Gender means little when passion prevails

Women have often found it hard to make an impact in several male dominated sectors such as mining, manufacturing, construction, engineering, etc.

But Namibia’s own ‘iron lady’, Sophie Tekkie, has made a name for herself in the engineering sector and here’s her story.

Born in Ethiopia, Tekkie went through her school years and graduated at the Addis Ababa University with a BSc degree at honours level. Due to certain personal life choices, she relocated to Namibia in 1990 where she immediately curved a niche for herself in the local engineering sector.

Her first port of call was with the department of transport where she took part in the road sector reform from 1995 to 2000. She was also one of the team members who contributed to the formation of the Roads Authority of Namibia (RA) after joining the organisation as its road management systems manager. She has been part of the team that developed a holistic Integrated Road Management System of Namibia based on international standards since 2000. And no, her journey to the top did not start there.

Now a Namibian citizen, Tekkie who is married with one daughter, has presented papers and articles on international, regional and national forums on transportation aspects - road sector reforms - especially the road management system.

Today, she is the only female in two top notch engineering boards of directors in the country.

As the president of the Engineering Professionals Association and the vice president of the Engineering Council of Namibia, Tekkie believes her positions should inspire Namibian women to claim their seats in the boardroom too.

“I have been the only female member of the council since 2000. I try my best to be a role model to all the Namibian girls and women out there,” she quips, adding, “There are less than five percent of registered female engineers and that is a cause for concern.”

According to her, women need to be empowered the world over to reach their full potential and it has to start right from our homes through to our schools and colleges. Women need to work harder than men to succeed, as there are no shortcuts to doing better jobs than them, she asserts.

The genesis of Tekkie’s career wasn’t a rosy path but she decided to mix, mingle and learn from revered regional and international engineers.

“I was a foreigner in a fresh post-independent Namibia. So I had to learn the country’s cultures, the various systems and standards used in the engineering sector. I was a woman in a man’s world [and often the only woman in the boardroom]. Although not often verbalised, my male colleagues’ attitude towards me has always challenged me to prove myself as a competent professional.

“At the start, I worked hard and sought out all information I could find on civil engineering. I subscribed to magazines, read articles, networked with prominent engineers in the region and at international forums. I also attended every course I would hear about to enhance my knowledge and gain the relevant experience,” she narrates.

Tekkie has since received various awards and recognitions for best presenter awards; certificates of achievement not only in transportation but also in operational and strategic management; project management; information technology (IT) governance; corporate governance and executive management.

Tekkie and her team also initiated the current computerised roads management system after attending an insightful related course in South Africa.

“The Namibian engineering sector has high standards and we would like to keep it that way, which is why we have the Engineering Council of Namibia that regulates engineering activities for public safety. A new engineering firm wishing to come on board must be very competent,” she emphasises.

She adds: “If you looked at the roads, rails and other infrastructure, you would realise that they lead to economic stimulation. As a byproduct, trade is obviously bound to increase and investors are bound to begin investing in our country but only as long as we manage to keep up with the global standards. I must, however, say that our infrastructure is deteriorating.”

Tekkie believes there are high expectations for the first group of engineers to ever be produced by the University of Namibia (Unam) and that achieving the Vision 2030 goals still proves to be a mammoth task for the country.

“Unam will produce engineering graduates this year, for the first time ever but it will take them between three to five years to be fully registered. Our objective is to produce 5000 fully trained and registered engineers by 2030. Sadly, there are doubts on whether or not we will achieve that goal judging by the pace at which we operate as an industry. We need to start focusing on capacity development,” she highlights.

As a country, we need to identify the missing gaps to fill them up, she insists.

Determined to leave a legacy behind, Tekkie is involved in a number of community related activities including giving morality classes to Katutura children every Sunday morning.

Hard work and learning from experienced people enables anyone to grow more professionally and personally, she believes.

Thus, she urges; “Asking for help does not show incompetence. Grab every single opportunity to gain experience from your seniors by observing their routines.”

When Tekkie is not busy juggling her time in between boardrooms, she listens to music, lends a hand to community development projects, reads and watches movies with her child at home. PF