…Defying against all odds
Nearly every element of the modern world is a result of the work done by some engineer. Be it running water, electricity, and the internet, as well as buildings, cars, phones, computers, televisions even the roads we travel on.
Sadly, though, engineering has historically been an inhospitable profession for women. However, the industry is trying to change that and while one can argue that it isn’t making enough progress, one thing is for sure: Some women have challenged the status quo and pursued their passion to become engineers anyway.
A twenty five (25) year old Rachel Kakololo, is one of the passionate women pursuing engineering careers in the country. Rachel who is a Civil Engineer at the Roads Authority is one of the women that can be spotted at the dual carriageway project between Windhoek and Okahandja.
She spent her formative years growing up in Katutura under the close care and guidance of her grandmother who was a cleaner at State Hospital in Windhoek. Rachel narrates that growing up, she didn’t really have a role model but there were certain attributes and characteristics she admired in certain individuals.
She attended her primary school at Namutoni Primary and proceeded to Jan Jonker Afrikaner High School for secondary education. In 2014, Rachel graduated from Polytechnic of Namibia (now NUST) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering.
What is a typical day like for a female engineer?
It involves a lot of planning and being based on a construction project of such magnitude entails being on your feet for almost all day- obviously no heels and makeup LOL! My day to day responsibilities as an engineer range from construction supervision, quality assurance, design and survey works as well as management of production reports.
Has engineering always been your field of choice?
I’ve always loved science and experimenting with things and had this fascination of creating something out of nothing –for example; where there was once just bush and rubble a beautiful multi-story structure a road would rise. For that very same reason Civil Engineering was an ideal fit, in addition it enables one to contribute to the infrastructural development of our country.
What setbacks do you encounter as a female engineer?
Generally, there are various setbacks across the board given the history of our country. Some things are getting better but some need our undivided and constant attention to address. Overall, women tend to face extra hostilities in some circles because of the patriarchal nature of our society and our world.
To be specific, our country still uses an outdated Engineering Professions Act from the colonial era; it makes things worse because it’s completely very far from the realities of modern Namibia. As a result, so much exploitation of today’s engineers and engineering graduates is happening, inhibiting their immediate progress in the long run.
There will be days when you will sit in boardrooms and sense and feel the resistance to your decisions and unwillingness by some to take instructions from a woman. So, you get to be in a situation where you have no choice but to go a mile further than the rest to get things done. It can be frustrating but you learn to accept it as your reality.
Engineering is known to be a male dominated industry. How do you keep your ground?
Traditionally, engineering being a male dominated field means gender dynamics seem to generate more opportunities for men to work on the most challenging problems, while women tend to be assigned routine tasks or simple managerial duties. I was raised with high morals and values therefore I am assertive and disciplined, leaving no room for being pushed-over and bullied professionally.
What do you think is the stance of women in engineering in Namibia? Do we have more women in the industry?
I think women are doing a great job despite all these challenges, and as few as we are, we are rocking the profession! If we can level the playing field, I’m confident we can do even more. The Namibian Society of Engineers recently conducted a survey leading up to its launch in November, and the well-known was reconfirmed: the number of women in engineering is staggeringly lower than the number of men. Again, there’s a whole nasty history to that. But still, I don’t think our country has done enough over the last 26 years to change those numbers. We still have the outdated Act which makes the status quo remain the status quo. Our universities are doing the best they can in admitting enough female students in engineering, but the support mechanisms that are normally applied to improve the consequences of history on disadvantaged groups are conspicuously absent in engineering. You get your 2017 engineering degree and proceed straight to an industry that is still governed like its 1950 when women were not allowed to run anything. That’s the reality and it’s bad.
Our lawmakers and relevant stakeholders need to develop inclusion frameworks that carter for both sexes and assist everybody to thrive in their work environment. The sector needs intelligent, highly capable people with an interest in building a better world, a requirement that is not gender specific. Therefore women should be challenged to take up that role to make a difference in the world.
What do you think are the hurdles of female engineers in the industry?
There are still companies that would rather hire a man as an engineer because they still believe only men can handle long hours of the stress and pressure that come with the job. So, the job search can be quite frustrating for female counterparts. The lack of female engineering role models, misconceptions of what it is like to be an engineer, and having fewer technical problem-solving opportunities through compared to men. I also believe that lack of confidence is a huge factor, especially when you are competing with men. But all in all, stakeholders in the industry are going an extra mile to accommodate females.
Do you think Namibian women have it easy when it comes to engineering? Are there more opportunities for them?
Not at all! Opportunities are there but so is the stigma and the absence of a supportive and modern legislation. You may eventually land that job, but engineers are leaders, if you face hostilities because you’re a woman you’ll struggle to get the chance to lead on anything which is not good for and certainly not good for your career. Just think about it, how many women are in leadership positions in the engineering industry?
With the increasing challenges that women face, what are the qualities of a female engineer?
Female engineers need to embrace who they are and what contributions they can make; being part of the minority does not undermine ones value. One needs to be a critical thinker and resourceful in order to solve problems and think critically about possible solutions.
Other critical qualities that a female engineer need to have is self-drive, commitment and passion; this will enable you to embrace your career and seize opportunities. Passion carries you through the biggest challenges and allows you to execute projects successfully despite unforeseen challenges.
Any final words…
There is nothing like a concrete plan to weigh you down; thus my encouragement to young people that would like to pursue a career in engineering is to focus, dream big and believe in themselves and most importantly; achieve and inspire for the better.
I’m a firm believer that a person should constantly seek new ways to enhance their knowledge, and in doing so; eventually contribute to our communities and country’s economy at large. I was recently chosen to be part of a group of 25 students to study with the First Lady of Namibia- Monica Geingos in what is called “#StudywithFLON”.
This is a joint study project which focuses on creating a strong sense of African identity through a series of short courses offered through the University of South Africa in partnership with the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute. I am enrolled for Africa and International Trade – Building an African Developmental State, which is a great opportunity for me to gain in-depth understanding of how the African trade system works.