The everywomanWorld series hops onto the island of Mauritius, where we chatted with Electrical Engineer, Nawsheen Duffaydar, 28, about her working life at Arup SIGMA, the global consultancy of designers, planners and engineers behind structures like the Sydney Opera House, Pompidou Centre (Paris) and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium.
In the beginning:
Several things happened in my early life, which set me on a path to becoming an electrical engineer. I was born in 1986, at a time when there was a big surge in women going to work [Between 1985 and 1991 the numbers of Mauritian women working outside the home increased from 22 to 41%]. I had plenty of female role models - my mother was one, always telling me that if I worked hard, I could do anything I wanted - and there was never any question I would study and have a career. I also felt from an early age that women in Mauritius have a responsibility to show the rest of the world that we might come from a small, African country, but we are intelligent, and have a lot to offer the economy.
I was also inspired by the Japanese cartoon series Dragon Ball Z! The superhero Goku, who depends earth against evil, had all these amazing powers which fascinated me. I was enthralled by devices and gadgets, wanting to know how they functioned. My parents wanted me to be a doctor, but my mind was made up on engineering from very early on.
My career path:
I wanted my degree to be recognised globally and not just in Mauritius, so I decided to take my studies in Asia. I was looking forward to challenging myself in the very male-dominated discipline of physics, but was surprised to find that the majority of my classmates in Malaysia were females, who, like me, wanted to prove that they too could carve out successful science-based careers alongside their male colleagues.
After completing my studies I returned to Africa and was accepted onto a training programme with the Central Electricity Board. Though I loved it, it was a big change to go from leaning about complicated machinery in books to standing in front of huge engines I’d never been sure actually existed in the real world! The transition from the theory to the practical side of engineering meant getting my hands dirty. My supervised role involved testing and commissioning transformers and components of the electrical network. The most challenging aspect was the thought process you had to go through to perceive problems that you couldn’t diagnose with the naked eye alone, but the most stressful times came during power failures. When people were complaining that they were without electricity there was a huge responsibility to release power back to them quickly and safely. We were dealing with medium voltage electricity where there’s always a potential for things to go wrong, so we had supervisors on hand who could step in if necessary.
After nearly three years in my training, I felt ready to take on a more senior role, and was lucky to get my current position at Arup.
A typical day:
I’m at my desk in Bagatelle, the heart of Mauritius, by 8am, having driven in from the coast with a colleague. About 75% of my time is spent at Arup SIGMAS’ office, working on design projects such as resorts in the Maldives and apartments and villas in Mauritius. This also involves putting together tender documents, electrical specifications, drawings, and liaising with architects, interior designers and contractors to ensure plans are coordinated and being followed through on site. The rest of the time I’m around Mauritius, attending site meetings, witnessing testing and commissioning of electrical equipment and accessories, fire alarm system and ICT services.
My role models:
One of the biggest challenges for women in Mauritius is the inequality that still exists for women in the workplace. At Arup I am lucky to have very supportive mentors who ensure I have the same resources and facilities as my male colleagues.
My biggest lesson:
Those times when I have been faced with the attitude that women are less than men, I’ve realised that I have to strive to get what I want and not let negative attitudes affect me. That toughness becomes very useful when a project is going off the rails because a builder or interior designer isn’t working to schedule. Deadlines are crucial in my world.
I’ve also realised the importance of building a network of supporters you can really trust. I’m a member of the Institute Of Engineering Technology; it can be very beneficial to talk at events with people doing the same job in other organisations. The everywomanNetwork is also a fantastic tool for developing your career every step of the way; whether you need help with your self-esteem or managing a difficult colleague, there’s advice you can put into practice straight away.
everywomanWorld is a popular series focusing on the global perspectives of our Network and Club members' careers, showcasing female perspectives of all aspects of working across cultures. Do you have an everywomanWorld story you want to share? Send us an email at email@example.com.