Small but significant strides are being made to increase the representation and participation of women in the engineering profession in South Africa, according to the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA). Despite the progress achieved so far, the council calls for more accelerated transformation in the engineering industry. Currently, only 1 in 5 engineers in the country are women and continue to earn significantly less than their male counterparts.
Observers of the sector say lack of transformation in the engineering sector has the impact of deterring young women from entering the industry and pursuing careers in the STEM field. Unless this is changed, the under-representation of female engineers in top and leadership positions would remain disappointingly insignificant. Gender equality is not only a developmental and a gender imperative but it also lies at the heart of the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Pushing the envelope
Nana Mzila is one of the few young women who are working hard to change the face of the profession by setting up their own companies. She believes that while the ECSA leadership should continue to lobby for policies to drive change, young women should also push the boundaries. And so it was that in 2017, Mzila founded ISU Engineering & Projects Co. Ltd – a 100% black women-owned entity, of which she is the managing director. The Pietermaritzburg based company offerings include general consultation, project planning and project completion. In addition, the company focuses on other engineering services such as:
- water resources development
- property development
- municipal infrastructure
- building and structures
- transportation infrastructure and
- environmental solutions
Mzila’s success is backed by enviable strings of academic qualifications. She holds a National Diploma in construction management & quantity surveying from Mangosuthu University of Technology, Bachelor of Technology (BTech) and Master of Technology (MTech) in construction management from Durban University of Technology, Master of Business Administration – MBA in project management from Texila American University Consortium.
Building a model company
Mzila says forming her engineering company was not easy as she had to use her provident fund payment as seed capital. She says this was followed by sheer selflessness and a focused mind to ensure the company is not only sustainable but also serves as model for other women. She also embarked on a vigorous marketing strategy to build the company’s profile and by networking with potential clients such as government departments and the private sector.
Challenging male dominance
The success of Mzila’s company in a predominantly male dominated industry is a huge motivational step to most young women who want to follow in her footsteps. She says what drives her is the desire to make a difference in the world and to meaningfully impact lives of communities through credible build projects.
Mzila says her future plans include identifying new opportunities beyond the KwaZulu-Natal province and exploring overseas markets. Her advice to other young female engineers who want to start their own businesses is that they should have passion in what they do, be honest with themselves and customers or clients and network with other women-owned successful businesses.