Luton trailblazer recognised as first winner of royal award

Fiona Clark, Head of Capability (EW Sensors) at aerospace engineering company Leonardo in Luton has won the 2024 Princess Royal’s WISE Lifetime Achievement Award, with this year marking the first time the princess has put her name to two of the prestigious awards, the other being the Rising Star award.
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Over the past four decades, Fiona has designed equipment to protect front line RAF personnel and aircraft from missile attack to ‘protect those who protect us’. The defensive tactics that she has innovated are in use today with the RAF and around the world, establishing her as an international expert in the field.

Beyond these professional achievements, Fiona has strived to inspire the next generation of talent both in Luton and across the country, through her STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) outreach. Her concern for the community has also extended to years of charitable fundraising and when the pandemic hit, she worked long hours with a team of local women to produce a vital supply of clothes for hard pressed medical staff in local Luton care homes and hospitals.

The WISE Awards first emerged in 1984, when the Engineering Council collaborated with the Equal Opportunities Commission to launch the Women into Science and Engineering (WISE) organisation. Since then, the WISE Awards have celebrated outstanding women in STEM, as well as organisations that are making impactful changes to their gender balance.

Fiona has strived to inspire the next generation of talent both in Luton and across the UK.Fiona has strived to inspire the next generation of talent both in Luton and across the UK.
Fiona has strived to inspire the next generation of talent both in Luton and across the UK.

While Fiona’s career has been characterised by its variety, one constant has remained. The intelligent compassion she has shown those she has interacted with, whether in industry or the wider community. A factor that greatly impressed the judges.

They described Fiona as “as an inspiring example of a role model who actively demonstrates how a woman can rise to senior levels in an organisation without sacrificing her motivating values. Using respect and kindness, Fiona senses when someone is struggling, and takes the time to have a coffee with them and offer support.” The judges also noted that “this intelligent compassion is a rare quality in someone at her level,” and that they were impressed by her outreach work, encouraging more women to enter the STEM sector.

Speaking after receiving her award, Fiona said: “I am absolutely over the moon to have been given this award, recognising not just my work achievements, but also my passion for supporting our young engineers and encouraging young women, in particular, into STEM careers. The event was packed with amazing, inspirational women, all of whom had great stories to tell but firmly believed we are all ‘just doing our day jobs’. I’d like to say a huge thank you to my colleague, Olivia Freestone, for nominating me, WISE for the award and a lovely, uplifting evening, and to Leonardo for the last 40 years of fun!”

Fiona’s love of maths led her to gain her degree from Cambridge University and after graduating she found an unexpected wealth of opportunities at defence aerospace company Leonardo, since she could apply her maths degree to formulate engineering solutions.

Her own transformational journey through STEM has made her a passionate advocate for this field, which has seen her at the forefront of Leonardo engagements with many schools, colleges and universities. Over the years, she has also mentored many female apprentices and graduates within the company, and more recently has been mentoring RAF personnel.

Having taught an estimated 2000 military and civilian personnel, Fiona’s expertise and dedication was recognised in 2022, when she was made a Visiting Professor at Cranfield University, the UK’s Defence Academy. As Head of Capability, Fiona is responsible for defining and driving the development of future systems for everything from helicopters to remotely piloted aircraft through to 6th generation fighters out to 2035 and beyond.

Fiona said: “It gives me great pride to see many of these women now carrying out senior roles in industry and in the military, while continuing to trail blaze as role models themselves. I have been so lucky with the things I’ve been able to do in my career and the wonderful people I’ve met, and have enjoyed every minute. So to be recognised for doing what I love is just wonderful.”

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