Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN) commits to empowering girls through training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM for national development. So states APWEN President, Engr. Felicia Agubata, an aviation professional with the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), in this exclusive interview with Aviation & Allied Business. More women could be channeled into aviation ipso facto.
Q: As the President of the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria, what is the focus of your work?
A: The focus of my work is the empowerment and elevation of the girl child through STEM education. STEM is the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. We aspire to, and we are actually stimulating the interest of the girl-child to read STEM subjects with the ultimate objective of studying Engineering in the universities and taking up Engineering as a career of choice. This will lead to improved gender balance in the Engineering field .It would also put additional talents and skill in the pool, to drive national growth.
Today, the Engineering field is male-dominated but we envision a change, a shift that will lead to parity at some point .Of course the girl-child has a lot of headwinds to contend with – cultural, religious, economic, perception and courage factor etc .
My focus, is to stimulate interest, offer learning aids, scholarship grants, provide the power of local examples in form of Female Engineers from local communities who speak the language of the girl-child, probably attended local primary and post primary schools, speak their dialects, know their village streams and are indeed flourishing in the Engineering profession.
We also provide mentorship platform as well as the strength and appeal of a pack. The ultimate beneficiary of these activities is humanity and of course the girl-child who is able to utilize the tailwinds to chart a course or career that would have been impossible otherwise.
Q: What are your strategies on how to encourage and empower more women into leadership positions across the aviation value-chain in Nigeria and in Africa?
A: Having defined our core focus area earlier, it is obvious that proficiency in STEM subjects would be a great enabler for women who want career at the top across most job areas especially the technical and ICT units.
Besides, we provide mentorship platform that enables women to learn,aspire and achieve by looking at and interacting with those who have.
We also encourage women to reorder their priorities by embarking on self-development and acquisition of skills for the jobs that will be available tomorrow. It is not enough to have the skills that are required today. Women must be futuristic in their developmental efforts so as to guarantee continued relevance and ability to fit into job roles in the Aviation sector and elsewhere.
Women can never go wrong with self-development. Monies spent on ephemeral things like fashion can actually be ploughed into self-development and relevant skill acquisition or education. We encourage this a lot.
Most importantly, our programs are designed to capture the girl-child at tender ages. Personal examples such as some of us are offering are a powerful tool for stirring interest and inclining it towards preferred fields and not just aviation value-chain.
Q: As a woman who holds a position such as this, how do you think women can overcome gender-based challenges at the workplace?
A: Our society is patriarchal. That is our reality. Male dominance is therefore a fact. However, my approach is to state and emphasize gender inclusion as well as collaboration. Things have actually changed, and are still changing for the better in terms of gender balancing at the workplace .This has also altered the perception about workplace gender challenges. All humans have degree of challenges that are peculiar to them, not necessarily because of their gender.
Now talking about gender workplace challenges and how to overcome it, my attitude is for females to equip themselves with the requisite skills and the right attitude to work. Being a woman does not translate to standards being lowered for anybody. Once you are perceived as being of the right fit for your job and your performance is in synch with the required threshold for your cadre, you are unlikely to experience particular challenges on account of gender. You will be ceded what is due to you including promotions and recognitions if your performance is good.
I do not want to begin to magnify or down play gender based challenges. People should get professional about their jobs and not generalize about gender challenges.
If a case of bullying or harassment arises, administrative channels should be used to deal with that swiftly.
Q: How do you think skills gap and ageing workforce in Nigerian aviation can be addressed?
A: Skill gaps are normally identified through skill audit. It is critical for HR units and line managers to conduct skill audit in order to identify job-relevant training needs. Training is a critical success factor in running organizations effectively.
Ageing workforce is a reality. However, organizations used to be self-regulated. They normally have a robust mechanism for addressing this challenge. Specifically, as people are retiring based on extant rules and guidelines, fresh hands are being engaged to replace them. The situation these days in both private and public sectors is that more are retiring but less seem to be coming on board as replacements for reasons that are obvious.
Having said this, I wish to point out that age per se is not a challenge in the sector. Some people are old but have current skills and ideas while some are young but without skills. I advocate healthy balance as well continuous pre-planned training.
Q: What advice would you give to women who want to be leaders in the aviation industry?
A: Leadership is not a title .It is not also an exclusive preserve of those at the top. I believe in the concept of dispersed leadership. This, by implication, means that at whatever rung or strata you find yourself, you should demonstrate capacity and leadership. A cleaner or a clerk can actually be a good leader among her peers, in the same way that a manager or managing director is a good leader within his own rank. So, I will encourage women to lead from their current stations and positions, whatever and wherever that may be. Every step is a starting point.
Secondly, courage deficit within the rank of women needs to be addressed. Women should begin to see more of opportunities than barriers. They should demonstrate courage by pushing themselves to the front row based on knowledge and capacity to deliver results. Most importantly, self- development and training are critical factors. Women must invest in self -improvement initiatives.