Favourable Policy will Ensure More Girls are Equipped to Become Automobile Experts’
In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, the Project Coordinator Forging Africa’s Future Mechanical Engineers (FAFME) Implementation board of the Nigerian Institution of Mechanical Engineers (NIMechE), Mrs Osazoduwa Agboneni is advocating for policies that would ensure that more girls are being trained to become automobile experts, among other issues
How long have you been working as a mechanic?
I started my journey at the University of Benin, where I read Mechanical Engineering. I was also opportune to do my internship while at university in auto care garages which exposed me to the industry. I started this journey as an engineer with Coscharis Motors in 2006, making the cut as part of the first sets of female automobile engineers employed by the company. I ventured into telecommunications afterwards for some time. It wasn’t until January 9, 2015, that I formally opened my doors to customers with the opening of Nenis Auto Care. So I can say that I have been actively practising for the past 7 years without interruption.
How do you feel working as a mechanic in a male-dominated environment?
First, I would want to state that my upbringing prepared me for where I am today. I have already been standing in the men’s world from my secondary school days. While in secondary school, I joined the technical drawing classes because I had made up my mind to be an Engineer. We were not up to five girls in that class. It was dominated by the boys. Also when I got into the university to study Mechanical Engineering, in a class of over 159 people, we had just three girls. For me, that was the foundation. I was already used to the industry I was coming into. However, being in a male-dominated business is quite impressive. If it were another woman in my position, I would commend her and give her the support that she requires because it is not easy. Being in the midst of guys running this kind of business means you just have to be on your toes. You need to work really hard. I commend women who are in a gender-sensitive industry like mine.
Working in the such environment has taught me to exhibit strong leadership skills, be courageous in decision making and be a great collaborator. The challenges it posed have actually made me a better person.
What challenges do you face on a day-to-day basis, and how are you able to surmount them?
Business has been good and also very challenging. But then, I won’t say business has been flourishing the way it was before now. The economy has affected the business. The cost of parts and operating the business is ever increasing. Customers are driving their cars and managing them, not wanting to do maintenance until they are forced to because the economy is not friendly. The cost of used vehicles and the attendant taxes are pushing vehicle affordability out of the reach of most Nigerians. It is not like what it used to be, I must say. But then, business has been good so far. We just keep pushing. We just keep moving. We try to be innovative in our services. We are taking circularity seriously in looking at repurposing and refitting vehicle parts for clients’ use and stringing our diagnostic and repair skills to ensure we only do the barest minimum in terms of repairs for our clients.
Do you face any discrimination among your male colleagues?
Generally, I do have certain instances where men are intimidated by my sterling credentials in the industry. I have had men who are irritated by the fact that I am a female auto care expert. Well, it is just the stereotype, and we need to work towards changing that. When such people come to Nenis Auto Care, if they don’t want a woman to touch their car, I have male staff members who are auto-care experts, so the men will go ahead and attend to them. Gender mainstreaming is not that it should be women everywhere. All we are saying is that it should be a blend of both sexes. Even these days, unlike when taking cars to the auto care garage to fix is a man’s job, women now bring their cars themselves to fix. Even some men now prefer me fixing their cars. Tell them someone else will attend to them, they will insist on coming when I am around. Among colleagues, I am well respected because I have earned their recognition by my work and results.
How do you balance work life and family?
As a mother of four strong boys, I definitely need to balance my home and my work life effectively. When it comes to the home front, our society believes that it is meant for women to take care of the home front. As a woman combining home with job, and at the same time still being social, it is really not easy. I have to help myself with the support structure to attain balance. One thing that helps me is that I use a daily planner. When I am planning my activities for the day, I also look at developing my personal life. I work on my personal life, which includes my health, I work on my business and family life daily. I wake up at 4:00am daily, and I have a two-hour power-packed personal time. I draw up my task for the day and wake my kids by 6am. So by 7:00am they are set for school. Personally, I advocate that we make our work place female-friendly. We definitely need to advocate for creches in organizations. I also enjoy the support and understanding of a very supportive spouse and family who are ever willing to pitch in for me when the need arises. This is an unquantifiable blessing that I am always grateful for.
Are there any favourable policies that have made you thrive?
Definitely, from the public end, there is more positive actions on affirmative action for women and special provisions for women in various places this has help with the level of recognition I enjoy which has also help improve the patronage of our business. I have also enjoyed the support of organisations and institutions that have policies in place to support women economically and socially. Let me mention some of the outstanding examples; Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), Vital Voices, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, The Nigerian Institution of Mechanical Engineers (NIMechE), Royal Academy of Engineering UK. These organisations and others alike have provided me with enormous opportunities to grow my skills and my business at various times. I have gotten funding to expand the business, and I am still enjoying various levels of support that I am indeed grateful for. My experience has shown me the vital importance policies play in driving growth for women in societies. I have also taken leave by advocating for more policies for women and at the same time training girls and women to become automobile experts; my way of giving back.