”Few women work in mining, technology, transport and the construction industries, even worse is that fewer women are CEO’s of large companies. I often have people asking me how I ended up in a male-dominated industry, I just smile. They wouldn’t have asked me that question if I was a man.”
This what my friend, Chido Munei said when I interviewed her about her role in construction. I wanted to know about the challenges she’s faced working in a job that many consider to be for men.
Chido studied architecture at The National University of Science & Technology and currently works as a senior architect for a top internationally-recognised architectural firm in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Architecture requires a lot of dedication and hard work. This coupled with the inflated egos of men in school caused some of Chido’s friends to drop out. Chido talks about the important of women being as vocal as men and asking for what we deserve.
What made you choose to study architecture?
Originally, I chose it because I always admired it as a very creative profession. We spend most of our lives in buildings, you know. The fact that you could have something that you’ve designed in real life and people admiring it everyday was appealing.
I figured it would be a good career option because the opportunities for business and the pay-offs are quite fulfilling. What’s more, at the end of the day you are creatively satisfied and proud of your work too.
How did you make it as a woman in a male-dominated field? Does your gender have an impact on your performance?
One of the biggest challenges for me was breaking the perceptions that certain jobs are for “males” because they require skill sets which are more associated with men than women.
I believe the confidence to complete my degree in the first place is what helped me get ahead. Most of my male classmates had inflated confidence levels that I found intimidating. Majority of my capable female friends dropped out because of fear of the challenges and intimidation.
Another thing that I’m really proud of myself for is how successful I’ve been at working and negotiating my way up. It can be intimidating to ask for a promotion or raise in the first place. But, I’ve been so determined that my hard work has paid off and got me to a senior architectural position.
This has empowered me and given me the courage to conquer regardless of how male-dominated my industry is. So NO!, my gender has not hindered my performance in any way. You too can do this, ladies!
What advice would you give to women trying to break into a “male-dominated” field?
First, make sure you know and understand your field well. Competition is tough, and to be a success you need to market yourself and your brand well.
Get as much experience as you can, both in the office and from construction sites. Education is not just that which you receive in school, but the skills and knowledge required of an architect is broad.
I’ll advice the following;
- Take the initiative and be assertive: Don’t be afraid to do things your way. Believe in yourself, and in doing things your way to get your ideas out there. Practice your emotional intelligence skills because developing a thick skin and sense of humor will help get you further.
- Speak out and ignore the stereotypes: If you take this personally, you wont go far. There will always be people that will try to pull you down but learn to hold your head high, and just be who you’ve got to be. Men can be very vocal about what they want and we need to do same. Make it clear that you know you deserve what you’re asking for.
- Network, support and share ideas with other women: Surround yourself with both men and women, who are smarter than you. Participate in women forums and groups. As women, we should provide ongoing support, understanding and opportunities and in the process make new friends too. Empowering each other helps us build personal success stories in such industries. Engaging with people who inspire you, helps you develop confidence and self-respect.
- Get a mentor: When you have someone who encourages you to reach your full potential, you have the best business teacher and friend in the world. You can learn a lot from those already doing great things.