The development of women in engineering has become increasingly critical for South Africa’s engineering industry as it works to meet demands to contribute to the transformation of our economy.

According to a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report, young women only represent 7% - 12% of engineering students in Africa. Engineering is still seen as a male dominated industry, and the gender disparity has much to do with societal stigma resulting in a general lack of support for women inclined to engineering. A steady increase of female engineers in South Africa has been recorded since 2006, as reported by the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).

“The battle to grow and develop talent in a sustainable way needs to be looked at holistically. This means that organsiations which are able to identify talent and retain this over time are able to compete more effectively in the market place as a result of the value of institutional knowledge which is built up,” said Paul Fitzsimons, General Manager of Power & Energy at GIBB, South Africa’s leading black-owned engineering consulting firm.

At GIBB, women are represented on all tiers of the firm, including directorship. The multi-disciplinary firm is committed to balancing gender and racial disparities in the workplace and this is most evident in GIBB’s Power and Energy Sector.

Ayesha Gabier, an Electrical Technologist and specialist in electrification and reticulation, energy efficiency who has worked at GIBB Engineering for ten years candidly shares her family’s conservative feelings on her decision to pursue an engineering career: “My mother was completely against me furthering my studies as she believed a woman’s place is in the kitchen. My father on the other hand, was always very supportive throughout my studies and even through my working years.”

Phylicia Moseamo, an Electrical Engineering Technician who specialises in electrical building services, design and supervision of electrical installations, also comments that her mother wasn’t too keen on her getting involved in engineering. 
“As a female, my mother was afraid as she felt the field in for men only.” 
When in fact, women are vital for the growth and development of the industry with insights, intelligence, creativity, and unique values to assist in solving the problems our nation faces. Women have made quite a resounding stance and presence within the engineering and continue to make huge strides though unfortunately, the stereotype that links masculinity to technology is still prevalent and has proven difficult to overcome.

With many fundamental and landscape changing projects under GIBB’s belt, Amanda Hadebe, an Electrical Design Engineer and expert in electrical reticulation projects, has already achieved many great accomplishments in her engineering career including working on the Chief Albert Luthuli Electrification design which used a design and technological approach that allowed the exclusion of wire supports in an overhead distribution system. She also gave her expertise to the Kwa-Thema Electrification Restitution, a significantly large-scale project.

“Being a female engineer comes with its own unique challenges. Women must remember to celebrate and assert their presence. Young women in the industry still need a little bit more time to adjust their way of thinking and the fears they may have when it comes to male dominated professions. I offer advice and a platform for them to ask questions they may be typically too shy to ask and this in itself has had positive effects, breaking barriers and fears between what’s possible and not possible,” expresses Hadebe on the importance of mentoring young women in the industry.

In her college days, Gabier also tutored and held ‘Women in Engineering’ workshops for young school girls who were interested in the multiple facets of studying engineering. On her experience, she comments, 
“In terms of breaking society’sexpectations, it really is a matter of mind-set. You have to believe in yourself and use the fact that you’re “different to the norm” to your advantage.
“The biggest hurdle is the actual requirement to first convince male counterparts that your gender doesn’t make you any less of an engineer. The common assumption is that if men don’t know something, it needs to be researched. If a woman doesn’t know something, it’s just because she’s a woman. To be taken seriously and equally is still a challenge we female engineers face,” Gabier states as she reinforces the need for women to be bolder.
Moseamo shares, 
“I have mentored two young women within the industry; breaking society’s expectations is still quite a large piece of ice to break but it is slowly melting although sadly, women still face the challenge of men counterparts feeling intimidated being led by a woman. As a woman it takes strength, not only knowledge and experience to overcome the difficulties in the field,” 

Very often people do not realise the pivotal role support staff play to the technicians and engineers, and also that the role of support is just as crucial for success in the industry.

Joan Hillman, Personal Assistant to Power & Energy Manager Paul Fitzsimons, has been an incredible asset to GIBB over the past three years. 
“I am empowered to empower. My responsibilities vary daily from arranging meetings to progressing revenue or giving input to project contracts which have their fair share of problem solving,” shares Hillman on the varying requirements and roles of women in the industry.
The evolution and progression of women in engineering has had a notable effect on the industry throughout the years. Quite simply, women in engineering are addressing a global need. Growth and interest in areas of science and engineering from the female population could be the catalyst for social upliftment, job creation and ultimately, progressive economic development.

In the current economic climate and shortage of technical skills, grooming young women to work in environments such as engineering will not only assist with the critical skills gap but will serve as a competitive advantage on a global scale.

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