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At a Building Construction site in Kilifi. Credit: Beauty D. Mkoba

Civil engineers and infrastructure professionals can make a huge difference – 72% of the SDG targets are linked to networked infrastructure development. This means the profession can play a leading role in economic growth, environmental protection, social progress, and climate resilience. Diversity in the dynamic world of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)  can realise this impact better.

Article written by

Beauty Mkoba is a dedicated and experienced Civil Engineer with over four years’ experience. She is also a mentee with Engineers Board of Kenya and Mentoring future women graduates in STEM in Africa project by University of Plymouth and funded by Royal Engineering Academy UK.

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African women remain underrepresented in the field of STEM.  In my country, Kenya our total population is 52,214,719 people, with only 25.7% of the population as women in the STEM sectors. In a time when diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) dominates conversations across various sectors, it is vital to champion the role of African women in STEM towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mentorship programs, have offered invaluable opportunities for early career women in STEM to develop skills, gain practical insights, and grow professionally and personally under the guidance of experienced mentors in the industry, including chances to overcome the barriers women face in STEM.

African women in STEM face Barriers

Significant gender imbalances exist for women in the STEM in Africa.  Access to quality and affordable education in STEM is a key challenge for African women that limits their exposure to foundational knowledge and opportunities. This stems from poverty, culture, religion and so on that bars women in accessing quality education with not more than 30% of women in Sub-Saharan African countries graduating in STEM fields and  only 12% of women currently operating in Africa’s STEM sectors.  

As an early career woman in STEM, I have experienced these challenges firsthand. From an early age, I have always been captivated and passionate of the transformative power of engineering in shaping our world, consequently I chose Engineering as my career path.

The engineering sector is male dominated in Kenya. Misconceptions and stereotypes exist that women are   disinterested in STEM, unskilled, uncompetitive, un-committed to our jobs, physically weak amongst other reasons.  Further, hailing from the coastal region of Kenya, where poverty levels are high and educating the girl child is culturally and religiously unvalued with several cases of early marriages and teenage pregnancies was a hurdle to overcome however, I managed to stay on course in pursuing my dream of becoming an engineer.  I debunked these myths and discovered that existing stereotypes and cultural attitudes cause the underrepresentation of women, bias, and discrimination in Engineering. Unfortunately, I missed the mark that would allow me to take up my Undergraduate Degree directly so I started at Diploma level. I later joined my undergraduate degree where outstandingly only 10% of my classmates were women. Currently I am striving to pursue my Master’s degree and continue contributing to the development of my country through the Engineering sector.  

Mentorship is Transforming Women In STEM Careers

Confidence is pivotal in any line of profession, especially in male-dominated sectors like STEM. I always knew who I wanted to be but I had no idea how to get there. My self-confidence was low, especially on expressing my ideas and what I learnt and practiced in Engineering. I had no strong networks or knew how to carry myself professionally at the workplace. The first mentorship program I enrolled for was the African Women Graduates in STEM Mentorship Program by University of Plymouth funded by Royal Academy of Engineering. 

Mentorship has been the key that unlocked my career transformation. I finally knew that I had a shot at becoming the competent and professional engineer I always needed to be. My mentor's guidance in the past 6 months supported me identify who I am personally, interpersonally and professionally consequently instilling self-confidence and focus in the marketplace.

I have connected with various successful African women in the STEM both my peers and leaders building my networks, knowledge, skills and net worth stronger. I was guided towards opportunities that turned into learning experiences leading me to adapt and grow. I learnt to lead confidently with visionary plans even beyond my daily duties for instance leading my organization in Kenya’s National Tree planting activities on 13th November 2023. I also was able to get a new role leading projects.

The mentorship provided a nurturing and supportive environment to explore my interests, develop skills, and gain confidence in my known and yet to develop abilities and overcome obstacles. This was because the mentor provided a safe space for mentees to express themselves, share experiences, and discuss challenges in their careers. She offered encouragement and reassurance during self-doubt or when faced with obstacles. 

Having a passionate and successful mentor in STEM is a light at the end of a dark tunnel, illuminating the path to be taken. Seeing my mentor excel in STEM motivated me as a young African woman to overcome challenges and pursue my dreams. 

Mentorship also brings together mentees from different backgrounds, professions, geographical locations with different skills.  The peer learning from the young Kenyan inspiring goal-oriented and passion-driven mentees in my cohort strengthened my knowledge in Engineering, self-confidence, communication and networking skills. 

The Future for Mentorship

Finding a mentor has been advocated for years as a career and personal development practice. Sponsors like Royal Academy of Engineering, Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) and individuals in authority play a pivotal role in mentorship. Their guidance and support contribute not only to career advancement but also contribute to talent development within the STEM fields in Africa towards attaining SDG5 and SDG1 while fostering a culture of learning and growth. I call for more funding and mentors to reflect on their experiences, continue providing new insights into their career journeys as they refine their problem-solving abilities and develop a deeper understanding of their weaknesses.

Mentorship also offers mentees a supportive environment where they learn from successes and failures, accelerating the learning curve. There should be diversity in mentorship pairings to promote varied aspects and enrichment in learning. Many more African women in STEM need mentorship not just as a short-term but as a continuous process. Increasing the capacity of mentors to take on more mentees as well as increased funding for the programs and have a structured framework ensuring that clear goals and expectations are set is the best way to create an inclusive and diverse mentorship program to inspire African women in STEM and show them that the stage also belongs to them!


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