Launching your career is one thing, but paving the way for other women to start and grow their careers in a male dominated field is not only cool, but is incredibly admirable, as you are at the forefront changing traditional stereotypes that associate engineering with only the menfolk.
On this episode of the Celebrating Women Campaign, we celebrate the amazing Yvonne Nkemakonam Allanah, Mechanical Engineer, and Co-Founder of Afro Tech Girls, an organisation poised to encourage girls and young women to embrace the STEM industries. Now this goal does not stop at fun, but indeed puts structures in place to position young Nigerian women to increase Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product.
President and Chief Executive Officer, Youth for Technology (YTF) Njideka Harry (2016), said, “If Nigerian women had the same opportunities as men, they could drive GDP up by $13.9 billion”.
I ask Yvonne about her passions and how they led you to her career path, and she narrates:
‘Growing up, I enjoyed assembling furniture and electronic equipment with my dad but I never combined this hobby of mine with my interest in my math classes. Instead, I defaulted to pursue a career in Medicine particularly, pediatric medicine which was more of a choice which evolved from the nature of most females to nurture, combined with my love for children even when I was still a child myself at 16.
It wasn’t until the defining moment when I was in the process of filling out my subjects on my jamb form that I realized I hadn’t discerned that my career choice had been more sentimental than logical. I then decided to take a huge switch from medicine as a career path interest to Engineering. The choice of which Engineering was simply based on which would give me the most flexibility to pick a specialty later, considering the limited time I had made the decision in. That’s the abridged version of how I ended up studying Mechanical Engineering.’
On her mentors, professionally and in other respects, Yvonne Allanah explains:
‘I always find this question very difficult to answer as I have never had a formal mentor. This is an area I am currently working on. However, I do share about the few informal mentors I have had in the past.
One of them would be my mum, she has always portrayed great strength and this is a trait that inspire to have in every aspect of life. Although, she isn’t your typical career woman, she is extremely resilient in the businesses she runs. A lot of what I have learnt from her at home has helped at work.
I have also been blessed with other professional mentors throughout my career so far, both male and female. They have all served to encourage and guide me through different seasons and phases from my job hunting days to role changes.
Secondly, would be an older family friend who encouraged me during my job hunting stage. She gave a listening ear.‘
I ask Yvonne about her favorite books and how they have shaped her perspective on life and she gives an inspiring chunk of detail:
‘Some of my favorite books are by Francine Rivers. I like how she portrays her characters as real people with relatable problems which they overcome through virtues of grace, forgiveness, strength or wisdom. One of my favorites from her collection are Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughters dream. It’s a story across multiple generations which shows how relationships are marred by lack of effective communication and the same misgivings in different forms are repeated a result of this.
My all time favorite is The Bible. It’s always fresh and relevant even though it’s centuries old. I don’t think there is any phase of life I have been through yet that I haven’t been able to draw wisdom and encouragement from this book.’
I ask Yvonne about a day in the work life of an engineer, its high moments, and challenges, especially with regard to proactivity in taking on the evolving roles she has passed through in her career, and she elucidates:
‘I have majorly been in Supply Chain management throughout my career so far. However, since I work with an industrial company and I joined on a rotational program. I have had the chance to work in multiple roles from project planning, quality operations, Sourcing Initiatives, Operations Leader, lean specialist and in my current role as a project manager. Picking my Operations leader role, a typical day in that involved walking through the shop where the gas turbine parts were repaired, checking on the status of the customer orders in the shop, having EHS and quality tool box talks with the operators to go through any concerns they had and Spotlight the focus areas for the week.
Some of the high moments for me in my career have been successfully implementing a new process in the shop or seeing the benefits of a process improvement.
Challenges would include navigating office politics and this I think is a skill and it is inevitable. I could go on and on about what I have learnt from this.’
I ask Yvonne N. Allanah how getting along well with people has helped and propelled her to success on her life’s journey, and she says this:
‘I don’t know if I would say getting on well with people is a factor behind success but I do know that treating people with respect goes a long way. The reason I like to differentiate these two is because it’s very easy to fall into the role of a people pleaser if you are nice person. At the end of the day, it’s better to be respected than liked. My experience has been a combination of both. There are opportunities that have been presented to me because people have shared feedback that “They enjoy working with me”. My goal is to ensure that this is always balanced with quality of work as well.’
Yvonne Nkem Allanah gives an insight into the peculiar challenges female engineers face and the strategy to work through them, saying:
‘One of the challenges I have faced in trying to path a career in industrial operations in a male dominated field is imposter syndrome. This is the fear that you are not as good as others think you are. This is one of the biggest limiting factors for most women in the workplace and its very easy to undermine oneself as a result of this. Different circumstances have instigated this feeling for me in my early career so far. I remember being in a meeting sometime last year and all of a sudden it hit me that I rarely have the opportunity to work with other women and it just made me sort of feel like maybe I shouldn’t be there, or maybe I would never fit in. I have since learnt that I should never try to fit in and it’s okay to not have all the answers because half the time people who seem like they have all the answers, are probably making stuff up. To constantly renew this mind set, I choose every day to be intentional about challenging the status quo and when that voice in my head tries to cause me to shrivel, I look back on the different seasons I have been able to overcome as an encouragement for the present.’
Yvonne speaks about the Afrotech Girls Vision, its successes, challenges and its next steps, saying:
‘The vision of AfroTech girls is to see more women represented and recognized in STEM fields. I am reminded of this every day as I live this and understand the challenges that exist that no one ever tells you about. Over the past years, we have been able to work with over 300 girls through variety of programs that cater to one or more of our 3 pillars which is to Educate, Encourage and Empower. One of our most recent successes is the completion of the summer camp where the girls were exposed to different applications of Technology such as Animation, Robotics and Data Analytics, The awe struck feedback from the girls at the end of each program is the reassurance we get that we might be at the scale we desire yet but we are still making a major difference in the lives of these girls. One of our biggest challenges till date has been funding but most importantly a means of generating sustainable income as an NGO to drive constant growth and operations. This is our next milestone as an organization as we ensure that we continue to make a difference with women in STEM’
I ask Yvonne how she styles her personal development goals to achieve success, and what role God plays in that, and she pours out her thoughts:
‘Honestly, I am still a learner at this. However, this past summer has been pivotal in transforming how I view success and define goals especially in my career. I have learnt that one’s sense of purpose of worth should not be based on human defined standards or accolades. These things should only serve as a secondary benefit to the true purpose of impacting lives and adding value through our work. Often times, the world tells us what we should consider success. It shouldn’t be. I determine what I consider a success, not the system or the society. That’s the only way to ensure that success is based on my principles as an individual which often times are carved by my faith. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Where do I find my validation?”
The answer would guide you to where you find your self-worth.’
Yvonne Allanah gives a word of advice to our readers who wish to carve out an engineering career, saying:
‘Don’t limit yourself. Your mind is elastic. Find what you are passionate about and see how a degree in Engineering can still enable you do that. Engineering is one of the most versatile degrees one can get; don’t limit the possibilities you can apply it to. Most importantly, ask as many questions as possible.’
Finally, I ask Nkem how she unwinds on a languorous Saturday, and she chuckles with gid:
‘Hmmm….that’s easy. Netflix and Chill. Grey’s Anatomy. Cooking for the week and reading
My perfect Saturday would be to do all these things while enjoying the company of my loved ones’
Please share your stories about women that inspire you in the comment section:)