Khayakazi Dioka is a South African with a bachelors and masters in Electrical Engineering degrees, both from the University of Cape Town. She is a Corporate Specialist at South African power utility Eskom, specializing in power transformers. She has 17 years experience with the same company, having worked at different departments with different responsibilities. She was also awarded a bursary by the same company to do both her undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Khayakazi is the international chairperson for Cigre Women in Engineering (WiE) Jan 2019 to present.
How and when did you know about Cigre?
I’ve known about Cigre since I was an engineer in training. I would attend a local feedback session every second year, and sometimes had the luxury of attending our regional conference.
I was first introduced as part of a local Cigre regional activities group (RAG) on Power System Protection B5. In 2007 I attended a B5 colloquium in Spain as it was aligned with my international training on power system protection. For this colloquium, I had an opportunity to prepare feedback on one of the preferential subjects. This meant going through all submission and summarizing them for our local audience. This was thrilling and gave me a sense of importance in this technical environment.
At the time, I considered myself very fortunate because I was in the right environment at the right time. As a young engineer, I aspired to be a specialist. So I spent most of my early career years getting involved in technical matters, thus chose technically inclined environments for personal growth. In my career I’ve always had good mentors. During consultations with my mentors I always emphasized my aspiration and where I would like to be in my career. This made my career path to be better defined.
Having been a strong power system protection engineer, I switched roles and moved to another environment where I would specialize in power transformers. The journey was steep because, at this stage, I had to learn and produce at the same time. This is the time when all biases in the work environment are revealed. This is one experience that may paralyze one’s career if you do not have enough support. Fortunately, I had support from some colleagues both from work and my family. This is one of the reasons I feel passionate about mentorship to young women because, in my opinion, that this is the reason most are no longer in the engineering space. It is the reason why others opt for alternative environments, which sometimes means staying at home and raise children (nothing wrong about this if done as a personal choice). If we want the industry to transform and remain transformed, it should be open to the unique challenges that are faced by women in a male-dominated industry while exploiting unique talents that women bring to the decision-making table.
What is Cigre WiE and what do you hope to achieve?
The aim of the Cigre WiE is to increase active participation of women within Cigre structures, thus balancing access to opportunities for women in Engineering as their male counterparts. Cigre is supported by national committees hence it is pertinent that national committees be the driving force behind women empowerment. This also helps determine the barriers for women's advancement in each country and a specific solution be derived. From this we should be in a position to see policies change to address barriers, increase women participation in Cigre structures, and more women in engineering fields. This is however not going to happen overnight, but we are building. We are building a future where women see themselves in engineering and leading engineering conversations. Female engineering history is not well-documented. We are working to change this. We are collecting and documenting data that will encourage young girls to associate themselves with jobs that used to be associated with men only because we know they can do the job just as well.
The challenge with this building stage is that we are making a lot of corrections. We are correcting inequality as seen in our work places. However, in order to get to the equality, we need to understand first the stage we are in. I have learnt that not every country is exactly at the same stage however, gender gap remains a worldwide challenge. How do we then make corrections? Firstly, we are not in a position to correct inequality with equality.
It is for this reason that as women and in many of the women forums we talk of empowerment programs, breaking barriers, issues that hinder women from taking up space. It is from understanding these that we then need to draw up a plan that will enable women to actively, freely and visibly participate.
We need to invite all the role players to these kinds of debates. There has to be discussions with current leadership, which is mainly men, and present the problem statement. Policy changes must be actioned. More women need to be invited to decision-making engagements, and consciously look out for this change.
The impact the role has on individual
The biggest challenge about my role is the discomfort and labelling it carries. As a vocal woman engineer who takes note of the number of women in a room full of technical experts, you get to sometimes divert people’s thought from the usual S=√3VI (power equation for the non-engineers among us), to “I should have brought that young woman engineer with me to learn about this” or “where are the women engineers in my company”. As women engineers this is a message I wish we could all carry, not to be comfortable in being the only woman at the table. I know many have thought that this makes them an exceptional breed and parade about this, however, if in 1876, Elizabeth Bragg became the first (recorded) woman to receive a bachelor's degree in engineering, are you really proud that in 2020 you are the only woman at the table? This is what has been fed to many to maintain the status quo. We need to think differently to rid of unconscious bias. This requires boldness, asking uncomfortable questions so as to change the status quo. If an engineering book refers to engineer as “he” and nothing inside of you auto-corrects what you are reading, you are feeding to the same bias which sees a male figure when the name engineer is mentioned.
Role modeling, active participation of women and consciously reviewing diversity in any organization is what will bring about inclusion. It will also assist in viewing the same field differently. If a poster for an engineering conference shows only male engineers at work, how do we expert female students to aspire to be engineers. If a working environment is not accommodative of working mothers, how do we expect to retain the skilled women engineers without making them feel like they are a liability because they have to work on the clock. These are but few key discussion points taking place around the world and we need more women to come up front and influence decisions made on behalf of the society.
It was through all this thinking methodology that our 2020 Paris Cigre Women in Engineering forum theme was born. On the 27th August 2020, at the Cigre 48th Paris session, Cigre WiE will be hosting our 4th WiE forum under the theme “Embracing change, overcoming barriers”. The 2020 session seeks to divulge on the importance of diversity and how to embrace it from both leadership point of view to those who need to step up and acknowledge what diversity brings. In this session, we will be discussing practical solutions around inclusion and retention of women engineers. We trust that more men and women will come forth with ideas on how to change things around for the benefit of all genders.
In support of this forum, the current president of Cigre wrote this;
“The strengths of CIGRE lies in its diversity. We create solutions from input from all continents, with engineers who come from different backgrounds, languages and cultures. One aspect of diversity we have not fully included is that of women engineers. As such, we are encouraging women to take part in working groups, as presenters at conferences and colloquia and authors of papers. The WIE is critical in deriving methods whereby women can reach their full potential in CIGRE and the industry.
CIGRE intends to eventually have a similar ratio of women in working groups that are present in the industry. It is also the intent that the number of women members is increased to at least represent the percentage in the industry. “Dr. Rob Stephen, President CIGRE
Show your commitment to helping build a more diverse and inclusive CIGRE and encourage others to help forge women's equality too -
I'll call it out when I see or hear gender stereotypes or bias
I'll mentor a woman and help her build her networks
I'll listen more openly to everyone, all genders
I'll notice gender representation on working groups