Precious Mahlangu, engineering support technologist, Saab Grintek Defence’s Research and Development division
Fortunately, more women are challenging stereotypes by pursuing STEM careers perceived to be masculine, which encourages young girls to change their attitudes about STEM subjects and consider careers in these fields. Among those paving the way for females in these careers is Precious Mahlangu, a 31-year old engineering support technologist.
Breaking the mould
As a child growing up in Mamelodi, Pretoria, Mahlangu had no idea that her passion for maths and science, coupled with her desire to pursue a career other than a ‘traditionally female job’ such as nursing, would lead to a successful 11-year career in engineering – and she’s just getting started.
Mahlangu was always passionate about solving problems in high school and showed an immense interest in STEM subjects. She nurtured this interest and set herself the goal of qualifying as an engineer – which she did by achieving a Diploma in Electrical Engineering in 2013 and a Bachelor of Technology in Electrical Engineering in 2020 from the Tshwane University of Technology.
In 2016, she joined Saab Grintek Defence’s Research and Development division as an engineering support technologist, and she’s loved her work ever since. She particularly enjoys working on innovative projects that challenge her to learn and grow, and where individuality and ideas are welcomed and explored.
“Working at Saab not only benefits my career but also makes me feel great about our collective efforts to develop world-leading defence products and services. It makes me feel like I have a purpose, which is one of the reasons why I chose this industry,” she says.
The winning formula
Mahlangu has identified a few key factors that have led to her success, which she hopes will help other aspiring female engineers succeed. These include a willingness to learn, critical thinking skills, and curiosity to learn about the world and how and why things work the way they do.
“Engineers need to analyse, evaluate, and synthesise information to make objective judgements and recommendations. To do this successfully, we rely on critical thinking skills at every stage of our work, particularly when it comes to decision-making.”
Mahlangu also wants young girls to know that engineering isn’t the intimidating, overly challenging, and masculine profession that so many people make it out to be. She says that opportunities in the field do exist for women willing to put in the work.
“There are so many opportunities for women in engineering, so students looking to get into this field need to focus on keeping their grades up because it will pay off. And again, don’t be afraid to feed your curiosity because you need to ask a lot of questions to grow in this profession,” she says.
Mahlangu realises that there are still fewer women than men in engineering and hopes that her story will inspire other young girls to pursue careers in this field.
She encourages students looking to enter engineering to start identifying internships early in their college or university years. This will provide them with real-world experience, introduce them to the vast range of engineering disciplines, and help them determine what their skills and strengths are.