caught the train into London. I received a few tips, "remember there are three points, use fill in words if you need time to think and slow down". I had done media and presentation training but hadn't got back 'in the saddle' for over 10 years and hadn't done live TV. I spoke to Amina in the office and she sent me facts and figures. I then read three reports in 20 minutes, and as I made my way to the BBC in London spoke to Isaac at the BBC, as I wanted to be clear on the brief and what they were looking for. I had to tell him this was a first for me, but I knew this benefitted WES and all us women engineers as we doubt ourselves.

I looked a mess, there was no way I could go home, so I had to shop, and ran into John Lewis on Oxford street and scoured the rails, tried on ten tops and didn't want to have a faux pas with my underwear showing. I thought red or white but no stripes or patterns as that will cause havoc on the TV screen, then tore the labels off and paid. 

I was now starting to panic and was feeling nervous. I rang my family and my husband tried to make me laugh; not sure the joke was well received though: "Don't be like Natalie Bennett from the Green Party". My son was more supportive "will you get a certificate? I will be watching you, don't worry, do your best, I love you". l smiled (as it's what I would normally say to him).

I arrived at the BBC and was taken to makeup. I had a lady there and we had a good 10 mins chat as I explained what I was here to talk about, and pondered why the girl guides couldn't see the value of an 'engineering badge'. I do want to get them on side, but condsidered that perhaps the Scouts might see the value? She worked miracles; I wanted to be prepared and asked if I could speak to Isaac as I wanted to know what would the story be and what would the questions be? 

I felt more prepared and had relaxed, and then walked into the studio and was on live TV. I did seek feedback from Isaac - he commended me on my first perfomance and would consider me again. My nephew (11yrs) and son (8yrs) - they were honest that they didn't understand the content. My family said I looked good, I was calm and relaxed; but didn't realise the UK was so far behind Europe in numbers of female engineers.

From my work - I received a card, chocolates and a pen, they knew I was about to say 'No' to a chance to appear on TV and represent WES. I have since reflected on the event and the content of what I said and watched my performance, there are a few things that I can improve but the big one for me is: "How are we going to increase the number of females?" So it's 50:50 as we have had limited success thus far; the IET president is seeking quotas; women on boards have set targets. This is something Dawn (Immediate Past President) and I are going to be looking into as we are visiting schools but are not making a sufficient difference.

Benita Mehra, President
Women's Engineering Society