Engineering Women Inspiring Positive Change – Imelda Malingu
Imelda is a graduate of Civil and Structural Engineering currently working with UNOPs as a Construction Management Engineer in The Gambia. She has previously worked for UNOPS in Turkana Kenya. She has 7 years of experience in structural engineering and brings with her a wealth of experience in the field.
Currently she is in charge of building Covid 19 response centres in the Gambia. Imelda volunteers her time to mentor young girls by visiting schools to talk to them about engineering. When she is not working, trust Imelda to discover hidden gems where she likes to sit down and enjoy a good book, occasionally swimming and dancing to her favourite music.
Q: Can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you is like?
A: My typical day starts by catching up on emails and my calendar. I check if there are any meetings for the day. I normally have at least one meeting a day. I head to the first site where I spend two to three hours depending on the work being carried out that day. I then head to the next site and spend two hours, then back to the office. I then have consultations with contractors and catch up with the office work. Somewhere in between the meetings I have lunch.
Q: Did you always know that working in engineering was what you wanted to do? How did you decide to go into civil engineering? What inspired you?
A: I always knew I would be in Engineering. I loved taking things apart and I was always curious to see how things came about, how they worked and what made them work the way they did. My inspiration to be a Civil Engineer was from my rural home area in Budalangi which as we grew up was perennially known for the floods. We were always told that during dry season people live in one area then move to higher areas when it rains. So, I guess the jibes from classmates that I came from a flooding area made me want to change that and therefore Civil Engineering was the way to go for me. Plus, I have always wanted to do something that will impact the community and Civil made sense in that way.
Q: I don’t think it’s any secret that many women in STEM have felt their gender has affected the way that they are perceived and/or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it?
A: Being a woman in STEM is not easy. I would start with an interview I once attended in a skirt and the interviewer kept asking if I would manage the site work when I don’t even dress as an Engineer. Funny part was I had changed for the specific interview and I had even left my safety boots at the reception. I have also found that when you are new in an organization that is not used to having a female Engineer everyone assumes that you would prefer to be in the office and only carry out the office work but with time I have learnt to let my work speak for me. At the end of the day once the results become evident then people pay attention and you earn your seat at the table.
Q: What is your take on the number of women in engineering? Why do you think that’s the case? What do you think can be done to change that?
A: At one point I went to a county office to meet with an official. He was told there was an Engineer waiting outside and I was accompanied with our company driver. When we finally walked in he only greeted the driver referring to him as Eng. and totally blocked me out. It was only after he had started addressing him that my colleague corrected him and informed him that I was the Engineer “laughs”. However, it is not all gloom. I have also met the most receptive people who were not assumptive and were open and they accorded me the space that I needed to work and grow. Who didn’t see my gender as a stumbling block. I think we are still very few women who are in Engineering. As much as it is a big improvement from the past years we still need to get more girls to take up engineering. I think mostly it stems from the reason that there isn’t much importance laid in awareness of the STEM courses. The fact that Engineering also takes a longer time and still largely viewed as male field.
Q: How would you explain your Engineering field to young girls?
A: I would tell them I build things. I enable people get access to services (road Construction). That my work involves creating hope through Construction of structures (hospitals, schools, homes) I mean at the end of the day we need structures to carry out any activity in. I have been lucky to work with remote communities and the joy of bringing a service close to them such as a hospital is on another level. Or maybe Construction of a water pan and enabling them have access to water. It is a very fulfilling career
Q: What message would you give to young girls to inspire them to pursue Engineering?
A: I would encourage them to get into Engineering. It is challenging but worth every minute. It is fulfilling and uplifting. The skills you get help you also in your day to day life and navigating through It.