Women in Engineering Inspiring Positive Change -Juliet Ongesa
Juliet is a mechanical engineer by profession, currently working as a parts analyst at Simba Corporation. The company is a franchise holder for Mitsubishi passenger vehicles and Fuso trucks. Outside work, Juliet mentor’s girls of Grade 6-8 girls at Kibera School for Girls, through a non-governmental organization called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). The mentorship program exposes the girls to life outside the slum, making them aware of all the professional and educational possibilities for their lives. When I’m not on the job, Juliet loves running, reading and indulging her love for seeing new places.
Q: Can you share a little bit about what it is that you do and what a typical day for you is like?
A: I work in the aftersales department. Basically my job involves a lot of analysis and forward planning to ensure that our clients get the right parts for their vehicles, in good time. I offer technical support to customers in determining replacement parts and prices. This requires a good knowledge of automotive systems and how they work. A typical day involves inventory analysis and sourcing for parts according to demand. I also offer after-sales support to internal customers across six branches countrywide by answering inquiries and providing information on alternative parts.
Q: Did you always know that working in engineering was what you wanted to do? How did you decide to go into Mechanical engineering? What inspired you?
A: I wouldn’t say I grew up knowing I wanted to be an engineer, but I have always been naturally curious. I like figuring out how things are made, how they function and if they can be improved to make work easier. Growing up, I didn’t realize that this was in essence what engineering is: using science to solve problems in the real world. So when it was time to decide what to study in college, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering was a good fit for me. During the course of my studies, I developed interest for the automotive world after internships in a few automotive companies.
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: Yes, this is a very common problem in the Engineering world. I worked as a technician for a while, and I was the only lady in the entire workshop. There were no changing rooms for women, I had to change into my overalls in the washrooms!
When some customers saw that I was the one working on their vehicles, they would request for a male technician to countercheck and make sure I had done everything correctly. This was very offensive because we were all professionals and had gone through the same kind of training, but the assumption was that a male technician would do a better job than me.
I had to work way harder than my male counterparts just to prove that I was equally qualified for the job, there was a lot of pressure and very little margin for error as people were waiting for me to fail so that they can justify looking down on me. But as they say, actions speak louder than words, sometimes it’s better to let your work speak for you, which is what I did. Everyone was able to notice how good my performance was, and I earned their respect.
Q: What is your take on the number of women in engineering? Why do you think that’s the case? What do your think can be done to change that?
A: I must first applaud the efforts made by various individuals and organizations to encourage more women to get into Engineering. But there is still a huge gap. Being a woman in engineering is not a walk in the park. Because of the stereotypes that have been built over the years, it can create a hostile working environment where one has to work extra hard just to prove their worth as a professional. The frustration that follows causes many women engineers to walk away and switch careers. There is also the issue of cultural expectations. Until recently, being a woman engineer was not a common thing because it was assumed that the so called “hard sciences” were for men. From an early age, Boys and girls are bought up differently. The boys were allowed to experiment and build things, while it was generally frowned upon when girls tried to do the same. Naturally, as they proceeded with their education, the girls had little interest in the STEM courses.
Q: How would you explain your Engineering field to young girls?
A: Mechanical engineering is simply using science to create useful tools and machines that make work easier.
Q: What message would you give to young girls to inspire them to pursue Engineering
A: Math and science is an integral part of engineering, but there is so much more to it! It’s about creative problem solving and making the world a better place. Studying engineering may be challenging, but apart from acquiring the skills, it will build in you a character of determination and grit, which you will require to go through life.