Connected Career Women Series

Telling Our Stories: Women in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM)

Women are significantly under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) -related fields. Globally, only 28% of researchers are women, and in Rwanda only 21.8% of the researchers are women. In the technology industry, women constitute 28% of professionals in the sector worldwide and just 30% in Sub-Saharan Africa. While more and more women are graduating with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in STEM-related areas, only a small percentage of women graduate with degrees in physics, computer science and engineering. After graduation, however, women are more likely to drop out in the later stages of their careers than their male counterparts — further widening the gap.

Standing in front of a room full of career women from different industries, Eng. Rita Mutabazi narrated her journey as a woman in STEM at the Telling Our Stories event hosted by Career Women’s Network Kigali, in partnership with UNICEF Rwanda and Kasha last Friday.

An educator by profession, Mutabazi recounted how she was initially enrolled in cooking and sewing class at high school as girls were often assigned those subjects.

Her father, who knew her potential, wanted her to take up something that would be challenging for her which landed her in Biology and Chemistry classes instead. At that moment, her love for science and the desire to take on challenges grew and she would, later on, study Electromechanical Engineering as her Bachelor’s degree program.

Rita Mutabazi currently serves as the Principal of IPRC Tumba, and she is the only female Principal of a Polytechnic college in the country.

Noting the gender gap that exists in STEM, she has committed to mentoring girls as a way to directly address the disparity. Her message to women on the evening of the event was about women empowering each other.

“You need to open doors for other women when you are in a position to do so, to create opportunities for other women to take a seat at the table.”

Eng. Rita Mutabazi, Principal of IPRC Tumba

Eng. Sonia Kamikazi, Quality Assurance Director at RwandAir, held the same sentiment that girls and women should not hesitate to take on difficult STEM subjects, quoting in her speech Albert Einstein, who said: “Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think.” She became the first woman to hold the position of Director of Quality Assurance at RwandAir.

Eng. Patricie Uwase, who serves as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Infrastructure, encouraged women to find themselves in the careers they choose. Growing up in Gisenyi, she wanted to build roads and travel across the country. Her passion led her to study civil and transportation engineering.

Also speaking at the event was Eng. Sylvia Makario, who is a geospatial engineer, involved in space technology and big data.

She felt that her courage to be nonconformist led her to choose a career in a field that not many people venture into. Sylvia Makario is also the Co-Founder of Hepta Analytics, a machine learning and big data analytics company registered both in Kenya and Rwanda. She encouraged women to break down boundaries and chase their dreams.

What is behind the gender gap in STEM fields?

UNESCO held that “persistent bias that women cannot do as well as men” has an impact on how women view their capabilities, and in turn, the number of women represented in the field.

Studies show that at younger ages, girls evaluate their mathematical skills lower than boys do. However, it has shown consistently in studies that there is no difference in aptitude between boys and girls in science and mathematics.

Negative attitudes towards women in STEM are among the biggest hurdles to address in order to achieve equal representation of both sexes in STEM. These negative attitudes result from gender stereotypes and unconscious gender biases which are still prevalent across the globe. 

The calls for more women in STEM are growing as a response to the lack of skilled engineers and technicians in the wake of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Many jobs that exist today will become automated, while STEM-related jobs like engineering will remain in high demand and will be instrumental in shaping the future of life on earth. If we want our future to be inclusive, women need to be equally represented among the engineers and developers building our future technological solutions.

However, existing social attitudes are making it much more difficult for girls who have a curiosity and passion for such fields to succeed and be on equal footing as their male counterparts. We risk losing out on these brilliant minds.

One way to change the mindset is to show young women that they have role models who are doing amazing things in STEM in Africa to look up to as inspiration.

Role models’ achievements show young women that they too can follow the footsteps of their role models and – why not – venture beyond. To see female engineers, computer scientists, astronauts and physicists, will allow them to believe that their dreams are valid, that it can be done.

Telling Our Stories is an annual event organized by the Career Women’s Network Kigali that serves as a platform for trailblazing women to share their success stories (and challenges) to inspire their fellow career women to dream BIG and pursue their ambitious career goals.

This year’s edition focused on women in STEM to shine a spotlight on women who have built successful careers in their field, and encourage more women to go for STEM-related studies and careers.

  • Eng. Patricie Uwase, Permanet Secretary at the Ministry of Infrastructure
  • Eng. Patricie Uwase with attendees
  • Eng. Rita Mutabazi, the only female Principal of a Polytechnic college in the country
  • Eng. Sylvia Makario, a geospatial engineer involved in space technology and big data in Rwanda and East Africa
  • Eng. Sonia Kamikazi, Director of Quality Assurance at RwandAir
  • Telling Our Stories, group photo. (All images courtesy of CCWK)

Want to join a tribe of successful women who have your back? Contact the Career Women’s Network Kigali: info@careerwomensnetwork-kigali.com and +250783719431

{Featured image: Launch of Mara Phones Factory | Kigali, 7 October, 2019 courtesy of Paul Kagame Flickr}


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: