Liina Kahenge is a mining engineer at Rosh Pinah Zinc Mine in Karas region.
The thought of working in a mine has sometimes sent shivers down the spine of some men, let alone women, but Liina found this to be her niche and tells her story how she got there. This includes trying to ape her nerd brother but realizing that everyone has to be her own person and taking the decision to be that person. She tells the Inspirational Women in Business Magazine how her story began and how she took the left turn instead of the right.

IWIB: Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
LK: I am the third eldest of six siblings. I am a typical “middle child”, independent and reliable enough to take on responsibility and smart enough to stay out of trouble. I spent my formative years hopping in between places. Junior primary was at a boarding school in the south, my senior primary in the capital and high school in the eastern part of the country. This exposed me to various cultures, languages, and traditions, and taught me to embrace my unique identity. Areas where I shied away in the past, I now tackle head-on as an adult, with a desire to leave a positive impact on my family, friends and the world around me.

IWIB: What led you to this particular career path? What are the ‘lessons learnt’ if any?
LK: Growing up, our leaders and teachers pushed us toward careers in STEM. When they saw potential in you, your fate was sealed. I grew up with my elder brother, a true nerd. When he chose to study engineering, I was sure to follow his example. In my first year at university, I was very unhappy, I started wondering if engineering was indeed what I wanted to do or I was just copying my brother. So I took a gap year and spent it helping my mother to set up her business and raise my younger sister. I then switched universities and started all over.
To make sure I wasn’t just copying my brother, I also switched my field from electronics engineering to mining engineering. Though it was a decision made with the wrong reasons, it was the best I ever made. I think the choice to do mining, was not mine, but the world’s! As humans, we seek for meaning in the weirdest of places, I am motivated less by what I need as an individual, but what the world needs.

IWIB: Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
LK: I am resilient, honest and reliable. I speak my mind and do what I say.

IWIB: How have you managed to juggle between your home responsibilities as a mother and your profession.
LK: Setting clear boundaries for each area of my life has been key to ensuring there is a proper work-life balance. When a break is needed in one area, I fill up from the other area.
I do not take my work home unless there is a tight deadline, there is always tomorrow. Flexibility is a key element in ensuring there is a good balance in all areas of my life.

IWIB: What are the biggest obstacles or challenges you’ve had to overcome while working in a male-dominated industry?
LK: Most of my challenges were around the time I was a graduate in training. I was on shifts and had to start from the bottom with general work. Getting accepted as a member of the team was difficult because they either saw me as someone coming to make the job longer for them, or as “a sister” in such a way that they would not want you to lift a finger.
My greatest success, honestly, is getting to a point where during preparation for the shift ahead, extra tools were being loaded for me to use, making me a valuable part of the team. After that era in my life, everything else was child’s play. Society is conditioned in a certain way, it is difficult to reverse that, so we keep pushing forward in hope for a better tomorrow.

IWIB: Can you share a few of the things you have done to gain acceptance by your male peers and the general work community? What did your female co-workers do?
LK: I don’t think peers are the challenge, you work with them daily and they know and appreciate your competency. The ones above and below you are the ones you need to conquer.

IWIB: What do you need to thrive and succeed as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
LK: Just do your job, believe in yourself the way these men believe in themselves and maybe start playing golf (apparently that’s where decisions are made).

IWIB: Why is there a push to get
women in male-dominated industries
and not a push to get men in women
dominated industries?
LK:The are no barriers for men in any
industry. It is merely personal choices.
Men can do whatever they want and
be whoever they want with zero to no
Women on the other hand, have to climb mountains, they have to work twice as hard and always have to prove themselves.

IWIB: Why is there a need for women in male-dominated industries?
LK: There is value in having a diverse workforce. Each group comes with its strengths and has a contribution to make.

IWIB: What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into a profession like yours.
LK: Gender should not prevent anyone from getting into any profession. As said by Shania Twain: “She’s Not Just A Pretty Face”, go and have a listen.

IWIB: Is there anything else that you think we may have omitted?
LK: Let’s continue efforts to address the systemic barriers, promote diversity and inclusion and empower everyone in the workplace equally without bias.