Someone once said “The study of Engineering is for those who want to dedicate their career path to it, however, everyone, that is both men and women, can use and practice Engineering.” I would say this phrase begs for some provocative deliberation. That being said, in my effort to share some of my own experiences, this International Women in Engineering day (INWED 2018), I decided to put down a few recommendations (there are more than these, of course, but then the article would be too long!) that I would give to a developing engineer or to someone aspiring to enter the field. So let us just get straight into it.
Before you embark on a life defining adventure/ choice, it is prudent to do some investigation on the terrain ahead. It, therefore, goes without saying, that when one wants to pursue an engineering field, it would be in one’s favor to research on it. There are loads of information about engineering that can be found from books, articles, doing internet searches, browsing university webpages, and from talking to people in the field or those who have worked in a similar field. There are also workshops and various free technology courses that one can jump into. Also with the online world, there is a plethora of free learning applications and webinars where you can brush up skills in your journey to becoming a better engineer.
My own path to beginning and staying in engineering was partially influenced by a few people in my life, and lot of my insight was gained by hearing and seeing the hard won successes and challenges that family, colleagues and friends in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) faced in their professions. I believe, in some way, this insight may have conditioned and prepared me for when I was to face my own hurdles.
Trust me, there are plenty of women (and men) in engineering and organizations, who give free career guidance talks and are capable mentors on the subject.
Get an advocate
Everybody needs a good dose of motivation and support, especially psychological support, when you are unsure about something or you have the dilemma of too many choices. My definition of an advocate is someone who believes in you, encourages the best in you and does not have to be in your field.
So basically, they believe you own/ were born for that field!
I admit a lot of the motivation to become an engineer came from the persuasive encouragement of my father. Considering my father’s closest association to the sciences was only his skill for carpentry, I have counted myself fortunate in having him as my advocate and thankful for his belief that women are just naturally adept for engineering. Over the years, I have grown to share this belief as my growth and practice in engineering has allowed me to see just how successful systems and projects are, when they have been developed through the combined effort of male and female engineers.
So get yourself an advocate, a friend (doesn’t have to be family) who just believes the world is your oyster and encourages you to go for it.
Engage with positive thinking people (advocates), your career and life depend on it.
Get a mentor
Now sometimes, no matter how well-meaning you may want to be, you are going to make mistakes. Some of those mistakes, you will recover from quickly and others may have you shaking your head at the mammoth task of correcting yourself. There will also be times when you will feel stuck or scared to try something or just overwhelmed by everything and everyone. These times are when you need a mentor on speed dial.
A mentor is someone who keeps things real, helps you think your own way out of scenarios and may offer assistance to boost you to a higher level, provided they feel they are not spoon feeding you. Because there is nothing that disheartens mentors more than a “child” (read mentee) who just wants to be fed!
Every child has to live an active, giving life in order to grow. So it is very important as you grow in the field to be a smart and hard worker, choose to be an effective contributor wherever you are.
I have and have had a number of mentors in my life. My earlier years of engineering was populated by mostly male mentors who, thankfully, chose to adopt me as a surrogate daughter, whom they were proud to help shape.
“To the older men in my attachment years, the older men from my university years, and the men in my working years, I say thank you. Thank you for looking out for me, telling me to toughen up and helping me find my own solutions.”
I’d encourage anyone working with women, young or old, to respect women as human beings, please. Evaluate people on what they bring to the table, not on their God given physical attributes.
Moving on some more years, female mentors began to be more visible in my life, but for a long time I thought there were none. If the visibility of female mentors was as evident then when I was beginning, as it is now, I may have attempted more things and believed it possible to quickly overcome some of my negative self-perception. I did eventually learn to overcome my self-doubt, but it just took me a little longer without a female mentor in my field.
As a mentor now, I tell my mentees that if you are a student of life, you can always learn to become a better version of yourself.
So be kind to yourself and others, get feedback from people, sift through it, ignore what you cannot do anything about and use the rest as lessons to help you learn and improve.
After all, life itself is a mentor, albeit hard core.
Link up and socialize with other engineers. If you make the study and work of engineering practice become your life, you will be lonely and dull! A lot of inspiration can come from several social activities, such as a braai with fellow engineers, debating with friends on the ability to eat four pies in under a minute, going to watch a movie or pretending to play scrabble with friends, so you have the excuse to meet and air whatever thoughts strike you!
We all need to gain new perspective, be refreshed, live full lives and take care of the social aspects of our lives, because it is from this, that the inspiration to try an effective method at work or create a new product design or be a more engaging leader, comes from.
As an engineer, I have found myself on a constant loop of working myself to the bone in order to meet new targets and a lot of times that has put strain on friendships and, unfortunately, on my health too. This is not a recommended way to grow in the field. Yes, there are periods where you will need to push limits, but it should not become the norm.
As we grow in the engineering practice, we in turn become the guiding posts and custodians of the profession, and in order for us to live long enough to fulfill this role, we need to look after our mental, spiritual and physical health.
So get your recommended hours of sleep, eat right and fill up your life with inspiring things. Write a blog, read quotes, listen to spoken word poetry, pick a sport, or a hobby or an activity and do it. If it is a hobby or sport, do it so well and so often that, you can start teaching others or integrating with others.
Having fun, is a prerequisite for being a great engineer. So get inspired, keep yourself open to learning and stay healthy.
So to all women in and aspiring-to-be in engineering, happy International Women in Engineering Day!
May your journey in engineering, be an exciting one!
About the author:
Eng. Lodrina Masiyazi (ZwIE, ECZ) is an Industrial & Manufacturing Engineer at the Harare Institute of Technology as well as Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers’ 2018 Women in Engineering Mashonaland Representative. She is an active mentor and advocate for diversity in the STEM workplace. She can also be found online on Twitter.