Celebrating Mothers In STEM: Kaarina Luvango M’Masi, Winning against all odds.


My name is Kaarinah Luvango M’Masi an Engineer at Kengen.

What /who inspired me to pursue a career in STEM?

My interest in Engineering was sparked by the environment where I grew up. I distinctly remember where I grew up in the Sugar Belt region; and I remember seeing large droves of men in Blue overalls, hard hats, and chunky boots going and coming from work in company buses and breaking at scheduled times for tea break and lunch at the sound of a large Siren. There was a well-structured time, and they would clock in at coordinated times for their shift and so was my mom who was a clerk at the workshops. I admired the precise way of doing things and the startup and shutdowns of large boilers that were evidenced by large bellows of Dark smoke (Bagasse) that signaled the churning out of sugar.

During shutdown when I would take some snacks to my mom when she was working long hours, I would pass through the humongous machines, sugarcane trucks, massive offloading overhead cranes, and equipment. The sound, lights, and effectiveness in the whole machine process that made the entire place come alive made me found myself captivated by the process of designing and constructing something functional and practical.

Could you share a brief overview of your journey in STEM?

Being a woman in engineering is a very precarious balancing act.  I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of a welcoming, courteous, and respectful group of professionals. However, being a woman in engineering can be challenging at times. Right from my university years being the only female in a class of men felt like a lonely road to trod on, in transition to apprenticeship, it almost felt like a roller coaster experience. There were some instances when I felt like I needed to double-prove myself in everything that I did.

In my early career in STEM When motherhood knocked at my door, I embraced the changes that came to my body and although I didn’t have a difficult time executing my usual duties as an engineer, my team ramped up their effort at work and gave me the support throughout to allow me to have a stress free pregnancy overview on being a woman and a mother in STEM is that we’re are from different genders and possess diverse and complementary capabilities.

To be a successful female engineer you require the same technical, analytical, interpersonal, and organizational just as the male colleagues. there should be no differentiation between them.

How has motherhood impacted your career Journey in STEM?

Depending on where the motherhood chapter finds you, either before formal employment or after employment in STEM, there are profound impacts that affect you as an individual and your colleagues in general. Typically, most mothers in STEM will be impacted by the following.

    1. Career Interruptions: Taking time off for maternity leave and adjusting to the demands of caring for a newborn can result in career interruptions, such as temporarily stepping back from work responsibilities or reducing working hours. luckily for me, my employer had a favorable maternity policy that did not affect me career-wise. I was able to bounce back to work.
    2. Work-Life Balance Challenges: Depending on one’s work schedule and the nature of your job. Balancing the demands of a career in STEM with the responsibilities of motherhood for me, motherhood found me when I am in a normal 8-5 job and a supporting spouse working in the same location. However, for some of my female colleagues, some have had to endure raising a family alone due to the spouses working in different towns and having to make provisions if they are working on a shift Rota arrangement. There are moments that I have had to endure stress, guilt, burnout and so much pressure to excel in both roles simultaneously, especially when special work assignments required me to work away from home for a long period of time. which can lead to feelings of guilt.
    3. Prioritization of Values: Motherhood often leads women to reassess their priorities and values, including their career goals and aspirations. Some women may choose to prioritize their family over their career, while others may seek out flexible work arrangements or alternative career paths that better accommodate their role as mothers.
    4. Increased Resilience and Adaptability: Despite the challenges, motherhood can also foster resilience, adaptability, and problem-solving skills that are valuable in both personal and professional settings. Many women learn to juggle multiple responsibilities and navigate complex situations with grace and determination.

What are some of the challenges you have faced as a mother in the STEM Industry?

Workplace Bias and Discrimination:

I have faced silent discrimination in the form of Ageism. In my early motherhood journey, the Work Environment was hostile which manifested through age-related jokes, derogatory comments, and exclusionary behavior that marginalized “Older Women”. Often, I was being excluded from important projects and this undermined my contributions in the team even when I was eager to contribute. Unfortunately, the bias was perpetrated by fellow Women who then were a bit younger and had not yet experienced motherhood so they felt I did not “belong”.

