Joy Makumbe – Mother, Author, Project Manager, Resident Engineer & Site Manager

Women in WASH Leadership Series: Joy Makumbe – Mother, Author, Project Manager, Resident Engineer & Site Manager

Journey towards senior management

 Describe your education / training and how it advanced your career.

I studied Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry at A Level. I enrolled for a Civil Engineering degree at the University of Zimbabwe, and I have a Masters degree in Water Resources Engineering from the University of Dar es Salaam. I did a Masters in Business Administration from the Africa University. A degree in business administration is good for technical managers as it helps you understand the soft skills side of management.

Tell us more about your work experience.

I have worked in the Private, NGO and Government sectors. I have been involved in project design and supervision of civil, water and sanitation projects. I have also supervised projects in Zimbabwe, Uganda and Tanzania, and have been involved in property management as well as working as an Engineer in Local Authorities.

Why did you choose to work in the WASH field especially in developing countries?

I love making an impact in communities and changing the lives of women and children. Developing countries have either poor or no water and sanitation infrastructure. Contributing to the global goal of SDG6 makes my life here on earth worthwhile.

Did you have a role model who guided you and if so, what is their advice that helped you the most that you still apply today?

Unfortunately, no. Role models were not visible in my time. Neither was there much career guidance.

What are the personal characteristics or skills that are vital to becoming a successful leader?

Think with your head. Use less emotion which we have in abundance as women. Know what you want and express it clearly in the right forum. This requires good communication skills. Have empathy for those you work with; they will do anything for you after this. Build your network of professionals who will vouch for you when your name comes up for promotions.

 Research has shown us that there are numerous benefits from having women in leadership positions. Do you think the same holds true for the Urban WASH field?

Women are the ones that are in charge of households. They know exactly what they want to see improved with regards to sanitation and water to make their workload lighter in the homes.


What have been the most significant challenges and obstacles on this journey?

The first impression about you in the workplace is that you are not very capable in what you do. You have to prove yourself to earn recognition.

How did you deal with these obstacles?

I just made sure I put in extra effort in my job to make sure that there was no doubt that I was good at what I did.

How was your journey different from your male colleagues?

The males did not have to work as hard as I did to be accepted as capable. They also automatically had the support of their male colleagues who were working with them.

Which of your challenges were unique because you are female?

As a woman you are not automatically admitted into the boy’s clubs. You have to prove yourself first.

What’s your advice to a young woman who feels overlooked/passed by/sexually harassed in her career?

Continue to upskill yourself so that you are ready for more challenging positions. Blow your own horn to your bosses on your achievements in the workplace. Ask to lead upcoming projects by presenting why you think you are the right woman for the job. Where there is sexual harassment, you need to speak out. Let perpetrators be brought to book.


What has been your experience with male colleagues?

How have they supported you?

Some have trusted me enough to put me in charge of projects that have been considered critical to the company.

How have they blocked your progress?

Some have not given me a chance to prove myself. They have dismissed me at the first meeting because they preferred having a man on the team instead.

How could male colleagues have championed you more?

By being supportive and showing that they trusted me. This would have boosted my confidence.

What should be males’ roles in supporting women in their rise?

Support, trust, giving women leadership opportunities, being more accommodating especially to women with families, and formulating company policies that allow working mothers to be catered for.


If applicable, can you explain how women have negatively impacted your career?

How did you navigate adversarial relationships with female colleagues?

Some battles you ignore. You must show women how to treat other women by treating them the way you want them to treat you.


Being a mother and managing an organization:

What was your experience being both a mother and building a career geared for senior management?

It can be overwhelming at times. With a strong support network of friends and family, you can achieve anything.

Are there ways in which being a mother enriched your journey to senior management and ways in which your professional career enriched your parenting?

As a mother, I learnt to be caring and alive to the emotions around me. This enriched my relationships with my team members who are prepared to go out of their comfort zone for me because they know I care for their wellbeing as people and not just deliverables of work duties. As a professional mother, my child has appreciated what it means to do the thing that one loves and be good at it. I have taken her to sites with me and she appreciates that women can have thriving careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

 What are organizational responsibilities that would work to make this balancing easier for women? i.e. if a woman gets to a position of influence, what are the programs/projects that she should be championing to make advancement easier for all women?
  • Women with young children can be given responsibilities that do not require them to travel much.
  • Women can be allowed to work flexible hours so that they can accommodate both home issues and work.
  • Women can be allowed to bring children with them to work and keep them in a safe children zone created for them at their workplace.


When it comes to work:

 How do you manage stress? Are there specific coping strategies that you use?

Not really. I just sweat it out through exercise, and I feel rejuvenated.

What are some ways you manage time?

I make a list of all the things I want to achieve that day, starting with the most critical at the top. Then I make sure I do not deviate from my list.

 How do you balance work and your personal life?

When it’s working time, I put in the hours. After work it is family time and I will not be drawn to work when I am at home. If it is really necessary to work extra hours, I make sure I compensate the family time.


Personal life:

What are some of your greatest accomplishments (whether personally or professionally)?

I have written a book that details my tech journey. It highlights my struggles, pains and achievements. My desire is that this book will motivate and inspire women in STEM careers. It is my hope that the book will also challenge men to acknowledge women in STEM careers as equals to their male counterparts. I have been put in charge of project teams outside of my home country which I have successfully led to complete the projects on time and within budget.

Do you have any personal or professional goals that you are currently trying to achieve?

I love teaching. I am currently creating online courses to impart leadership skills in young professionals based on my own experiences.

 What are some activities you participate in outside of work? What do you like to do for fun?

I am a mentor; I am trying to pay it forward. I love going on safaris, camping, game drives, and more.

Do you have any other advice or any other information you would like to share with young women trying to work within the WASH field?

As an Engineer you become a creator. If you want a career that will positively impact the communities around you, then working within the WASH field is for you.