The engineer making the impossible possible for women and girls in STEM


Huawei Technologies Limited Director of Public Affairs Eng. Maureen Mwaniki poses for a picture after the interview on May 14, 2024.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation

What you need to know:

  • Engineer Maureen Mwaniki has a firm handshake, which is unexpected given her petite physique. She also has a solid and authoritative voice.
  • She currently serves as the Director of Public Affairs at Huawei Technologies, a position she has held for a year and five months. 

Engineer Maureen Mwaniki has a firm handshake, which is unexpected given her petite physique. She also has a solid and authoritative voice. She currently serves as the Director of Public Affairs at Huawei Technologies, a position she has held for a year and five months. She represented Huawei Kenya as the company's first official female spokesperson before her current position. She is also the founder and chairperson of Women in Technology, Huawei (WITH), a wife and mother of two boys. She describes herself as tough and ambitious, but also a simple person who loves giving back to the community.

Do people frequently find your authoritative voice startling?

Oh yes! So many people tell me that I should have probably been a broadcast journalist. I am now used to the comments about it.

Journalism… is it a path you may have considered growing up?

No, not at all. My childhood dream was to end up in aviation. However, that somehow changed along the way because one of my fondest memories growing up was getting stunned by my physics and mathematics performances. I went to Loreto Convent Valley Road and I had a strong liking for these two subjects and that led me down the engineering path.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Ngumo, near Kenyatta Market in Nairobi County. I am the last born in a family of four children and I thoroughly enjoyed my childhood. I remember taking Taekwondo classes when I was about 10 years of age to ‘defend’ myself from my brother, who used to bully me a lot. I had a pretty normal childhood and enjoyed playing soccer. I played soccer for my school both in primary and high school.

Why did you stop playing soccer?

Of course, now with the transition to university, things are different. I went to the University of Nairobi (UoN), where I graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronic engineering. Of course, the studies were not easy, and I had to put in extra effort being that I was one of the 10 lady engineers who graduated from my cohort. Needless to say, I almost dropped off campus due to a lack of mentorship. I am currently taking my Executive MBA at Strathmore Business School. But I still enjoy soccer. I take my sons to soccer practice, and I am also a Chelsea fan.

What was your transition from school into the industry like? Was it what you had envisioned?

Far from it! Once I went for an interview in 5-inch heels and was taken to a site (a hard hat and PPE were not in my vocabulary then). This was not what I anticipated in my corporate engineering world. I envisioned the C-Suite women who dress in their elegant suits and look fierce in the board room. On top of that, I got lost in the Maasai Mara while on duty looking for a site that was meant for an upgrade so that the people in that area could connect to the internet.

You have since worked your way up to become a C-Suite woman.

Yes. After I graduated from UoN, I did engineering work for various companies before joining Huawei in 2013. I have grown here from a wireless engineer to my current position as Director of Public Affairs. Over those years, I have headed various departments, which include delivery and service, as well as the digital transformation lead within the organisation. Another thing is that I've done quite a bit in terms of partnerships with various women's organisations, especially women's programmes.

You speak passionately about women. Why is that?

Yes, I do. It bothers me that we still have fewer women in my profession and tech in general. I want to change this narrative and have been intentionally looking for ways and opportunities to empower more women and girls. When I joined the industry, I realised there was a huge gap around women, especially in tech. You realise that in universities, there are very few of us who have that chance to complete engineering. There has also been a very limited space for women who have moved from entry-level positions into leadership positions, especially in tech firms. This realisation led me to founding WITH. First, we started by mentoring girls n universities.

You later widened your scope to secondary schools.

Yes, we have so far mentored over 1,500 girls in secondary schools. When we started the WITH mentorship programmes in universities, we noticed another gap. We had these girls joining universities with zero knowledge about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions. So now we target girls’ schools and apart from mentoring them, we also offer them sanitary packs for their reproductive health. We have further introduced a ‘digitruck’ in the counties. This is a truck that we dispatch to counties to educate people about the digital space. The truck stays in a particular county for four to six weeks, two of which are exclusively for women. We are also shifting our focus to target women living with disabilities. We realised how grossly misrepresented this demographic is and we are stepping up to change the narrative for them as well.

Do you consider yourself successful?

At 36, I consider myself successful based on the various milestones I have set and achieved in my life. Success, to me, is a personal definition where I have been able to maintain a great yet sometimes challenging work-life balance. This includes having an exceptional career, taking on leadership roles by heading departments, and positively impacting lives at a young age. Additionally, I have been able to maintain a strong family setup. Success, for me, is a dynamic journey that continually evolves as I realise more milestones and encounter new challenges. It is about my professional and personal growth and development, striving for my personal best. 

What are some of the challenges you have encountered?

In general, being a female leader in a male-dominated field has not been easy. Some people assume that, as a woman in this field, you are not bringing anything to the table or that you do not know what you are offering. Many times, someone will try to cut me short and assume that they know what I am representing more than I do. This is the reason I am very invested in mentoring young girls in STEM. I want them to know that they can own their voice in a male-dominated world and thrive.

How do you manage a demanding career and a young family?

It has never been easy. I had my firstborn son at 24, and I had to wean him off a bit early because of the travelling and off-site visits that came with my position then. However, having a strong support system through and through has been it for me. Now I enjoy a blissful relationship with everyone around me.

How do you solve conflict at home and work?

At home, I go to war with them (laughs heartily). Anyway, for me, dialogue works both at work and at home. If my sons are fighting (which they rarely do now), I will sit them down, have a heart-to-heart, and ultimately figure out where the conflict is coming from. As a transformative leader as well, I will sit the team down and have all the parties contribute.

What is your parting shot?

Do not wait for an opportunity to come to you. Create it! Also, success for me is when I fail/fall multiple times but still get up and keep trying to do it better and smarter. Treating failures as an opportunity is what sets you apart from others and doesn’t just make you ordinary, but extraordinary. The road to success is not easy; it's the rarest route taken and does not have shortcuts, but it is worth the effort, which makes you stand out.