Networking and Career Development:

Balancing family responsibilities can make it challenging for mothers to participate in networking events, conferences, and professional development opportunities crucial for career advancement in STEM fields.

Isolation and Lack of Support:

Due a lack of representation and understanding of our unique challenges in male-dominated workplaces, every Mother in STEM may undergo different types and levels of stress depending on the type of supervisors and colleagues around you, our challenges may not necessarily be the same, and often times, if you lack empathetic support team and confidants, there are high chances for feelings of isolation or lack of support.

Dual-Career Challenges:

When I was starting my career both My husband and I who work in STEM had demanding careers and conflicting schedules. This called for tough childcare arrangements and making alternative arrangements for managing household responsibilities was very challenging and at some point, he had to make a huge sacrifice in his career to help step up in raising the family.

Travel Requirements:

My STEM jobs, especially during special training and commissioning required frequent travel, when raising young kids this created additional stress for myself and my young children. At some point, I had to prematurely stop breastfeeding my child at 11 months due to an assignment abroad. The guilt of abandoning my child sometimes haunts my mind.

Mental Health Strain:

I have several times doubted my choice of career in STEM due to Juggling multiple responsibilities and facing workplace challenges which takes a toll on one’s mental health, leading to stress, anxiety, and burnout.

What Support Systems or resources have helped you navigate the challenges you faced being a mother in STEM?

  1. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): My organization provides counseling, mental health support, and resources to help employees cope with stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges.
  2. Networking and Mentorship Programs: My organization encourages Participation in networking events, mentorship & coaching programs, and support groups such as Pink Energy specifically for mothers in STEM to connect with peers, share experiences, and receive guidance on navigating career challenges.
  3. Professional Development Opportunities: I continuously look out for and Take advantage of professional development opportunities, workshops, conferences, and online courses to enhance my skills, expand my network, and advance my career in STEM.
  4. Workplace Support Groups: I belong to several workplace support groups or affinity groups for women in STEM and Age Group-related forums to provide mutual support, share resources, and advocate for supportive policies and practices within the organization.
  5. Self-Care and Wellness Practices: Out of experience and intentionality I have Prioritized self-care and wellness practices to manage stress, maintain mental and physical health, and prevent burnout. This includes taking much-needed breaks from work (Leave), setting healthy boundaries, and seeking support from friends and family.

In what ways can the STEM Industry best support and accommodate mothers?

  1. Flexible Work Arrangements: Offering flexible work schedules, such as remote work options or flexible hours, allows mothers to balance their work and family responsibilities more effectively.
  2. On-Site Childcare Facilities: Establishing on-site childcare facilities or partnering with nearby childcare providers makes it easier for mothers to access quality childcare while they are at work.
  3. Breastfeeding Support: Creating designated lactation rooms equipped with comfortable seating, refrigerators for storing breast milk, and privacy features supports nursing mothers who wish to continue breastfeeding upon returning to work. Although my organization has set up Mothers Den in most critical office spaces,  this is still a work in progress in the Wind Farm where I and other Young STEM mothers are.
  4. Mentorship and Networking Opportunities: Offering mentorship programs specifically tailored to mothers in STEM fields can provide valuable guidance, support, and career development opportunities. Networking events and support groups can also help mothers connect with peers facing similar challenges.
  5. Career Development and Advancement: Implementing policies that promote equal opportunities for career advancement, regardless of parental status, helps ensure that mothers have the same opportunities for professional growth and development as their colleagues.
  6. Supportive Organizational Culture: Fostering a supportive and inclusive workplace culture where mothers feel valued, respected, and supported in both their professional and personal roles can significantly improve retention rates and employee satisfaction.
  7. Continuous Feedback and Evaluation: Regularly soliciting feedback from mothers regarding their experiences and needs in the workplace and implementing changes based on this feedback demonstrates a commitment to supporting and accommodating their unique circumstances.

