It’s not easy being a woman in the male-dominated engineering industry as Kurisani Maswanganyi, founder and managing director of Kulani Engineering Consultancy, well knows. “It’s not everyone, but when you do come across negative attitudes you are either seen as having nothing to contribute, or when you prove yourself you’re seen as a threat,” she says.
She started Kulani with the vision of creating an environment in which technical women could develop their careers unfettered by gender-based prejudices. The firm is small but it punches well above its weight, predominantly servicing national and provincial government departments and state-owned entities.
Maswanganyi has an interesting take on the recent downturn in the building and construction industry. “It has raised the level of competition considerably, but that has stood us in good stead. Partnering with us as a black female-owned and run engineering firm can give big businesses a competitive edge and we’ve formed many mutually beneficial partnerships that have opened doors for us,” she says.
These partnerships have given Kulani a chance to prove itself and build an enviable reputation. However, Maswanganyi points out that it’s not easy to make connections in what she describes as ‘a gentleman’s club’. “We don’t have access to that network so we’ve relied on others to make connections for us. For example we network with accountants who refer us on, and we’ve specifically targeted business development departments in big businesses, building relationships and getting our name out there so we’re top of mind when a project comes up,” she explains.
The business’s success is due in no small part to Maswanganyi’s combination of poise and self-assurance which is built on her technical excellence as an engineer.
“Confidence comes with time. As a leader I spend a lot of time encouraging young female engineering graduates who are intimidated and undermined by older male peers. Many of these people are clients so you need to learn to deal with them gently but effectively, keeping both your sense of self-worth and your client relationship intact. It’s tough, but then this business is tough, and you learn in time to overcome these challenges,” she says.
Player: Kurisani Maswanganyi
Company: Kulani Engineering Consultancy
Contact: +27 (0)86 011 1470 ; kulaniec.co.za