Cécile Uwimana has been in the engineering field for over 20 years now. Sharing her experience, she says that, whereas building her career as a civil engineer has come with privileges, it has come with a tonne of challenges too. These, she says, are mostly related to her being a woman working in a hard core engineering-oriented industry that is male-dominated. As a female engineer, she observes factors such as one’s background, mentality, and culture as some of the factors that are still limiting women in this field. “Most of the challenges I face are generally not any different from what other professional women face. As a woman, you have the responsibilities of raising a family on top of building a career,” she says. Despite efforts put in promoting women in sciences, the gender gap still remains in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, And Mathematics) – a focus on engineering in this case. Data from several African countries shows that female membership of Professional Engineering Institutions (PEIs) is at around 10% and below. Steven Sabiti, the Executive Secretary, Institution of Engineers Rwanda (IER) says there is an enduring gender gap within engineering and that although data for Africa is sparse, this percentage can be extrapolated with some certainty. In Rwanda, there is a sharp decline in the number of female graduates who enter the engineering profession, compared to those who graduate in this field. Findings from data collected for the period 2017 to 2019 shows that 735 women graduated from nine institutions and yet the Institution of Engineers Rwanda has just 144 female members out of 2,033 He quotes the ‘leaky pipeline’ phenomenon that feeds the engineering profession with females revealing that it loses girls very early on in the educational system and this has an impact on the resultant pool of female engineering professionals. Gender stereotypes and parental attitudes, on the other hand have an impact early on in girls’ lives where they find engineering labelled as a man’s world. “Low uptake of STEM subjects, especially physics, as the critical subject. Girls tend to drop science subjects which are important pre-qualifiers for engineering degrees. The gender upstream at the universities cannot be addressed as long as few girls take up sciences,” Sabiti says. He also adds limited capacity for increased enrolment (science and related education is one of the most expensive for government and private institutions to provide) and absence of female role models to the line challenges still impeding gender equality in engineering. Tendai Murahwa, Managing Consultant at Diversity Dividend Africa Ltd based in Rwanda echoes a similar view noting that when looking at the relatively low numbers of women engineers, there is need to look at the pipeline that supplies the sector. Conditioned upbringing “We need to look at the pipeline from birth. Research shows that due to societal and cultural factors, girls start dropping out of the engineering pipeline from day one. This can be attributed to the different ways boys and girls are raised. From the toys and games, they are given to play with, to other chores and activities that are given along gender lines,” she says. Adding that, as they progress further with their education, when it comes to subject choices, girls will tend to go for non-science subjects. And when they do choose sciences they are more likely to go for life sciences for example biology with the uptake of physics being particularly low. “So now there are initiatives to conscientise parents, teachers and pupils on the exciting world of engineering and on the need to make the right subject choices in order to study engineering. The leakage doesn’t stop there but continues into early adulthood when women have to make decisions about settling down and starting a family. This period usually comes at the time when her career is just about to take off and again, workplace and family demands may lead to some compromises career wise.” Strategic approach Murahwa states that engineering is one of the golden threads running through the development plans such as Rwanda’s National Strategy for Transformation 1 all the way to Vision 2050, and therefore gender equality matters in this field. She says, engineering talent will be required to attain that vision and women and girls have a lot to contribute alongside their male counterparts. So we should create an environment where boys and girls have the same agency to make informed life decisions. The creation of that nurturing environment that allows both sexes to thrive from birth to adulthood is very important. “At a macro level, we know that societies where men and women have equal access to opportunities and resources tend to experience more robust economies.” Sabiti highlights the institution’s well established working arrangements with both public and private organisations and promotion of the engineering professional with much focus on women in engineering as key element. The institution of Engineers Rwanda has a number of strategic partners, including UK Royal Academy of Engineering which is supporting it to offer internship for Graduate Engineers through African Catalyst project. The strategy which is- Women Engineering Rwanda Strategic Plan-sets out a range of activities geared towards encouraging young girls to take up STEM subjects. Uwimana believes closing the existing gender gap in engineering requires more awareness and sensitisation and having more professional women engineers share their experiences. For Murahwa, equal representation of women in engineering is a goal that requires all stakeholders to work together and address those leakages that occur along the pipeline. So there is a need for different interventions targeting different age groups and there is already progress in some areas. Across the globe we can see the private sector in some countries getting a lot more involved in efforts to increase the representation of women in engineering, she notes. “Rwanda is at the forefront of this trend; the 2020 launch of the Private Sector Gender Mainstreaming Strategy was an exciting development that will go a long way in giving corporates a framework to work within as they pursue gender diversity in engineering. That kind of tripartite collaboration between government, private sector and development partners, in this case the United Nations Development Programme is definitely a model that can create momentum and result in that equal representation.” She adds; awareness-raising on the diverse careers in engineering and increased visibility of women engineers will provide role models for young girls. Engaging with girls and boys through career fairs, exposure to engineering workplaces and other initiatives will increase their interest. In addition, parent-friendly workplace practices will go a long way in attracting and retaining women engineers in the industry.