Text reads 'International Women in Engineering Day, 23 June 2024' against a lavender background with a photo of Professor Boriana Koleva and the pro2 network+ logo to the right.

International Women in Engineering Day is a chance to recognise the significant contributions of female engineers and reflect on the challenges that remain to be addressed when it comes to gender equality in the field. Organised by Women’s Engineering Society (WES), the event has now been running for 11 years, providing an important platform to encourage more young women to take up careers in engineering.

This year we’ve spoken with pro² network+ Steering Group member, Boriana Koleva, a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Nottingham. She is also the Director of the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute, a UKRI-funded centre that brings together an interdisciplinary team to study and promote ubiquitous digital technology.


What initially drew you toward pursuing a career in Computer Science? Did you always imagine you would work in this field?

I did a Computing GCSE and discovered it was something I enjoyed and was good at. It was not available at International Baccalaureate level back in the early 90s at my school but when it came to choosing a degree, I decided to pursue Computer Science further as I thought I could do well, and it would lead to a good job.

However, no, it’s not something I always imagined I would do. Growing up in the 80’s, I was lucky to be able to play computer games on the new personal computers at the Technical University in Gabrovo as my mother worked there. But if anything, I thought this was not a career I wanted to pursue as a lab with only computers in it seemed a bit boring!


What has inspired your research interest in areas like mixed reality and the arts? How does this connect with the pro² theme ‘Infrastructure for Device Production’ which you co-lead with Professor Mike Fraser?

When I decided to do a PhD, I explored a number of topics but I was drawn by the emerging area of mixed reality as it could enable exciting new applications in a variety of domains and it offered new possibilities in terms of how we access and interact with digital content. My PhD research was about developing a technique called mixed reality boundaries as new way of joining together physical and virtual spaces and I was given the exciting opportunity to collaborate with artists. It was inspiring to work with the Blast Theory performance group on the BAFTA nominated event installation Desert Rain and with Ken Feingold on the installation Séance Box No.1. These collaborations explored how mixed reality boundaries could support new forms of interactive art but also helped me to develop a framework of properties that can be associated with them. I have continued to collaborate with artists and designers in my research as artistic practice and thinking can lead to new insights and transform how we approach problems.

At a first glance the theme of ‘Infrastructure for Device Production’ may not seem very connected to this strand of research but mixed reality technologies can be used to underpin new platforms for designing, sharing, testing and evaluating device designs with stakeholders. We also need inspiration from a range of disciplines to produce creative solutions for device production.


The lack of gender diversity in STEM fields is well-documented, with the 2024 Diversity in UK Tech report stating that only around 28% of tech employees are gender minorities despite women comprising about 47% of the overall workforce. In senior tech roles, this drops to just 22%. Do you feel that your own career has been impacted in any way by this lack of diversity?

The low percentage of female representation in STEM fields means that there are less female role models and mentors to inspire and support early career researchers. I have been lucky as throughout my career I have worked in multidisciplinary teams, where there has been gender and disciplinary diversity. So, I have felt the impact less and have greatly benefited from diverse experiences and perspectives. I have also been lucky to work in a very supportive and flexible environment at the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham, and to have Professor Steve Benford as a mentor who is very inspiring and never short of ideas! I am also proud that female academics and researchers make up around 60% of the core team at the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute that I direct.



How do you think equitable representation of women in the pro² network could help us to achieve our goals?

An equitable representation of women, and diversity more generally, in the pro² network will provide us with a wider variety of ideas, perspectives and approaches. This is needed as the network is aiming to democratise digital device production by making it easier for people to make digital devices. This requires a shift in how we think about manufacturing and novel tools are needed to make it viable for a prototype to become a product when lower volumes of the device are needed.


What steps do you think the pro² network and others in the engineering community can take to create a space that is more welcoming of women and non-binary people?

In the pro² network+, we are following best practices to ensure processes are inclusive and mitigate against discrimination. For example, we are anonymously assessing applications to our funding calls and holding some of our events online to enable wider participation.

We are also taking proactive steps like directly reaching out to diverse academics to make them aware of our calls and events, and offering one-to-one sessions for anyone who would like to discuss applications further.

I think another key aspect is to engage people at all levels to attract them to this field. I am very exited that we are holding a summer school on device prototyping and production at Lancaster University in July, which is open to all levels of experience and career stages, from students to established professionals.

I think it is particularly important to inspire young students to pursue a career in STEM by breaking stereotypes and showing them the wide variety of contributions that they can make to the fields of engineering and computer science.  For example, A level in Computer Science has very low uptake by female students, so by the time we get to university there is a very wide gap in gender representation.


Building a diverse network is important to us. Check out our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Framework to learn more and sign up for free as a pro² member today. Make your voice heard in the effort to democratise digital device production.

If you missed our interview with Professor Anne Roudaut on last year’s International Women in Engineering Day, give it a read.