Interview: Kurisani Maswangayi – A young entrepreneur with a flair for business

Kulani Engineering Consultancy (Kulani) is an emerging young black company with 100% HDI ownership. It is headed by Kurisani Maswanganyi, who has worked in several engineering projects in SA. Prior to opening Kulani in 2007, Maswanganyi spent time in the UK furthering her studies.

In the UK, she worked for an engineering company that provided project management services in the multi-disciplinary BAA project. The project was extension of Heathrow Airport terminal. Kulani is also the winner of The SA Council for Business Women 2010 award.

What are the values and principles that one should have to successfully operate a company like Kulani?

A person must have passion because it is when you internalize things that will ensure that even when the going gets tough, you want to innovate and continue. You must pursue excellence because you need to separate yourself from the rest. In my language they say “Mintirho ya Vulavula.” This means it’s only the finished product that you will be judged on. And a person must have integrity because it’s on the basis of integrity that you will ensure that you deliver on time and to the highest quality because all that effort will have a reflection on you as an individual.

Is gender still an issue in the engineering sector?

Gender is still an issue because there are a handful of women in this sector. I am sure some of my peers also find themselves alone on project sites and in the boardroom. But the biggest thing we find is the male ego. Some men cannot overlook the fact that we are women who are either their competitors or their equal because of our education, experience and knowledge. They would rather subject us to domineering actions due to their inferiority complexes.

We always find it funny that in meetings where there is no scriber (minutes-taker), I will be asked to take notes just because I am a woman. And men would be surprised when I decline because to them this was a non-issue.

I personally found that in engineering, a career progression for women is difficult and hardly happens because factors such as being a wife and a mother tend to play against in comparison to our male counterparts. When we are not aggressive or assertive enough, then we are not good enough. Women are not provided the opportunity to display their capabilities because we don’t come across in the manner which the male stereotype expects us to be.

Once we start a family, we cannot put in the same hours as our male counterparts. But because of the rigidness of the industry, companies don’t realize that if they just offered women the space by creating for example, flexi-time system, they would get more out of female engineers.

I started my company to create an environment that will allow us to remain women with all the ups and downs we come across in our “other” life. All of us have laptops. So, if my child gets sick, I can attend to that. With my working tool with me, when the child falls asleep, I can put in my time. I think what’s important is productivity more than time spent in the office.

In terms of infrastructure development and business growth in SA, how do you rate us out of 10 compared to other countries abroad, would you say we are doing well?

The type of infrastructure we are developing is world class and we are right there with first world countries. If we have the ability to develop infrastructure such as the stadia we have out of the World Cup Soccer and rail infrastructure such as the Gautrain, I don’t see a reason why we cannot produce the same results at grass root level.


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