How can we (Mothers already in STEM) encourage more mothers and aspiring mothers to pursue and thrive in STEM Careers?

  • Share Your Story: By being open and honest about my journey, Through Sharing my own experiences as a mother in STEM, including the challenges I’ve faced, and the strategies used to overcome them, This may hopefully inspire others and help them see that it’s possible to succeed in STEM while also balancing family responsibilities.
  • Mentorship and Support: By offering mentorship and support, knowledge sharing, guidance, and encouragement to other mothers who are interested in pursuing STEM careers this can grow inspiration.
  • Highlight Success Stories: Showcase success stories of mothers who have excelled in STEM careers. By highlighting the achievements of other mothers in the field, we can help challenge stereotypes and demonstrate that motherhood and a successful STEM career are not mutually exclusive.
  • Advocate for Supportive Policies: By creating a more supportive environment for mothers in STEM fields and Advocating for more policies within organizations or industries that support mothers in STEM, such as flexible work arrangements, and on-site childcare facilities.
  • Create Networking Opportunities: Organize networking events or support groups specifically for mothers in STEM to provide a platform for sharing experiences, resources, and best practices to foster a sense of community and provide valuable support and encouragement.
  • Offer Workshops and Training: Offer workshops and training sessions on topics relevant to mothers in STEM, such as work-life balance, time management, and career development. Providing practical skills and strategies can help mothers navigate the challenges of balancing their career and family responsibilities.
  • Promote Diversity and Inclusion: Advocate for diversity and inclusion initiatives within the organization can help ensure that all individuals have equal opportunities to thrive in STEM careers.

What advice would you give to young women aspiring to pursue careers in STEM while also planning to become mothers?

  1. Pursue Your Passion: the STEM field has really evolved, and the Young STEM mothers are riding on the fruits on the previous STEM mothers who were inspired by their challenges and helped shape a better future for their followers. Young women should Follow their interests and pursue a career path in STEM that they are passionate about. Choose a field that excites you and aligns with your skills and interests, as this will help keep you motivated and engaged in your work, both before and after becoming a mother.
  2. Plan: Take the time to plan and consider how you can balance your career aspirations with your future plans for starting a family. Think about factors such as work-life balance, childcare options, and potential career interruptions, and consider how you can proactively address these challenges.
  3. Build a Support System: Surround yourself with a supportive network of family, friends, mentors, and colleagues who can offer guidance, encouragement, and assistance when needed.
  4. Advocate for Yourself: Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and your needs in the workplace, whether it’s requesting flexible work arrangements.
  5. Prioritize Self-Care: Make self-care a priority and take time to prioritize your physical and mental well-being. strategies such as exercise, mindfulness, and time management to help reduce stress and maintain a healthy work-life balance, both during your career and as a mother are valuable.
  6. Seek Out Role Models: Look for role models and mentors who have successfully balanced careers in STEM with motherhood. Seek their advice, learn from their experiences, and use them as a source of inspiration and guidance as you navigate your own path.
  7. Embrace Flexibility: Recognize that flexibility is key when it comes to balancing a career in STEM with motherhood. Be open to adjusting your plans and expectations as needed and be willing to adapt to the changing demands of both your career and family life.
  8. Pursue Continuous Learning: Stay curious and committed to lifelong learning, both professionally and personally. Seek out opportunities for professional development, skill-building, and career advancement, and continue to grow and evolve as both a STEM professional and a mother.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience as a mother in STEM?

  • As I wind up, I have learned the art of developing your authentic self by promoting and seeking out Equity, respect, empathy, and collaboration for everyone at work. I have also learned to choose my friends sparingly and wisely. My support system consists of people who are Kind, Honest, Positive, Energetic, and Supportive. On Family, it comes first. Work second.
  • Make time for your family, your friends, your partner, your children. Never forget who was by your side from the start.  My parting shot to working mothers in STEM; be at peace with the fact that sometimes you may not be able to balance work and life and hence be very intentional and focus on what is most important at the different stages of your STEM career.