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Engineer finds creative way to lead change


Wits alumna honoured in global list of “changemakers dedicated to forging a better tomorrow”.

Wits alumna Innocentia Mahlangu (BSc Eng 2011, MSc Eng 2018), a senior engineer and project manager at Hatch, has been honoured by her inclusion in the Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) 2021 Future 50 list in the first week of July 2021.

The list celebrates rising leaders changing the world through notable projects. PMI reached out to stakeholders across the globe for nominations and a special committee vetted the leaders and narrowed the list of nominees. The list includes other dynamic leaders such British footballer Marcus Rashford who has made strides in the fight to end child food poverty in Britain. Mahlangu was acknowledged for “tackling tough infrastructure projects with an eye toward social and economic change”.Innocentia Mahlangu

Michael DePrisco, chief operating officer of the PMI, said: "In an exceptionally challenging year, this new generation of leaders have stepped up to drive innovation around the globe. With a deep sense of social responsibility, this next generation of leaders are deeply committed to protecting the natural environment, driving diversity and fostering environments of inclusion, and making the world a better place. The 50 individuals featured on this list are each changemakers whose wide range of projects exemplify the power and potential of transformation."

Mahlangu has extensive experience in design and execution of rail infrastructure projects, including both project and construction management roles. She was recognised by the Mail & Guardian as one of the Top 200 young South Africans in 2018. Awarded the Young Engineer of the Year award for 2019 in the SAICE Regional Awards and nominated for the SAICE National Awards, in 2020 she was announced as the winner in Accenture's Rising Star Awards in the Construction and Industrial category.

In a field dominated by men, Mahlangu’s had few women role models to emulate. Last year, she founded SHEngineers, a nonprofit virtual mentor network for women in engineering. In a previous interview she said she was fortunate to have been supported throughout her career: “I am fortunate being part of an organisation that’s dedicated to growing young engineers and understands diversity and inclusion. I had a mentor from the first day I started working, and that has made an incredible difference. A lot of women don’t find themselves in a similar position. 

“The challenges I’ve had to overcome are more internal struggles: dealing with imposter syndrome, wondering if my voice is big enough or loud enough or if I’m being assertive enough. Having a network of other women to talk with has a real impact. I progressed quickly in my career, and I want to impart some knowledge—especially to women engineers—to give them a playbook for how they can achieve similar feats.”

Wits Alumni Relations reached out to ask her a few questions:

How were you introduced to engineering, and specifically civil engineering? I didn’t always know what I wanted to be when I grew up and I stumbled upon engineering through a series of events in high school. I first wanted to be an artist and thereafter an architect. So a career in engineering was not my first, obvious choice and only began to appeal to me in my matric year. I recall when I was in school, I was fixated on creating model houses from cardboard boxes. Once I had learned about electricity in school, I then created model houses which were fitted with lights. Then, one day, I found a bag of cement from which I built a model house. Such ideas came naturally to me. Further into my matric year, I realised my true passion was centred in creating things. I combined this passion with my keen interest in science and design which, in turn, translated into civil engineering. My father was also a developer, working in construction which also influenced my choice.

Did your Wits education prepared you well for the work you do? My Wits education prepared me well for the workplace. As engineers, we are trained to be problem solvers from our undergraduate years and our work is to be problem solvers. Whilst the nature of the problem has little bearing, the approach and methodology to solving a problem makes all the difference. We are also prepared to work under pressure on tight deadlines at Wits, which is similar to the pressures we face in the workplace.

What are your future plans? I wish to have a long lasting impact in the industry, especially towards contributing such that it becomes more diverse and inclusive. In as much as it’s great to be celebrated through awards, I wish to serve as an inspiration to many that look like me that they can achieve so much more. Additionally, as women in engineering, we need to actively engage in dialogue about the industry and share some of the lessons we are learning as professionals, with the intent that it may help a young female engineer that may feel lost. But most importantly, we need to do this, to be seen, because by being seen, we are indirectly encouraging someone to come out of the shadows and step into the light. I have defined this as my higher calling and many of the initiatives I am involved in contribute towards this vision.  

How do you stay motivated, especially during a time of COVID? In terms of my journey, I realise I would not have gotten this far on my own. The reason I find myself where I am today is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants. I have an amazing supportive family and friends, I work for an inspiring and supportive organisation and I have many mentors who cheer me on throughout every stage in my career. And most importantly I attribute my success to God and in the belief that He shines the light upon me, so I can do the same for others. I also set short term goals in addition to long term goals, to ensure that I am always moving forward and continuously growing.

Any advice for young female engineers? I’d like to take this opportunity to address young female engineers who feel that this field/industry is not accommodating for women. Yes, there are many challenges we still face in this industry which many of us are trying to fix. I want to encourage young women to dream big, keep moving and find mentors to help you achieve your goals. I always love the quote ‘be fearless in your pursuit of what sets your soul on fire’, which means chase your dreams fiercely and fearlessly. My LinkedIn feed is flooded with women shattering glass ceilings, breaking stereotypes & occupying spaces that were historically male dominated. Brace yourself young woman, there’s a wave of change that’s coming and you should be ready for it. Make sure it doesn’t find you sitting down, but rather ready to take up space. I hope whatever feats I have achieved in my career inspire you to do so much more.  

See more details on the full list here.