Engr. Fummilola Ojelade is the president of the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN) and a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers.
She was elected recently in Asaba, Delta State, to pilot the affairs of the association for two years.
She joined the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company as a research and development officer, where she rose to become a manager in the production department.
In this interview with Daily Sun recently, Ojelade speaks on her career, and what she hopes to achieve in her current position and how she hopes to assist companies in driving gender diversity by creating a pool of ready female engineers that are fit for the industry.
What has your career trajectory been like?
Presently, I work with the Nigerian Security of Minting and Printing Plc (The Mint) as a manager in the production department.
I joined The Mint in 2001 as a research and development officer. I have worked on several assignments within the company such as the quality control, waste management, production planning, procurement, and projects. I am presently in currency production.
As APWEN president, how do you intend to carry out your manifesto in terms of transforming the association in your two-year tenure?
Let me tell you that APWEN is an educational and service organisation. Our mission is to increase the numerical strength of female engineers and to be a catalyst for the progress of practicing female engineers. Therefore, many of our programmes are tailored in that direction.
We have several educational programmes to inspire girls to study engineering. For primary schools, we have the “Invent It, Build It” programme, which we started two years ago under the leadership of the former president, Dr. Felicia Agubata.
This programme is already creating a generation of girls that will take engineering as a career.
For secondary schools, we have the Mayen Adetiba Technical Boot Camp for girls and the “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” programmes.
Those ones are already laid down. We will now introduce programmes for those in the university and young engineers.
How do you make them fit for the industry and complement the ongoing programmes?
We will introduce the “Town and Gown” mentoring programme. We will involve employers of engineers, especially multinationals, with young female engineers.
Essentially, we want these young engineers to know what is required in the industry so that they can focus their learning and develop the required skill set.
We have met and communicated with a few multinationals that have keyed into our vision and want to help improve the female diversity of engineers in their employment. They can’t seem to find female engineers with the required skill set but there are a lot of our female engineers who are not even employed.
Obviously, there is something missing. So, we want to build the capacity of our young engineers and make them fit for the industry.
Another way we will complement the ongoing programme is to organise holiday boot camps in the regions where the “Invent It, Build It” programme has awarded scholarships to girls. APWEN local chapters in those regions will handle that.
The aim is to ensure that these girls remain inspired to study engineering. Of course, we understand that some of them may prefer to study something else. But we will do the best we can to ensure that the ones with engineering aptitude have the encouragement they need to become engineers.
What was your journey into the engineering field like?
Actually, while I was in secondary school, the subjects I loved most and passed best were the subjects required to study engineering, like physics, chemistry and mathematics. Mathematics just felt natural to me and I found it simple.
My big brother also influenced my decision to study engineering. He was studying civil engineering and when we filled my JAMB form with our dad, he suggested I study chemical engineering considering the subjects that I liked and was good at.
Has there been discrimination by men in your field?
I wouldn’t say I have experienced any form of discrimination because I am a woman. If there was any, I did not notice it.
Are there other factors that hinder women from studying engineering?
I think the primary thing is the societal bias that engineering is for men. We even have parents who discourage their girls from studying engineering saying it is not for women because they believe it requires physical strength. But it is not so. The engineer designs the structure or the process. Craftsmen carry out the physical work.
Is mathematics a hindrance, too?
I don’t see mathematics as a hindrance for women, specifically because both men and women may be poor in mathematics.
However, the teaching method goes a long way. I struggled with mathematics in my first two years in secondary school because we had an expatriate teacher from the Philippines and I could not comprehend her accent. But once we had a Nigerian teacher, everything changed and I began to do very well.
As an engineer, what are your thoughts on the increasing spate of collapse of buildings today?
Incidence of building collapses that we experience around here is as a result of people cutting corners at the construction stage. For every collapsed building, you should take the trouble to ask some questions, whether there is a certified engineer in charge of the project. If there was, did the contractor or owner follow the instructions of the engineer?
The answers to these questions will reveal the reasons for the increasing spate of building collapse.
Is it the problem of structural defects in buildings or lack of qualified personal?
It is the problem of penny-wise-pound foolish.
I just know that I keep working and that’s what I am still doing.
Why does it seem the impact of women engineers is not felt in Nigeria?
Why would you say that? Nigerian women engineers are making great impact.
A company, which is West Africa’s leading communications services and network solutions provider, was founded by and is being run by a Nigerian woman electrical engineer.
That company built West Africa’s first privately-owned, open access 7,000 kilometres under-sea high capacity submarine cable.
The first Nigerian to become the MD/CEO of Siemens Nigeria was a woman electrical/electronics engineer. She is also president of the Nigerian-German chamber of commerce.
The first woman to become Nigeria’s Head of the Civil service of the federation was an engineer. I can go on and on.
How else should the impact of the Nigerian woman engineers be felt? Maybe the real question is, why is the great impact of Nigerian women engineers not appreciated?
Where do you see APWEN in five years?
The way we are going, in five years, I see APWEN becoming international and engineers from all over the world who want to become members of APWEN because of the impact we are making.
What do you think the President Muhammadu Buhari administration should do to improve the economy?
I think government is on the right path by making sure we produce what we consume. They have closed the borders and many are feeling the pains. Locally produced items may be crude now but as we continue to patronise them, our local production will get better.
The hardships we pass through now will help us to become more creative and innovative. We will keep improving.
That is what the Indians did. The first set of cars they manufactured were very crude but the government insisted that they could only use made-in-India cars. So, they got better and better.
Once government succeeds in making us produce what we consume, there will be less demand for foreign exchange and the value or our naira will improve.