On June 23, we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day. Memory Phiri works with automation in mining in Zambia, an environment where women in the workplace are rare.
Why did you want to become an engineer?
My country’s lack of manufacturing industry and dependence on imports made me study engineering so that I could play my part in solving our economic challenges by providing innovative solutions and helping to create jobs.
When and how did you decide to follow that wish?
In 12th grade, I applied to study an Engineering degree at the Copperbelt University (CBU). The first three years focused on introduction to science and engineering programs. I then majored in mechatronics in my fourth and fifth years.
Why did you seek a position at Sandvik?
I have always wanted to join a stable, innovative, well-respected and global company to gain the best engineering experience to advance my career. Sandvik is an international company renowned for its products and mission, and it is well-known in my community for providing its employees with exciting and challenging opportunities within the mining industry. So, I am here at Sandvik to expand my skills and knowledge, and where I can play a part in making things happen.
Before you started at Sandvik, what did you know about the company?
By researching online, I discovered that Sandvik is over 150 years old, a market leader in developing mining automation solutions for underground equipment and providing engineering solutions to other industries. I also read about the company’s commitment to innovation and evolution in the mining industry. I feel that growth and innovation are key in any industry, especially in the field of technology, and Sandvik is constantly pushing the limits in this regard.
When are you most satisfied at work?
My daily job is to commission systems and offer technical support on AutoMine™ and OptiMine™ (mining automation and optimization systems) products onsite. I am happy and proud when we successfully complete a new system start-up and when we resolve an equipment or mining-related challenge, satisfying the customer’s needs.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
I am fascinated by thinking outside the box in terms of trouble-shooting and being able to solve the problem or challenge.
Are there many female engineers at the facility?
Unfortunately, no. For example, I am the only female in the technical support team for the South East Ore Body project. The engineering field, especially mining in our region, is still predominantly male dominated and it will require effort and awareness on the part of the mine owners and their contractors to promote female participation and involvement.
What has been the biggest challenge for you to get to the point that you are at now?
The safety aspect is a concern for me and my supportive site management team. I would like to be ‘where the heat is’, which is underground, but the environment is currently not female-friendly, and I need to always work alongside my male colleagues for protection. Mining industry shift hours can be stressful for a caregiver, needing to leave home at 5.00 a.m. and getting back at 7.00-8.00 p.m. I have found this to be major challenge since recently becoming a mother.
How do you think the industry and universities can attract more women to become engineers?
Firstly, mine owners and suppliers must promote mining as an attractive industry to young women. Secondly, there must be some initiatives to develop support programs for women in the sector. I feel that there is a direct need to educate miners and raise awareness on how to respect and work with women; i.e., to be intolerant of sexual harassment, introduce parental leave programs and so on. Lastly, the appointment of more women in critical roles within engineering will inspire young women to consider pursuing careers in the engineering and science sectors.
I challenge more women out there to join engineering. I say 'Go for it!'
What is your advice to a young woman thinking of a career in engineering?
If you love to create new things and are open to new possibilities, then this is a great career for you. Engineering is a profession where you can enjoy the satisfaction of learning and growing in proportion to the effort you put in.
No engineer, male or female, succeeds without putting in hours of studying, training and trial and error. But as long as you are striving to be the best in your field, and you are confident in your ability, people will respect you and listen to what you have to say.
It’s true that there are more men than women in engineering and this won’t change unless more women join the field and do awesome work. It’s a demanding career for sure, but all rewarding careers are if you dream about creating things. So, I challenge more women out there to join engineering. I say “Go for it!”
Tell us about your future. What do you want to do in five years? In ten years?
Short-term (five years), I would like to train in electrical troubleshooting, Cisco and Network certifications and further strengthen my skills in AutoMine™, OptiMine™ and business management. Long term (10 years), I would like to be part of the Research & Development team.
(named after all the good memories her father was reminded about when he first saw her)
Family: Married with one child (baby girl, nine months)
Education: Engineer with a major in mechatronics from the Copperbelt University, Zambia
Location: Sandvik Zambia (past two years)
Title: Automation Technician, currently supporting NFCA South East Ore Body (SEOB) mine site on the Copperbelt, Zambia
Interests outside of work: Church, sightseeing, personal research and cooking