Every time you open a tap, use a road, travel in a lift, or marvel at the city’s lights, you’re experiencing the work of an engineer
While the field has historically been dominated by men, that’s changing rapidly, as Rinah Letsebe (age 30) and Siduduzile Bengu (age 31) – both female engineers working at Eaton, a power management company – will attest.
Engineers across disciplines are in high demand, particularly as the sector has suffered a high rate of emigration in recent years, with South African engineers’ multifaceted skills being highly sought abroad.
With thousands of engineering jobs advertised on any job portal, it’s clear that there’s a demand for skills – with women engineers blazing through preconceived ideas of what an engineer should look like, to take on diverse roles in the field.
Inspired during Grade 12 field trip, Rinah is now a team leader
Rinah was introduced to electrical engineering on a 2007 Grade 12 school field trip, and didn’t give up on her dream to pursue this career, despite not being accepted for a university degree. She completed a three-year college programme in electrical infrastructure and construction, after which she secured an apprenticeship at Eaton in Witbank.
By 2016, Rinah had qualified as an electrician, and was appointed to the role of ‘wireman’, which she complemented with a diploma in safety management. “My mom taught me that if I want to grow, I need to make myself visible, and available to opportunities,” she says.
This she certainly did, embracing the opportunity to move to Eaton’s main plant in Wadeville, where she became the operation’s first female team leader. “It was the most difficult position I’ve ever been in, because I had to manage men that have been in the industry for over a decade,” she says. “Seven months down the line, I was asked to assist in production planning, another opportunity that I embraced.”
In this role, Rinah noticed a variety of inefficiencies in how responsibilities were allocated to teams, and how individuals’ potential wasn’t being achieved. “I plan for each individual,” she explains. “Everyone needs to be accountable for every task or duty that’s given to them. I make sure that all workers have all the resources they need to complete their projects, and that they understand what needs to be done to achieve clients’ deadlines.”
While she acknowledges that it’s tough to be a woman in engineering, Rinah says that women often underestimate their strength, their intelligence, and their innate ability to multitask.
“I have learned confidence and have learned to take the initiative to get involved in projects, rather than waiting to be asked,” she says. “It’s also important to have a mentor or role model.”
Rinah recommends that any young woman considering a career in engineering of any sort should take Maths and Science to matric, as they open the doors to many careers in addition to engineering. These subjects also teach innovation and problem solving – both essential skills in any engineering degree.
Eaton’s first female field service engineer
Siduduzile is Eaton’s first female field service engineer, with her role being focused around commissioning, servicing and repairing the wide range of uninterrupted power service (UPS) solutions that Eaton offers to its data centre and corporate clients.
“It’s time to break the stigma that maths and science are difficult, and that engineering is a man’s job,” she says. “Women can do anything that they put their minds to.”
Siduduzile particularly relishes it when she arrives at a sight to sceptical looks from clients who doubt her abilities based on her appearance – and then she fixes their problem quickly and effectively, demonstrating without a doubt that it’s a person’s skills that are key to success in their engineering job, and not their gender.
She agrees with Rinah’s advice that young women aspiring to be engineers should study maths and science, and reminds them that, “As a woman, anything is possible, as long as you are willing to work hard, are driven, and have the passion for it!”