By DAPO AKINREFON
It is rare to find a female chemical engineer who is able to strike a balance between her career and her home and at the same time getting deeply involved in activities aimed at promoting women’s rights and empowerment.
As a career woman and professional, Nkechinyere Barbara Adegboyega is a strong believer in the axiom, that whatever a man can do, a woman can do even better. So, she is not easily intimidated by men who work with and under her, in the engineering world.
As part of activities to mark this year’s international women’s day, she told touching stories of her experiences in a profession that is dominated by men, including when she is made a team lead. She also talked about some of her humanitarian activities that have earned her awards and recognitions.
What is it about you that even your close friends do not know?
I have been described by close friends as a ray of sunshine – always happy, always positive and always willing to help others. One thing about my personality that even my close friends are unaware of is that sometimes, I am experiencing my darkest moments even on my seemingly brightest days; but I have learnt to compartmentalize and continue to show up for others with my best self.
What is capable of making you happy all year round?
That’s easy- my children…. a good book (African Literature is my favourite) and working on initiatives to support the less privileged in our society.
Let’s talk about you as a mother, wife and career woman. How do you combine all of this?
I continue to remind myself of my ‘why’ – which is to create a better world for my children and all other children of the world. With this vision in mind, I am motivated to be there both for my family and my work without compromising one for the other, as they are both connected.
What does life mean to you?
Life to me means contentment, peace in all circumstances, improved equity in my country of birth and the continued progress of my family.
When was the last time you cried? What happened? When was the last time you danced. What happened?
The last time I cried was when I helped organized a CSR event at a primary healthcare center. When I saw the contentment and gratitude on the faces of the audience, I realized for the first time the profound impact this event which had been organized simply through a series of phone calls and e-mails had on the lives of the grassroots members of our community. They were tears of remorse for the times I took what I have for granted and tears of joy for the fact that indeed, we made a difference.
The last time I danced for joy was when I received a distinction and was awarded as a scholar upon completion of my MBA from a US-based school.
If you were to address young secondary school girls on career choice, based on your chosen professional field, what would you be telling them?
I will tell young girls that the world is still some distance away from giving women in the corporate world the equality we deserve – in terms of remunerations, recognition, promotions – it’s a long list. I will let these young ladies know that in my experience a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is worth considering as it will challenge them on every level of human intellect and is a sure vehicle to help these girls push boundaries and make a difference in our world
What does it mean for you to be a female engineer? What is special about it, for you?
When I became an engineer it was not a popular choice for women both at school and in a work environment. Despite the passage of time and some recognized progress, there is still much to be done regarding the presence of women in the engineering space. So, being a female engineer for me has always been about continuously striving to beat the odds, striving to show my value, technologically knowledge and skills and earn my seat and voice at the table of men – literally sometimes. It’s special for me because when I eventually receive the accolades or recognition for my performance and excellence in such a male-dominated field, it makes all the effort so worth it.
As a professional, where do you see yourself in another 10 years?
I see myself as President of a Fortune500 company in 10 years. I have it on my vision board.
What will you like to he remembered for, after you have left this world?
I would like to be remembered as that imperfect woman who gave her best in every area of her life. I would like the world to remember me as a woman committed to her family, steadfast in her woman-centric beliefs, an advocate for women rights worldwide especially in the Third World, a champion for women’s involvement in STEM and above all as a woman who loved God with all her heart.
Tell us about yourself
I studied Chemical Engineering at the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. And for the most part of my career I have worked in the energy sector for multinational organizations. In one of such companies, I received an award for being the first female engineer in the company’s history in the whole of Africa to complete the engineer’s development programme and become a senior field engineer. My role as a senior female field engineer was challenging because at the time, I was meant to lead crews of men who were oftentimes much older than myself. A concept only those familiar with our African society can relate to.
Despite taking up various roles in different organizations over the years, my career has firmly remained in STEM. In addition to my years of experience in the energy sector, in the last few years, I have also become passionate about sustainability development as it relates to Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals and value creation for traditionally energy/ oil and gas companies and how they support their operations and host communities while continuing to create value for shareholders.
I am an advocate for women’s right and I am passionate about causes related to poverty alleviation and women empowerment to create a society that treats our gender with equity and for our children and future generations a better life.
I am a Christian with an unshakable belief in the mercy and grace of God as this has remained my source of strength through all of life’s challenges.
How was it leading men in the work environment, even older men? Is there an experience you wouldn’t forget in your life time?
Leading men as a woman in a male dominated field or environment was really challenging. Back then for some female engineers including myself, it was about downplaying all our female attributes in order to fit in with the men and show that we were ‘just like them’ in order to be accepted even by those we led. Of course with the passage of time, female engineers are now being taught to be women in a ‘man’s’ world and to be proud of that. But things were a little different back in the day.
I remember one experience I had a field engineer where the second engineer; my subordinate on that job was a married man who was also older than me. He resumed and closed duty each day on his own clock. And when I highlighted the fact that shifts must be adhered to since it was affecting operations, I was promptly told by this colleague that he would never take instructions from a woman. As a young engineer trying to live up to the ‘big boots’ that had been handed to me at the time, this and the events that followed the comment were indeed destabilizing. However, with the benefit of time and experience I am of course in a better position to efficiently manage such situations. Said male colleague and myself laughed over that incident several years later and it remained an interesting part of our history together at that organization.