Be bold and ask for opportunities. It is about you so you have to build your portfolio, work hard and make sure everything that has your name on it speaks quality. Your work must speak for you, make it a habit.
Who is Martha Kautanevali?
I grew up in the northern part of Namibia, Africa. I attended school and university in that same part of the country. Growing up I was really good at STEM subjects but I did not have any woman in Engineering to sort of help me prepare for this male dominated field. The early stages were really tough, especially when I saw my peers changing fields of study. It was a challenge at first because I didn’t believe I could really do engineering as a career. Well, it wasn’t until I got comfortable with trying new things as well reaching to my fellow mates. Networking also played a major role in my career pursuit, looking at how I actually got to be part of the Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE). It was through them [that] I got to meet a lot of engineering pioneers that helped me in so many ways, personal development as well [as] social and academia. So many doors can be opened through networking as well believing in oneself.
My best, special and major awards for the year: leadership awards; 1st job promotion (from Graduate Engineer to Management Assistant); best dressed of all times; conference attendance; volunteer workshops.
How did you choose to pursue this field?
I chose this career because I thought I was good at Mathematics and all related modules, which was not really the case since high school and university mathematics. [They] are way too different (I have realized this later on when I became a university student). I then pushed through to actually challenge myself into becoming the first engineer in my family as well as becoming [a] young girl’s role model. It later became a dream to one day inspire someone to actually face these fields comfortably and unshakably. As well as to help someone in ways I was not helped at the late stages of my high school.
Who was your inspiration or role model that guided you to this field?
I had a lady by the name Sterynash who was doing Geology. She inspired me during my high school years. However, I am currently under inspirations of many individuals, not to mention my Mentors, my Super Boss, Peers and fellow Engineering Ladies.
Did you always have the desire to work in this field? If not, what was your intended field? Why did you change careers?
I always wanted to be a STEM but not in my current field. I wanted to do Geology but I fell in love with Civil Engineering and yes! So far, so good.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the fact that I have the power to make the world a better looking place as well as safer by designing good looking structures which are also safe for people to live in.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?
Getting to understand that as a woman in this field you have to stand your ground and air your opinion with confidence because the other gender will most definitely want to dominate and will suppress your potential of overruling.
What things would you change about your job?
I would change the mindsets of my male colleagues because they still have that stereotype of not allowing women to run the show and they make everything a competition even where we were supposed to work together as a team.
What has been the most difficult or disappointing aspect of your job?
Learning to understand that the client is always right, even if you have the best ideas. Your job is basically to try and convince him/her but if they disagree, it must stand as it is.
How have you combated the stigma of being a “woman of color” in STEM?
I got through it all by understanding the fact that people are different and everyone has their own intentions and opinions which should never define us. Stand firm.
What tips would you offer for anyone thinking about entering into your profession?
These are tips I wish I knew then (before the whole Engineering journey): Be bold and ask for opportunities. It is about you so you have to build your portfolio, work hard and make sure everything that has your name on it speaks quality, your work must speak for you, make it a habit. Keep learning, be flexible, be teachable. Most importantly get a serious and involved mentor that can help you shape your future and guide you. Network, only through people you can actually meet other people and more doors will easily be opened for you. Develop a plan for your career path and avoid getting too comfortable, that is not your destination. Develop business skills and don’t forget to believe in yourself because you are all you got.
What advice would you give your younger self about your career journey as a “woman of color” working in a predominantly white, male-dominated field?
The advice to my younger self would be to not be afraid to try new things and be comfortable feeling uncomfortable. You will most definitely find opportunities that you think you can’t do but it will be all in your head because we were made to be warriors and unstoppable, for as long as you are a girl/female/woman/lady/girl, it is in us. We are phenomenal and we have the potential of tackling everything full force. I would also cover the fact that your path will never be smooth, there will always be challenges, stereotypes and what is worse or toughest is actually sticking to that path. Therefore my advice would be to succeed in the faces of these forces with as much grandeur as possible.
Can you provide some words of wisdom to young ladies thinking about entering a STEM field as a career choice?
I would like to edge all young ladies to look into this before entering this field: Focus on mathematics, math is not all that is there but trust me you are going to need it more than anything, matter of fact you are going to love it by force of gravity (lol). You should understand yourself because while considering those careers to pursue you should know what you enjoy doing, comparison check between your skill set and the job you want to do as well as understanding how you are actually going to make a difference in the world. Young girl you are your own limit, never let your mind fool you. You are gonna need to push your limits as well as doing the very best you can. Never let your circumstance determine your future, you are bigger than your challenges and there is a greater room for change, improvement as well as self development. Please note that just because you are a woman doesn’t make you any less of a “STEMnist”. You have the potential and you must learn by all means to use it to your advantage. You gotta go for them and be strong as you move forward.
What is your favorite Quote? How do you apply this to your life?
My favorite quote is “Nobody knows everything but everybody knows something” by unknown. This helped me realize that just because I don’t know that specific something someone is expecting from me doesn’t make me any less of an engineer because I know something that they might not know, which then motivates to be acceptable and allow myself to actually learn and teach others. It has been my way of life over the past few years.
What are your future goals related to your career?
My biggest goal is to get my Registered Civil Engineer Certificate, attain a a few listed certificates/degrees, literally just focusing on my career development now. The massive goal is to own a Close Corporation Company (majoring in Engineering consultancy) that I will name after someone who is very dear to me, to honor them as well as to provide employment to all Namibians.
How has your family influenced your journey and provide support?
My family played a major role in my career through financial support, advice as well prayers. They have been patient enough for me to actually get where I am before my financial breakthrough that will happen soon enough so that I can be able give back through the next generation.
How do you juggle motherhood and your career?
I have no idea how it feels like to be a mom and an engineer at the same time. No kids yet, but I am sure I’m going to be a supermom to little amazing STEMnists.
What are some interesting facts about yourself that you would like to share?
I describe myself as a free soul, I connect with almost everyone. I love dancing, it keeps me busy. I am a podcast addict. I have a favorite teddy bear called Froggy, I go with it everywhere (not to work though, lol). I have a very awesome fashion taste (wink). I have a little tat on me (guess where). I don’t like cooking but I love eating. I love my fit self but I can’t keep up with the gym. I am not a fan of seafood (pheeew).
Martha Kautanevali (Instagram; LinkedIn)
We hope you enjoyed learning about our latest “STEMsation”, please comment about how her experiences have inspired you, how your experiences can inspire others and nominate our next “STEMsation to spotlight their amazing accomplishments.