Why we have few female engineers in Nigeria

Halimat Christina Adediran is an engineer, who has passion in motivating young ladies to take up engineering courses in the university. She is a member of several professional bodies relating to her field. Born in Maiduguri, Borno State, she had her early education in the north before proceeding to Lagos State University to study Mechanical Engineering. She graduated with Second Class, Upper Division (2:1) in 2001. She is currently the vice chairman of Bwari branch of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE). In this interview, shares her passion for her profession and explains why there is a scarcity of female engineers in the country.

What prompted you to choose engineering as a course in the university?

I grew up seeing my father in the military service and later he joined the Nigerian Airways. Whenever I was opportune to visit him in the office at the airport, I always wondered how the massive body of the aircraft could be suspended in the air without falling. One day I asked my father about it and he said, “don’t worry, when you grow up you will understand and know that the field of study is called aeronautic engineering – how certain forces are able to lift big objects up and suspend them in the air and also know how the television at home operates – watching everything happening elsewhere in the comfort of your room.” What he said kept me thinking and I said when I grow up I would like to be an engineer. I would like to study how these things work and even contribute my quota someday, some time to that body of knowledge.

How has it been practicing as an engineer?

Today, I am a registered engineer and licensed to practice in Nigeria. I am a member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and not only a member but an elected executive committee member. I have been elected twice as an executive member. I have also served as national executive member of the National Institute of Mechanical Engineers, which coordinates the affairs of all mechanical engineers in Nigeria. I am also a member of the Automotive and Locomotive Engineers Institute, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Finance and Control of Nigeria, a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants; Member, Nigerian Institute of Procurement Engineers; Member, Nigerian institute of Facility Engineering and Management; Member, Institute of Professional Managers of Nigeria. I am also a member of the Nigerian Institute of Safety Engineers. Safety engineering cuts across all sectors of engineering. For about 10 years, I have been involved in professional engineering activities at both national and international levels, and these have given me the opportunity to interface with so many professionals, government functionaries, institutions and government agencies.

Looking back on your career experience, and being a female in this field, how do your male colleagues relate to you?

I worked in several organizations like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), PZ-Cussons and Crusader Insurance Ltd. In 2006, I joined the CFAO Group as a Branch Manager with SOFITAM (a subsidiary of CFAO), covering the Northern Zone. In this capacity I was charged with oversight responsibility of our operations/business in the 19 northern states which included servicing of retail outlets of downstream companies in the Oil and Gas sector, thereby ensuring end-to-end supervision of all the technical crew and a seamless administration of all engineering operations in the North. Five years later I became the Area Manager – North and later Coordinator North. After finishing my Master’s degree programme in 2011, I became the Regional Manager (North). CFAO group has various activities/divisions such as the Automotive, OTIS elevators, NIPEN, energy, construction equipment, pharmaceuticals, retails, Electro Hall and general importation. I am currently in-charge of sales/business of elevators and escalators in OTIS division of CFAO for the Northern region of Nigeria. CFAO solely represents OTIS Elevators in Nigeria, West Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. We don’t have gender differences in engineering, both male and female are addressed as engineers. Sometimes, the male colleague might tend to be subtle and be more patient when dealing with female engineers but we are all seen as the same with equal capabilities, professionally.

How do you feel about the allegation that indigenous engineers do compromise on standards?

Where are the facts? Before you say a standard was compromised you must bear in mind that the project was closely monitored and evaluated. You must also know that there are sanctions for violators. The Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria, COREN, is the regulating body saddled with that responsibility. Most of the collapsed buildings are not managed by certified professional engineers. So, no professional would like to cut corners or do something that would incur sanction because your project or what you have done will be investigated and if it is found out that you compromised standard you risk not being paid or your practice license could be revoked.

We have few female engineers within and outside the country, why is this so?

For anybody to consider a career in engineering, you have to be above average in academics, especially in Mathematics and Physics and be ready to do extra hours of studies. Most female students show less interest in these subjects. The culture and society in most parts of the world has an underlying subtle sexism or gender stereotype where certain professions are believed to be masculine in nature and some feminine like child care. Engineering is believed to be synonymous with hard work meant for men since they are considered to be stronger than women. During the early years of children in the home, girls are taught domestic chores rather than the boys. Children are exposed to the media where they watch cartoons like Barbie and Bob the Builder, the girl child automatically believes that building/engineering is the role of a boy, not a girl.

Do you mentor young ladies?

Definitely yes. With the level of my contribution to NSE and engineering in general, young ladies approach me, to seek advice and motivation to enable them strive in the profession. It is really interesting that most times those that get motivated by just the performances they observe are even more than those we encourage to take a shot at the profession.

As a person, has life taught you any lessons?

Life has taught me to be focused on my set goals and be confident in myself, follow my passion and never give in to any distractions.

Tell us your most memorable moments as an engineer?

The day I was announced as the No.1 executive committee member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers at the 2016 AGM, having swept the greatest part of the available votes. As a first timer, it would be expected that the frequently seen faces would garner the votes. It therefore shows that the profession of engineering is devoid of favoritism, sentiments and partisan politics but pure professionalism.

What is your definition of style?

Style for me is my hairdo. As an engineer, I am trained to pay attention to details. A lady’s hair is her glory and shows how detailed she can be. Therefore, my hair has to be on point at all times even when it is covered.

What is your most cherished fashion accessory?

My most cherished fashion accessory is my perfume. You will agree with me that your smell speaks volumes about you.

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