Women in Engineering Inspiring Positive Change – Casty Njeru
Casty Njeru, is a practicing engineer for the last seven years. She has an undergraduate degree in Electrical and Telecommunications Engineering and a masters in Electrical and Electronics engineering. She has also other professional certifications to her belt, among them is occupational safety and contract management. She has lectured in electrical engineering at a local university in Kenya. When she is not working, Casty volunteers at Autism Society of Kenya.
Q: Can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you is like?
A: Currently I am a maintenance engineer at Twiga Foods. My work mainly deals with installation and commissioning of machinery, routine maintenance and managing my team of technicians. A typical day for me involves early morning meetings with my team to touch base on what we achieved in the previous day and plan for the maintenance activities for the day, attend breakdowns and any other inter-department collaborations that are required. Typically, although my official day ends at 5.00 in the evening, I am still on call if there is a breakdown that requires my attention in hours after that.
Q: Did you always know that working in engineering was what you wanted to do? How did you decide to go into Electrical and Telecommunications Engineering? What inspired you?
A: My dream to become an engineer was born on one sunny afternoon when I was rushing home for lunch, in lower primary school. The nearby tarmac road was being repaired. The sight of those rollers, excavators and the men in yellow helmets kept embedded in my head and that evening I told my father I wanted to be an engineer. My parents did and sacrificed all they could in support of me achieving my dream. After I did KCSE my family tried to influence me to take medicine but that wasn’t my calling so I stuck with engineering. Though I did not take civil engineering, which initially attracted me to the field but took electrical engineering. This was influenced by my desire to remote-control and program gadgets, to have them do what I wanted was more thrilling to me. (However, my brother and sister both took civil engineering thus the initial attraction ran in the family 😊)
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: Sometimes in this field, you get treated as a “lesser” engineer because you are a woman.
I remember there is one interview I attended and was very confident about it. Later on, the interviewer called saying although I did very well in the interview, I could not get the role since they felt it could be handled better by a man. I was very demoralized. At the work place, I have colleagues who thought I was better placed to help them carry around spanners and screw drivers rather than do the real work. As a female engineer, you are expected to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you can carry a task to its successful completion. However hard it can be, one cannot wallow in self-pity. Once they know your worth, your grip and knowledge in the field, respect comes automatically. We ladies have to work for a seat on the table, and not be handed out roles as a quota for gender balance.
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: The number of women in engineering is quite low. My lowest moment in the engineering profession was when I was lecturing in one of the local universities and there was a course which had only one lady who had enrolled. The stereotyping that some fields are dedicated to a particular gender, more so the ones perceived to be easy shelved for ladies, should be shunned in all levels of education. A girl from a young age in lower classes should be made to feel she can run the world and that her brain is not wired differently from the males. All it requires is effort, hard work, dedication, and time. We the ladies who have already excelled in these fields need to mentor our younger sisters and further let them watch us in our daily duties so that they believe it can be done.
Q: How would you explain your Engineering field to young girls?
A: When you pursue electrical engineering, you can branch in two directions; light and heavy power. Heavy power deals with power systems from power generation, distribution, and connection into homes, industries, and machinery. Light power deals with power and working of machinery/equipment, telecommunications such as electronics and signals processing. There is also automation and control which is a hybrid of both. Other interesting sub-fields in electrical engineering are robotics, energy generation and sustainability and instrumentation. However, in the first years of education, you will have common classes thus you are able to handle all sectors of electrical engineering. For instance, I did the telecommunications branch in my undergraduate, but because of my job experience and interests, I majored in heavy power in my masters. After completing school, you can work in any of the two sectors as most of the electrical experience is gotten on the job. If someone has an interest in how gadgets work and how you can control them remotely, this is your field!