She is among the few women who have taken up jobs that were previously left for men. Now at the helm of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya as the second vice president, she has defied the odds to do what she interestingly believes is her calling. Both naturally, and by talent. While the country still battles cultural inequality within the engineering sector, Emelda has what it takes; and has put it into practice for 30 years...and counting, at the Kenya Power and Lightening Company.
Emelda Odhiambo’s story is inspiring. It is a journey that started in 1989 when she joined KPLC in the business development department. And now, she doubles up as the second vice president of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya – the organization that seeks to promote and develop the engineering profession.
Her thirty-year journey has been a roller coaster and even as she currently heads the project contract department, she remembers her struggles, inspirations and above all, the zeal that pushed her through to this place.
“My journey started in 1977 when I went to Form 1 and I realized that there that I had some special qualities that could not be tamed to the level of what my parents who were primary school teachers wanted me to do,” she says.
Emelda’s experience in a male-dominated field began way back at Nakuru High School, a mixed school then, where they were only three girls in a class of 150 students. And this experience inspired her to pursue greater heights. “While at high school and even the university, I realized that it was possible and we could achieve those grades achieved by our male colleagues,” says the electrical engineer.
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It was through hard work and determination that she scored good grades that saw her join the University of Nairobi in 1984 where she studied Electrical Engineering, graduating in September 1987. Since then, she has diligently served in this male-dominated field.
“The grades that I had were so high that I could not do other courses, I was able to compete with men, and there were no major obstacles.”
“So I wanted to soar the height.”
Statistics from the Institution of Engineers of Kenya indicate that the number of women in professional engineering makes up about 7 percent of the total population of engineers. Further, out of the 14524 graduate engineers in Kenya, only 1346 are female. And during the 26th Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) conference scheduled for September 3rd, 2019 in Mombasa, gender imbalance is among the key challenges that were addressed.
Emelda has worked in various sections at KPLC including business development; dealing with customers, design, and construction. She has also been into maintenance. But the journey has not been without challenges, with the major one being the perception that an engineer is basically, a man! A stereotype they are fighting to overcome.
“One of the challenges we face is the idea that an engineer is male. Even when we are in the office, people still doubt us…until you show that you are equal to the task,” Imelda narrates.
However, she believes in the power of dreams and determination that anyone can be anything. That it is possible to be a woman engineer. “I have been here for thirty years and I have not grown beards.”
“You do not require muscles to be an engineer with the current technology,” she advises, adding that most of the construction and engineering facilities are now automated.
As the 26th IEK conference concluded last week, Emelda says the first day of the conference had been set exclusively to women as they seek to empower each other to take up challenging roles in the sector.
“I always tell women that if they are not on the table, they will always be on the menu so we have to discuss issues of inclusivity – and women have to be part of this discussion,” she concludes.
The 26th IEK international conference whose theme was overcoming the 21st-century challenges brought together engineers, academia and other participants to discuss the roles and responsibilities of the engineering fraternity in surmounting the current and future challenges facing humanity for socio-economic development. The conference was held from 3rd to 6th September 2019.