For a long time, the construction industry has been male dominated. In fact, the few women who chose careers in this field are perceived as being very tough and “manly”. Perhaps this stereotype is the reason why most women in construction related careers have abandoned their feminine aspects in favour of those that make them look bold and tough.
QS Jennifer Musyimi is among the few women who have gone against the grain as far as this stereotype. Whether it is carrying out her daily duties as the Managing Director of Anka Consultants (which she also co-owns) or her roles as the Hon. Registrar of the Institute of Quantity Surveyors of Kenya (IQSK), QS Jennifer is always looking fab, handling herself with so much grace. It is the trait that has made her very popular with the female quantity surveying students whom she mentors regularly as well as the fresh graduates in local universities.
I visited QS Jennifer at her office on the 4th floor of TRV Office Plaza on March 24, 2015 and we had a brief chat with her and her rise to the top.
LEAH: You’ll have to forgive me for being too forward. There’s this perception that women in construction are boring folks who’re too serious with life. How do you manage to pull it all together, that is, the glam look you have going on? Tell me your secret.
JENNIFER: *chuckles* Well, I try not to confuse how I look with what I do. I like to look glam; it gives me that extra boost. It doesn’t interfere with my work at all. I wear my heels to the office and whenever I have to go to the site, I’ve got my safety boots in the car.
LK: So what you’re saying is that a woman in this field doesn’t have to be boring and neglect her looks?
JM: You really don’t have to be boring. If you want to be boring then that’s up to you.
LK: What’s a typical day in QS Jennifer’s day like?
JM: On most days, I come to the office early to handle office admin stuff, for example, I brief the office staff as well as give instructions the assistant quantity surveyors. I look at my diary to check the meetings I have scheduled that day, whether it’s for a project that’s ongoing or meeting with new clients to source for possible new projects. Later on, I meet with my partner, Allan, to discuss operations stuff. I’m also a Registrar at IQSK, so on some days I have to attend council meetings. It all depends on my calendar.
LK: With these roles you play, don’t you feel like you’d collapse at some point? Don’t you feel overwhelmed?
JM: No… It’s all about managing your time well. *Showing me her diary* Every morning I come in, I jot down everything that needs to be done for the day and go ticking each once I complete it. I also find the need to be all-rounded, to interact with other players in the industry and IQSK gives me that opportunity.
LK: Perhaps if I may ask, how has the rise to the top been for you? From after graduation till now…
JM: I can say my journey has been both exciting and intentional. Intentional because after I left campus, I told myself I had to be registered within a specific time. I managed to undergo my pupillage, sat for my registration exams. I got registered in 2006. At the time, the industry was not doing so well. There was some bit of an economic crash in the construction industry. I needed an industry that was thriving so I went into infrastructure for telecoms and worked for Safaricom. But even while there, I kept telling myself I didn’t want to be employed for so long. I registered my company while still working. The best thing about having a professional course is that you can become your own boss any time you feel you’re ready.
LK: So how did it end with Safaricom? What drove the transition from the telecoms industry to construction?
JM: In 2010, I decided it was time for me to grow myself and do quantity surveying consultancy full-time. I had just finished my Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and the timing was perfect.
LK: Why MBA?
JM: Wanting to do business and having not been taught business education at ADD in the University of Nairobi, I had to go the extra mile to ensure that my company would succeed. The MBA gave me that extra edge and equipped me with the skills I needed to run the company efficiently.
LK: Some Kenyans may still have chauvinistic notions that women can’t perform well in the construction industry. Have you ever encountered a scenario where someone has looked down on you because you are a woman in your experience as a QS?
JM: I can’t really pinpoint an instance. The world is changing for the better and those perceptions are diminishing, mostly held by the old guards. And even if I felt it at some point, I probably ignored it.
LK: Is it always a matter of proving yourself? Proving that you can do the job?
JM: I believe in putting your all into a project. Ultimately, the results will speak on your behalf. If you know how to do your job well, no-one will ever look down on you.
LK: Has quantity surveying always been your passion? Do you enjoy it?
JM: I loved Mathematics since high school and I didn’t want to be an accountant. Being called to do Building Economics at the university was like a dream come true. I enjoy the dynamics of the profession- from the calculations, handling different projects to project management and advising clients on matters pertaining costs. I find it very enjoyable. It’s more of an exciting journey to me every day.
LK: What advice do you have for ladies either pursuing construction-related courses and those who just ventured into the job market?
JM: I keep saying that a woman can make it big in this field and they shouldn’t be intimidated by anyone or feel like they are not worth it. During KCPE and KCSE, they sat next to these same boys and they passed. So what has changed after graduation? The mentality of women feeling that they cannot make it should stop. We need to be more than a few women in this industry, so I urge the ladies to step up to the challenge.
LK: I know you’re among the few quantity surveyors actively involved in mentoring the undergraduate students. Tell me more about that. Is it a passion for you?
JM: I love reaching out to the young people and that is why I make it a point to attend the student career talks in order to speak and advise them. I guess it is because I never had exposure to such forums during my time. I believe that when we mentor these young professionals it’s better for all of us as they turn out confident and smart. Keeping in mind that we as firm owners will have to employ and work with these young people in future, why not shape them properly through mentorship?
LK: Those are wise sentiments and I hope other firms are seeing this. Now aside from the serious stuff, how do you unwind? What are your weekends like?
JM: I play golf at Karen when I’m free. I am not a very outdoor person though, I like to stay in and watch movies on some nights. At times, I go out to grab some coffee or some drinks with my boyfriend or hangout with my girlfriends. And, of course, visiting relatives, we are part of a society after all. Sometimes you just need a bit of a “me” time to just relax and love yourself.
LK: Wow! I had no clue you also play golf! You are a woman of many surprises and interests. Which drives me to ask, what motivates you? What is your philosophy?
JM: I keep saying nothing can stop you from being trendy even as a respectable career woman. Presentation is everything. How you look and carry yourself transcends to your work, you can’t be looking good and you’re giving your clients shabby work. It’s about having that “Wow!” factor in all aspects of your life. I believe in not settling for average but being outstanding.
LK: What is your parting shot?
JM: I would love for more girls and women to join, work and thrive in the construction industry. If they need mentorship or guidance, let them reach out. It can be lonely up here.