Women’s Day in South Africa commemorates the importance of women’s involvement in the struggle against apartheid, particularly the march against pass laws in 1956. As a company, SOLA is in the business of engineering, a sector in which women have been historically underrepresented. But SOLA is committed to diversity – and believes in the power of diverse thought to enhance the work that we do. Today, we take a look at two women engineers at SOLA who are on their own mission to change the world.
Abi Majoka is an electrical engineer with four years of experience designing solar PV facilities. Her mother, an architect, was purportedly the reason that she decided on engineering as a career. “I was encouraged to make a change to the narrative that women can’t handle certain tasks,” says Abi.
Role models are an important aspect of driving more women to choose male-dominated fields for their career path. Amelia Bergh, a mechanical engineer by training who started as an intern at SOLA, was lucky enough to have several strong female role models in her family. She believes that she was drawn to engineering through her interest in finding and solving problems.
“Growing up on a farm…I very soon found myself interested in fixing each and every problem. Engineering was the best degree I could think of to back up this interest.”
Since beginning her career as an intern at SOLA, Amelia has come to be responsible for several large-scale solar PV designs, including one for Prospecton Brewery in Durban, a 1.3 MW solar system that is one of the 8 MW fleet that SOLA built for ABinBev last year. Abi was also involved in this project, designing the 1.3 MW system at Polokwane Brewery in Limpopo.
Despite their experience, both engineers are proudest of their first designs. “No one forgets their first labour,” Abi laughs, remembering her first design at SOLA, a 944 kWp system at Dainfern Mall in Fourways. Amelia’s first design, for the Western Cape Blood Service, also made a meaningful impact. “It was a small project but I am still very proud of it,” she adds. Indeed, a career in engineering means being able to tackle challenging problems and be rewarded by providing workable, cost-effective solutions. “In many cases, my work measurably improves the safety and/or quality of life for people,” Abi adds.
But being a female engineer isn’t always easy. “Being outnumbered, on any front, is not enjoyable, and being a female engineering student or professional you are outnumbered 1/10 at a good time,” says Amelia. The effects of having few women in engineering fields are widespread and high impact – from the design of seatbelts meaning women are much more likely to die in car crashes to design of stoves that impact negatively on women’s health. Thus having a diversity of perspectives is important – particularly in engineering.
Being in the minority can also manifest in day-to-day work scenarios for women in engineering. “I have to constantly show my strength and ability to execute tasks that are not ‘womanlike’,” Abi states. Amelia agrees. “Being a woman in our industry definitely gets people thinking. I am gaining momentum on my experience and am proud to be showing everyone that a woman can do it too,” she adds.
SOLA has always been committed to diversity, formalising their policy in this regard in 2019 and solidifying diversity as one of their core values. Whilst there is a long way to go, the rewards serve everyone, both internal employees and clients alike. “We are lucky enough to have quite a few supportive women within our company which I turn to when I am wanting to chat to a female,” Amelia adds.
What advice do Abi and Amelia have for other women who would like to start their careers in male-dominated fields? “Don’t settle for a work environment that does not support your growth and give you opportunities to expand your knowledge,” says Amelia. “Make sure to surround yourself with people that see past your gender and are proud to have you in their team.” Abi puts it more simply. “Show up and be relevant. We can do it!”
If you are a female engineer or interested in becoming an engineer, have a look at this list of resources for female engineers. Also, keep an eye on SOLA’s social media and careers page for job opportunities.