Women in Engineering Week - Interview with Bushra Khan - Fellow of the IET

As part of Women in Engineering Day, Elevation Recruitment Group brings you a series of inter-views, published over the week. Our interviewees are women working in the engineering sector, in various roles and industries across the Yorkshire region.

Our third interviewee is Bushra Khan, Fellow of the IET. Bushra’s career has taken her through a number of senior engineering roles within the aerospace, automotive and sustainable energy markets, with her most recent role as Head of Engineering for Optare. Over her 20-year engineering career, Bushra has become a certified Master Black Belt in Six Sigma and has subsequently helped many engineers to gain their chartership status with the IET.

In this interview Bushra shares her career journey leading to her most recent role as Head of Engineering, an insight into her fellowship status with the IET, her passion for clean air sustainable technologies and her thoughts on whether more needs to be done in education settings to engage young women into the engineering sector.

Interview with Bushra

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 What initially attracted you to a career in Engineering?

I always had a fascination with aeroplanes and understanding how they were designed. My father was an Aeronautical Engineer, but it was my mother who encouraged me to study Aerospace Engineering at the University of Liverpool. I then went on to complete a master’s degree in Microelectronic Systems and Telecommunications which began my career journey in Engineering.

Can you give us a whistle stop tour of your career?

After graduating from university, I joined the National Air Traffic services (NATs) graduate scheme as a Systems Engineer, working on safety critical systems such as radar, navigation, and communications.

I then moved into the automotive industry as an Air Conditioning Systems Engineer providing solutions for Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin. Following this, I joined an automotive component business that specialised in heavy duty vehicles. In that position I worked within the mechatronics team, developing actuators and sensors. After a few years, I progressed into a Chief Engineer of Advanced Mechatronics and became a certified Black Belt and Master Black Belt in Six Sigma.

Following my 10-year career, I wanted a change and a chance to give something back to society, so I joined the Yorkshire Ambulance Service as a Process Improvement Manager. In this role I was responsible for improving processes and fleet management.

Having always been passionate about sustainability, I then joined the UK Atomic Energy Authority as Head of Systems Engineering. My role was to focus on providing clean energy to the grid via nuclear fusion.

I then joined Optare as Head of Engineering, where I was responsible for the entire Engineering departments and the delivery of diesel and electric vehicles. It was the electric side of the role that I was extremely interested in, delivering zero net carbon clean air solutions to secure the future of our planet.

How has your career progressed throughout the years to your most recent role of Head of Engineering?

Since starting my career as a Graduate Engineer, I have progressed through various roles and taken on more responsibility. Managing projects and taking them from concept to completion had a great impact on my skills.

Achieving a Master Black Belt certification in Six Sigma enhanced my data analysis, database decision making and stakeholder management skills as I was responsible for solving major issues in the business.

The skills I had gained over my earlier career enabled me to successfully manage my own team and large-scale projects, this contributed to being able to attain my most senior roles as Head of Systems Engineering and Head of Engineering.

What are the key responsibilities that come with such a senior role in Engineering?

My role as Head of Engineering came with the overall responsibility for the product lifecycle, from concept, design, testing, safety and production.

I have also been responsible for future strategy, in relation to product and technology roadmaps. Whilst having overall accountability for building relationships with customers, making sure their needs were met and forging partnerships with suppliers.

My roles have all had a large responsibility for people, developing their careers and skills, and as importantly their overall wellbeing.

What have you enjoyed specifically about the industries you have worked in?

I have always liked the variety that engineering industries offer and the ability to make tangible contributions. Even as a graduate working in Air Traffic Control, I was able to work on the next generation of radar, working with Euro control member states and seeing first-hand the operations in control towers and centres.

Whilst working in the automotive industry, I would test the air conditioning systems in high-specification cars, whilst driving internationally in extreme climates across frozen lakes. This was an amazing experience and something I would never have done without my career.

My career in engineering has taken me to so many amazing places, I have visited Switzerland, North America, Turkey, China, South Korea, and Japan. In all of the industries I have worked in, I have been able to grow my skills and develop as an engineer.

Can you tell us more about your engineering qualifications and specifically your IET fellowship, what that entails and how you have achieved this?

Professional development has always been important to me, after I completed my degree and master’s in engineering, I became a member of the IET and worked towards achieving the chartered engineering status. As part of that, I needed to show evidence that I met the criteria in knowledge, understanding, design and professional commitment, stipulated by the engineering council and the IET.  The process involved recording work and projects that I had been a part of or led, submitting evidence, and being interviewed by a panel.

After a few years of being chartered, I was then able to apply for a fellowship, where I had to demonstrate criteria such as creativity, innovation, leadership, contribution, and insight. The process was similar and with an interview by a panel.

Last year, I completed an MBA in Technology Management to enhance my management practise and strategic skills and allow me to focus on my interests in sustainability.

As I have successfully attained those qualifications, it is extremely important to me to support other engineers in their chartership with the IET and IMechE, through coaching and mentoring.

What do you enjoy most about working in Engineering?

I like the variety, the creativity, having tangible deliverables and contributing to society and sustainability.

What has been your biggest learning curve/ challenge in your career?

The biggest thing I have learned is the importance of stakeholder management, creating a coalition of people that support your initiatives and not leaving anyone behind. You may think that having most people on board is enough, but do not underestimate the power of those few stakeholders that do not support. One detractor can make or break a project. 

What has been your greatest achievement in your career to date?

My greatest achievement to date is my role as Head of Engineering. It was extremely significant for me, as I was the first woman to lead the engineering department and I was also able to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions and delivering electric vehicles, which I am extremely passionate about.

As a woman in Engineering, do you have any role models that you look to inside your field and why?

My role models are historical figures that contributed to space flight and aeronautics whilst working for NASA, such as Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson. These are women who I only found out about in the last few years, even though I studied Aerospace Engineering.

What do you think are the main qualities you need to succeed in an engineering role and the industry as a whole?

You need to be able to think outside the box and bring innovative ideas to the table, and you can only do that if you are passionate about your work.

You must be adaptable and flexible to changing environments and be able to take projects through their whole lifecycle, from concept to production. Having the confidence to collaborate cross functionally and the desire to develop softer skills such as, communication and interaction are key to success.

Do you think there is more that needs to be done in education to engage young women into engineering subjects?

Yes, there needs to be more promotion of STEM subjects and more role models that go into education settings to provide talks and presentations on the industry.

Whilst working in a previous company, I would go into all girl schools to give engineering career talks. I think it is a great way to engage with young people and give a real insight into the different industries, the roles, educational qualifications, and the opportunities that come with it. I have also set up STEM ambassador programmes to encourage engineers of the future and I think that needs to continue across the industry.

What is the most important advice you would give to women, or anyone interested in starting a career in engineering?

Your passion will take you on your journey of discovery, there will be obstacles along the way, but the possibilities are endless. Do not let anyone stop you or discourage you.

For more information on this interview or to discuss how we can help you in your engineering and manufacturing recruitment requirements, please contact John Bohan on 07985 151 131 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

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