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Mentoring, redesigned educational policy will encourage more girls participation in STEM – Mgbeoji

Mentoring, redesigned educational policy will encourage more girls participation in STEM – Mgbeoji

NKEIRU MGBEOJI is a lawyer and general manager of legal and corporate services at Dorman Long Engineering Limited. In this interview with JOSEPHINE OKOJIE, she spoke on gender equality and why the girl child needs to be encouraged to pursue STEM courses. Excerpts:

You are the general manager of legal and corporate services at Dorman Long Engineering. Was it easy climbing the ladder as a woman?

Nothing worth having comes easy and success is usually a process that requires tenacity, consistency, and dedication. Despite the natural barriers associated with breaking glass ceilings, I have had a lot of support on my journey, not least of it being the support of my chairman – Timi Austen-Peters, who is committed to the growth of women and ensuring the representation of women in all spheres of the business. I have also had the support of my family and colleagues. I believe that one alone cannot achieve much, but with a strong network of people around you who desire your growth and are willing to invest in it, you can scale any heights.

As a leading and accomplished woman making an impact, where do you think we are as regards gender equality in Sub-Saharan Africa, and where do we ought to be?

We are not there yet. The issues which are our greatest deterrents are largely socio-cultural and socio-economical. We need to consider factors beyond specific sectors of endeavour and the inhibitors for women seeking to grow a career. The inhibitors include the commonest ones, the biology of women. Women are still the ones who bear children and in the course of growing a career will take valuable time off to do these things. Societal perception and traditional views on ‘What a woman should/can do,’ may sometimes prevent women from gaining access to support and facilities necessary for their development, or when given, these are provided in the exact proportion as to their male counterparts without consideration of women’s peculiar circumstances, this may act as an inhibitor. Policy making right from early education through the growth of careers must be deliberate in facilitating inclusivity to ensure better outcomes. So, we need to be at a place where these inhibitors are recognised as various sectors develop growth tangents and adequate provisions made in the design and growth strategy to enable women not to find themselves having to battle competing yet desirable options imposed by biology and other factors outside their control on the climb up the ladder.

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Generally, there is still a profound gender gap in the corporate world, including the energy sector in Sub-Saharan Africa. How can we bridge the gap?

I would begin with socialisation and education. We should encourage more girls from the start of their educational careers to explore the foundational subjects and interests that will naturally make them gravitate to the technical aspects of the energy industry. Because there are a large number of women in the sector, they simply aren’t in the core technology fields. Encourage young girls to not only play with dolls and cookery but explore toys and games that lean towards the technical. Because sometimes, even in this day and age, a role is advertised, a woman preferred is included but there’s no one to fill the role. So, we must create a pool from which the selection can be made within the industry, address the imbalances, acknowledge the unavoidable career breaks many women may have to take and work around them in designing career growth tangents. Another thing is to deliberately create mentoring opportunities. Match young women still in education to industry mentors. Representation helps. When they see other women who have done it, they are encouraged to follow the path.

International Women’s Day has occurred for well over a century, how do you think the annual commemoration has helped to accelerate women’s equality in and out of the workplace?

Primarily by creating awareness as well as a forum where the specific issues affecting women can be highlighted and genuine efforts to address them are made. This annual commemoration and the different themes each year provide an opportunity to critically assess the previous problems sought to be addressed, the positive strides achieved in previous years and the challenges encountered. These are juxtaposed against still-existing problems. In this process, adjustments are made to methods and goals. For example, The Embrace Equity theme for 2023 has recognised that we must move beyond equality simpliciter to apply equity to things we do on this journey. The annual commemoration of IWD means that we are constantly reviewing and adjusting to better be able to drive progress.

You recently spoke on reducing the leadership gap at SAIPEC 2023, how do you think mentorship can nurture future energy leaders?

A mentor acts as a cross between a guide and a map. There’s a specific encouragement that relates to someone who has walked a path before and who has faced and conquered challenges you can expect on your journey can give to one who is commencing, or already on the journey. In addition, where the mentor is “like me,” i.e., a woman, (because men are also capable mentors for women) it strengthens the belief in the possibilities as well as provides an added understanding and perspective for the mentor and mentee.

What are some changes you hope to see in the energy sector that you believe would reduce the gender inequality gap?

Redesign our educational policy to encourage more girls to pursue the sciences and technical subjects. Deliberate policies which accommodate women and our familial considerations. Although more men are now hands-on in parenting, women are still in many cases the primary caregivers in most homes. Of course, pregnancy cannot be outsourced, and this means that the time taken off for pregnancy and maternity leave should not be penalized as time off work for women. In addition, greater attention should be paid to creating policies that permit women to re-enter the industry after they may have taken significant years away from work in which time they may have gained no additional cognate experience but have increased in age and therefore finding a fit within organisations may be challenging.

What actions has Dorman Long Engineering as a company taken to embrace equity in the energy sector?

Dorman Long is proactive in this regard. We have developed a robust Human Rights Policy which addresses any inequities in the recruitment and development process to prevent any cases of discrimination. In addition, we actively encourage women engineers to apply for roles that open in the technical areas and have a robust Maternity Policy to encourage our women. We have a good number of female engineers and other technicians and ensure that they get the complete support of the organisation whether working onsite or on our Client’s sites. We also offer training in welding, fitting for our staff who may be interested in transitioning into those areas and DLE gives equal opportunities, irrespective of gender, in its employment, welfare and promotion exercise, as there are no glass ceiling effects on the path of any individual career prospects. Equity and fairness based on merits is our watchword and our company is devoid of any form of discrimination under any guise.

What advice would you give to young females aspiring to embark on legal careers in the engineering sector?

I would encourage them to go for it. I would say develop networks and friendships because it is a journey on which you will progress faster if you have people to lean on. I would say wherever you find yourself, put your best foot forward.

Excellence is a master key that opens many doors.