Mom of the Month: November 2018

While it is true that we are only on our third feature, I’ve already found this experience to be almost serendipitous for both myself and definitely for the featured mom. This month whilst putting together this piece, I had the chance to revisit the ideas of diversity and inclusivity within our workspace as women in STEM. My own experience at a Think Tank session allowed me to realise that some spaces are still very unchanged and deeply affected not just by patriarchy, but also ageism, racism and a whole host of other biases. This understanding was only further reinforced when our #MomOfTheMonth decided to give me a very personal account of the story behind her story. She has highlighted issues of sexual harassment, bullying and a few situations which have made me question how our justice system has allowed such atrocities to go unpunished. Whilst it saddens me to know that change has been so painfully slow; I find hope and comfort in knowing that we are able to come together on a platform where we can openly share our stories. Sharing a story is where discussion begins. And here is where I hope that understanding may also form its wings…

 

I am so privileged to be able to introduce you to my very tenacious friend and university classmate, and our November Mom of the Month, Devaksha Maharaj. She is seen pictured below with her parents, who she wanted to honour as being the major driving force to the many different paths she has taken thus far through her life.

Bio:

Name: Devaksha Maharaj

 

Age: 35

 

Location: Pretoria,GP

 

Job title: Owner & MD

 

Company: Ikigai Engineering

Devaksha is married to Vishay who is also an engineering professional. She is also a mom to four year old Vihan. She explained that this year has been extremely challenging for her and her family as a whole. After experiencing a miscarriage, along with the doings of a very toxic work environment; it was time to reassess and make important decisions. Devaksha has since left the corporate space and has started up her own consulting business. “Since becoming a mum I’ve felt a frustration that stemmed from conflicting desires. I wanted to live a life of climbing the corporate ladder. I wanted to enjoy the lifestyle that came along with being an entrepreneur. But I also wanted a life with meaning and consequence. The result was an infuriating struggle between the things that made money and the things I truly cared about. Ikigai is the developed version of the concept I was looking for. It is, simply put, “your reason for getting out of bed every morning.”  The company is multi-faceted focusing on: Management consulting, renewable energy technologies training & development, Science, Technology, Engineering; Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) education for children

An interview with a fellow STEM Mom

1. What does your everyday work entail?

 

Every day is completely unique and that is what I love! I am in power to do what I want in my day and when I want. However, I try to be disciplined and stick to my tasks set out for the week. The business is broken into four units (or chapters, as I chose to call them). My focus moves between each of these focus areas over the day and week.

 

2. What career path led you to your current work?

 

My career started in Ermelo at Camden Power Station as an Electrical Engineer in training. I then moved to Middelburg to work at the chrome smelters. Here I gained the most invaluable experience. With personal life taking centre stage; my husband and I moved to Pretoria into consultancy so that we could build our family life. It was here that I was exposed to the Energy industry. Earlier this year I decided to break away from corporate and pursue my vision of starting my own company.

 

3. How did you decide to move into this career path?-was it a certain person or moment which initiated it all?

 

On Consulting: I always wanted to consult privately, but of course the regimens of life get us into this rat race. It was fairly hasty but a decision I don’t look back on. The risk was worth the quality of life and family time I get to now experience.

 

I also wanted to know about her path prior to her current role as an owner and consultant. She explains that it all started in grade 11, when her parents discussed the inability to fund her tertiary studies. With the assistance and motivation from her high school teacher, she was able to obtain not one, but two bursaries.

 

On Engineering: Being a sheltered girl, I was a dismal fail at the end of my first year - probably due to all this new found freedom at university! The bursar threatened to revoke my bursary if I continued to perform badly! So the hard work began. Every vacation bursars had to volunteer or get randomly selected to work at Eskom branches across KZN. This added to my experience and as the years went by I found a new found appreciation for a path which I had simply started as a means of obtaining a degree! After graduation I was posted to Camden Power Station in Ermelo. I later moved to Samancor Chrome in Middelburg. My most difficult times working in a smelter environment proved to be one of most valuable.

 

Five and a half years later and now married; the newlyweds decided to move to a more suitable environment to raise a family. Here is when Devaksha entered the consulting space, where she specialized in Energy.

 

After seven years, I proceeded to obtain my accreditation with Association of Energy Engineers as a Certified Energy Manager and last year obtained the Certified Measurement and Verification Professional certification.

