Life of the association

Embracing diversity

On the 1st of October 2019, CIGRE Southern Africa hosted its first Women in Engineering Forum at the 9th Southern African Regional Conference held in Johannesburg. With this being the first of many sessions to come, a crucial task was in choosing a theme that would be the fundamental topic in opening this forum and starting the conversation of women in the engineering industry. “Embracing diversity” to me has always been more than just simply accepting differences, but rather celebrating them. Nevertheless, as amazing and beautiful as this ideology is, there are always challenges faced when implementing it into our societies and into our workspaces to realise this dream.

by Nadia Mahomed
Electrical Engineer, Siemens Energy Pty (Ltd)

Johannesburg, South Africa
1st October 2019

The engineering industry is still primarily male dominated and women are often overlooked due to unconscious bias that has been embedded deep in our minds over decades. However, the message that was emphasised on this day was the idea of embracing diversity in the workplace to remove barriers and create opportunities. It was to create an understanding that to solve challenging problems we need people with different ideas, different approaches and different perspectives. These stem from who we are as individuals, our genders, our cultures, our religions, our races, where we come from and our life experiences. It is important to understand that by embracing these differences, we are unlocking great potential in individuals and organisations that will benefit us as a nation with a workforce that reflects South Africa as a whole.

The Chairman of CIGRE SA and the President of CIGRE International, Mr. Prince Moyo and Dr. Rob Stephen (in absentia), welcomed all those who attended the session with great words of encouragement, motivation and appraisal for the work and intention of the CIGRE Women in Engineering Forum here in Southern Africa. What better way to have begun a session with such powerful women than an opening address by Mrs. Khayakazi Dioka, who was introduced as the CIGRE International Chair for CIGRE Women in Engineering (WiE). She is one of our very own women in engineering at the forefront of introducing the CIGRE WiE vision and among those implementing changes in support of women engineers.

It was such a great opportunity for me to chair this session with a group of astounding women from the different sectors who are making waves in the industry and educational institutes. My panel on that day included Ms. Kehinde Awodele, a senior lecturer in the department of electrical engineering at the University of Cape Town; Ms. Refilwe Mokgosi, an executive director at Emfuleni Municipality and President for the Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities (AMEU), Ms. Bertha Dlamini, the founding president of African Women in Energy and Power and Dr. Britta Buchholz (video message), the Vice President Active Distribution Grids of ABB Power Grids. Each of these dynamic women gave their insight into the conversation of what embracing diversity means to them and the initiatives they are involved in to turn this dream into a reality. This experience for me, as both a CIGRE Next Generation Network and a CIGRE WiE member, was a real eye opening moment in realising the opportunities available and the number of women here who have the expertise and experience to provide guidance, support and inspiration in developing my own career as an engineer and as a woman.

The purpose of this session was realised through the energy of the audience and the abundant networking and interactions that took place throughout the session. This made me believe that the message of “Embracing Diversity” was one well received. The session was then concluded by the CIGRE SA executive board member who was the Chair of the organising committee for this regional conference, Ms. Sharon Mushabe.

A key point that was raised during the session was the need to increase the number of actively participating women in CIGRE Study Committees and Working Groups. This would give female engineers the opportunity to prepare contributions and present at such committees. The statistics of female representation in CIGRE Southern Africa at the time of this conference stood at: 20% of the National Committee members, 12% of the Executive Board, 23% of the Technical Board, 44% of the 2019 Regional Conference Organizing Committee and 60% of the Conference Session Chairs. We, as CIGRE WiE want to drive the growth of these numbers through creating awareness of such opportunities within CIGRE and through building technically strong individuals who will make substantial contributions towards the engineering industry. This will take time, but we believe there is change coming.

From left to right: Sharon Mushabe (CIGRE SA Executive board member and SC B2 member), Kehinde Awodele (Senior Lecturer - University of Cape Town), Nadia Mohamed (session moderator and CIGRE SA NGN), Prince Moyo (CIGRESA Chairman), Khayakazi Dioka (CIGRE WiE Chair), Refilwe Mokgotsi (President - Association of Municipal Electricity Utilities), Bertha Dlamini (Founding President - African Women in Energy and Power)

Platforms, like the CIGRE WiE forum, enable us to build agile individuals. Through coaching, mentoring, network opportunities with role model and senior leaders, an individual is provided with the opportunity to build both technical and non-technical skills, create clear goals, and develop a career path within the field of electrical engineering right from University level. It also provides a space to discuss challenges faced in the working environment and can inspire and motivate young women entering the industry both as a professional in their career as well as a woman in society raising the next generation.

It is so crucial for women to realise how much we need each other and to realise the potential we have by building one another. This next generation of women have the power to push boundaries and impact the generations to come. Dr. Buchholz said, “…it has always been women taking care of the basic needs of their families. Electricity is such a basic need, so for me it’s most natural that it’s women shaping the power system, and especially women shaping the sustainable power system of the future”.


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