Last updated on Sep 28th, 2020 at 10:33 am

Naadiya Moosajee is the found of Women in Engineering (WomEng), a non-profit organisation that aims to develop engineering talent among women and girls in multiple African countries…

She was recently awarded a $30 000 (around R500k) grant by Facebook’s Community Accelerator programme. The funds will go towards helping her continue to support women and girls throughout the engineering pipeline.

“WomEng was created because I faced harassment and unwanted advances in my first work experience. I was also the only intern not to be paid, and happened to be the only female intern,” recalls Naadiya.

“It put me off, and made me want to leave the industry. Speaking to my other friends everyone had what can be now referred to as a ‘Me Too’ story, so we set out to change the industry, to create a diverse and inclusive engineering industry.”

“It has not been easy, being the “wrong” colour, or gender or age, but as a young woman of colour, I am proud of how we have been able to change the status quo, support the development of women in the sector and inspire the next generation of women engineers and entrepreneurs. “

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“We have also worked with amazing corporates and men who became champions for change.”

All4Women chatted to Naadiya about her passion for opening up the engineering field to women in Africa, and what inspires her every day.

All4Women (A4W): You’ve been a go-getter right from school days and into varsity. Who/what inspired you to reach for the stars and beyond?

Naadiya Moosajee (NM): My parents were a big driver in terms of always pushing for excellence and allowing my siblings and I the space and the freedom to explore unconventional career paths. My inspiration is actually a an Arabian business woman born in 555 AD named Saidina Khadijah.

I am Muslim and always held spirituality close. Saidina Khadijah was the first wife of Prophet Muhammad. I think she was such a rock star because she broke all the rules that we are now grappling with.

She was a wealthy businesswoman who traded from Saudi Arabia all the way to Persia. She asked the prophet who was 20 years younger than her to marry her and she spent her life in service of others and her community.  History often erases the contribution powerful women make to the world, and I think she is someone I aspire to be like.

A4W: Why is it important to focus on getting more women into this industry?

NM: If we think about the world around us, everything is engineering, the physical world and the virtual world we spend more of our time in.

Unfortunately with few women at the design table the needs of women are not considered, so instead of thriving, we have to continue to adapt to this world. An example is crash test dummies which are typically represented by average white males, and so car safety standards have not, until recently considered the needs of women, and women are injured more in crashes.

In public transport, men access transport in the most direct pathway, but women walk longer distances to access the same transport because they walk the safest, most well-lit route. We are spending more time, more money and more effort on the basics because our needs weren’t considered at the design table.

The same in the virtual world, where 70% of the harassment on social media is towards women in 18-25 bracket. It boils down to increase women in engineering and entrepreneurship to build a better, safer and more inclusive world where women can thrive.

A4W: Where do you think the biggest gaps are that women could fill?

NM: I think women are needed in the entire value chain of engineering, but I think the difference can be made in leadership and entrepreneurship, as those have the potential and ripple effect to change the sector for the better.

Women in leadership and ownership is a small percentage. We have started working on supporting women in AI and cybersecurity.

Globally less than 1% of positions in leadership at internet service providers are held by women, and there are few women in cybersecurity. I think new technology and creating a virtual inclusive world is a strategic opportunity and imperative for women to be part of the development.

A4W: What will you be doing with the funds from the Facebook Community Accelerator programme?

NM: We are very excited to be exploring how we can support women in our community better. Most of our development programmes are partner funded, and as such its through a competitive application process to get selected.

We are only able to accept 20-30% of applicants. The funding is used to leverage Facebook platforms to support our community better by better connecting women in STEM, especially engineering and tech with each other, providing mentoring support, and access to WomEng’s unique suite of learning and development courses.

A4W: How does WomEng support women currently?

NM: Currently we are supporting women who apply and are selected to attend our programmes. We have everything from entrepreneurship hackathons, leadership, and entrepreneur acceleration for women to start STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Manufacturing) businesses.

We also provide support to girls around career support, mentoring high school and university students and supporting what we call cognitive and behavioural skills development. WomEng is global and we have run programmes in 22 different countries, and will continue to grow and support women in the sector.

We also do a lot of lobbying for the sector, I have been on a global future council for Gender, Education and the Future of Work with the World Economic Forum, and this year a co-chair of the B20 Saudi Arabia Taskforce for the Future of Work and Education. As the G20 leaders meet in October, our policy papers presented are showcasing a pathway to better support women, and STEM as a pathway to kickstart the global economy.

 

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Let us not forget these powerful words.

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A4W: How can readers become part of the community?

NM: Please do connect with us on social media – via Facebook, or follow us on Instagram. Over the next 3 months we will be launching our new virtual community which will better support women in STEM.

This is a great opportunity to join the community and help us shape the support and direction women are looking for. We also have a female founder co-working space in Johannesburg. If you are interested, you can become a member of the Hub and enjoy an array of offerings and connect in person to our community along with connecting virtually.

Find both WomEng and WomHub online. We look forward to welcoming members of our community into our spaces.

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