 

4. Was there ever a time that you recall wanting to change paths & what convinced you to continue on your chosen path?

 

The economy has not been kind. I have been retrenched twice and recently resigned from a very toxic environment. I was bitter about many aspects of this experience, but I have soon made peace with it. This has made me the person and the woman I am today and it has given me a far better understanding of the companies that I want to market my consulting services to.

 

Since starting my company, I would lose sleep worrying about my financial commitments. Now, months later, I have started to embrace this space and I enjoy the new life that I am creating for myself and my family. Things are slowing falling into place as I work consistently, daily.

 

5. Give us a brief description of a normal/extraordinary 24hours in your life. (You can choose one )

 

Every day is extraordinary!! In an endeavour to pursue my passion and one of the chapters in my business, IKI Kids, I attended a workshop for Robotics. IKI Kids is a programme catering currently for 3 to 5 years old, teaching those principles in STEAM. The Robotics programme is the second level of the programme. My inner child was released and I had the most amazing afternoon programming and making the Robot move through levels of obstacles. It was one of the best days; which made me reaffirm why I made this decision.

 

6. Name the one thing which excites you about your field of work.

 

It’s amazing! It’s everywhere! It makes the world tick! It’s the future for our kids!

 

7. What has your experience been like being a women in STEM?

 

It has been fairly difficult in industry, but as my exposure increases I am more confident.

 

This was a tough question to discuss, especially because Devaksha explained how she experienced victimisation within her workplace post maternity leave. She also explained the sensitive nature of a recent long and arduous legal battle within yet another toxic workplace.

 

Since then, as an Individual, I have experienced more injustices than one can imagine within the corporate environment. These experience have made me stronger, and perhaps even slightly numb to those industries.

 

8. Do you find that there are still barriers within the STEM field?

 

Yes and No - its variable as this depends on the company culture, an individual's opinion and your confidence levels. One has to remain astute, being a STEM woman, and push those barriers out.

 

9. Did becoming a mom change how you experienced your field of work?

 

Yes, my priorities changed drastically and I needed to make sure that I wasn't missing out on my baby's life. I was still driven with my career but it also meant I was working extra hard and it came to a point where I found I was burning myself out.

 

10. How do you think organisational spaces could be improved upon in order to better support women in STEM?

 

Organisations need to be more understanding towards STEM woman, especially mums. We are raising the future of this world, so why not be participative in that process? - For example allow flex time or work from home concepts depending on the industry.

 

11. What do you hope to achieve within your career, whether in the short/long term?

 

I hope to build my business to a stage where I can employ a few more individuals to assist me. I want to create employment as well as take my vision to a higher level. I want to take IKI kids to a stage where I can work on that primarily, whilst my other employees continue with the rest of the business. I want to work on my passions!

 

12. Would you encourage your little one(s) & other young girls to move into a career similar to your own & why?

 

Yes and no. Currently the markets for engineers are saturated, with most being retrenched. However, what I would encourage is an entrepreneurial mind-set - instead of the traditional route of going to a tertiary institute and to then work for companies who may not always value the sacrifices we make in our personal lives for work. We work hard for those types of companies; why not work that hard for yourself? Encourage the girls to get involved in small business ideas from a young age. As Robert Kiosaki says, “learn to write a business plan not your CV.”

 

13. What's your favourite mom &kiddie activity?

 

Building Legos with my son. I loved it growing up and these are now the best times with my baby.

 

14. Please could you give fellow STEM moms some advice on how to navigate the challenges within our field?

 

Be consistent. Don't procrastinate. Live life each day.

Cry if you need to, but wipe those tears soon after and go get them!

If you have a dream, make it a reality. Be passionate about what you do - Passion drives success!

 

 

 

 

Thank you to Devaksha for being so willing to sharing her experiences and above all, for trusting me with her story, given its sensitive nature heart. If you’d like to engage with our featured mom, be sure to contact her (devaksha.maharaj@gmail.com).

 

Our new feature is still in its infancy, so please be sure to share what you enjoy thumbsup or dislike thumbsdown about it. Also be sure to leave a comment and share, share, share (using #MomOfTheMonth and #TheSTEMmomsClub). Inbox me any suggestions for future features on phenomenal STEM moms!

 

Kamie