Two women engineers at ABB Electrification are testament to the principles underpinning International Women in Engineering Day (INWED). Taking place annually on 23 June, INWED is an international awareness campaign celebrating the work and achievements of women engineers. Launched initially in the UK by the Women's Engineering Society (WES) as a national initiative, INWED has grown year by year, and has since achieved global reach and UNESCO patronage.
A love of mathematics, physics and problem-solving saw Sandile Gladnes Ngomane entering the demanding field of electrical engineering. Zinhle Obedience Ndlazi, an electrical engineering apprentice, sees the equipment and electronics underpinning electrical systems as a puzzle that needs to be solved when any repairs or upgrades are required. “I enjoy the challenge of hunting down what is wrong and finding solutions.”
Currently an AIT student, Sandile is a test engineer in the test department at ABB Electrification. Here she works on the switchgear side (both primary and secondary), confirming if the switchgear works according to the schematic design and meets customer specifications. Zinhle assists with undertaking the functional testing of high-voltage electrical protection systems and also carries out panel wiring.
“My biggest achievement has been to see myself graduate as an electrical engineer and to get to work with different customers from different companies. Being able to handle a project all on my own and resolve any problems that may arise is both a challenge and an enormously satisfying achievement,” comments Sandile.
Zinhle cites her biggest achievement to date as completing her electrical course and graduating in the face of adversity such as limited financial support from her family, which meant she had to work parttime while pursuing her dream. “This taught me to value and stay focused on my goals,” she highlights.
A typical day for Sandile starts with a daily meeting where the team reports back and discusses any projects on the floor, problems encountered and how best to resolve these. “I spend most of my time testing, analysing drawings, solving problems and interacting with different people in the course of my work,” explains Sandile. Zinhle adds that fostering camaraderie in the workplace is critical, especially when discussing the operational duties of the day with the entire team.
Sandile asserts that women are striving to play a vital role in the engineering field. “Nowadays we see a lot of women in the field doing and committing themselves in the workplace environment.” However, a concerted effort needs to be made to accommodate women engineers on an equal footing along with their male counterparts. “Women must also be given the opportunity to lead and demonstrate their capabilities. I strongly believe that women are particularly suited for STEM careers, but just lack the opportunity and support to do so.”
Zinhle stresses that the role of women in engineering is no different than that of their male counterparts, as both contribute to an economic sector that underpins critical infrastructure development such as water and wastewater reticulation and transportation networks. “We all have the same capabilities, and together we bring change to the country.”
Sandile elaborates: “Being a young woman in engineering can be challenging at times, because I am in the minority and also represent a challenge to the tradition. Another challenge is pursuing a career in a male-dominated field, especially if you lack confidence due to a sense of being excluded and being made to feel that you do not fit in or belong.”
Zinhle concurs, stressing that awareness of the importance of gender equality in engineering can only be improved if the issue is afforded a platform for discussion and evaluation. “Each individual operating within the engineering space deserves equal recognition, irrespective of their gender.”
However, engineering is a broad field and presents numerous opportunities for determined women engineers to succeed by forging their own paths, from technician level to sales, quality control and project engineers. “The field is broad enough for any women to specialise and choose a niche to showcase their own success,” notes Sandile.
“I believe that, as women, we are powerful and capable of doing anything. If engineering is what you want to pursue as a career, I personally advise that you give it your all. As women, we need to take charge, stand our ground and show the world our capabilities and strengths. As a woman in engineering, I believe that we have both the intellectual capacity and determination to do so. Women need to be respected, supported and afforded opportunities in engineering, regardless of age and gender,” elaborates Sandile.
Zinhle concludes that it is vital to maintain a positive attitude at all times, as personal conduct goes a long way in overcoming inequality and discrimination in both the workplace and the engineering sector itself. “The sky is the limit. Never doubt yourself. Stay focused, follow your dream and never let anything or anyone slow or to stop you from achieving your goals or making your dreams come true just because you are a woman.”
ABB (ABBN: SIX Swiss Ex) is a leading global technology company that energizes the transformation of society and industry to achieve a more productive, sustainable future. By connecting software to its electrification, robotics, automation and motion portfolio, ABB pushes the boundaries of technology to drive performance to new levels. With a history of excellence stretching back more than 130 years, ABB’s success is driven by about 105,000 talented employees in over 100 countries. www.abb.com