When Beatrice Adhiambo was promoted to manager of Migori Water Scheme in 2020, she became the first female manager at the company, which is part of the larger Migori Water and Sewerage Company (MIWASCO).
As a trained social worker, she joined the water sector six years ago handling pro-poor initiatives for a water utility in Kisumu County. “I was a coordinator handling water supplies, customer relations, new water connections, and ensuring the underserved and vulnerable people had access to clean water,” she said.
It did not take long before she slowly developed an interest in the technical roles that her colleagues performed. “Watching plumbers fix damaged water pipelines and fixing new connections made me love water pipes. The more I interacted with them, the more my passion grew,” she said. Her first memorable role as a technical staff involved fixing a water meter. “After successfully installing it, my career officially took off and as it goes, the rest is history,” she said proudly.
Since 2015, the USAID Kenya Integrated Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (KIWASH) Project has been working with water companies like MIWASCO to strengthen operations and management systems, including developing gender equity and mainstreaming policies that have seen more women deployed to technical and leadership positions.
Beatrice is one of those women to benefit from new gender equity policies. Driven by her passion, she successfully applied for a field technician role at MIWASCO which she secured on merit and rose to the rank of a manager. In her role, she manages a team of 14 staff and is in charge of a small water scheme that serves more than 3,800 consumers.
When asked what the most rewarding aspect of her job is, she answers: “The satisfaction of watching people smile as a result of a new connection or reconnection after a long period of dry taps. This means that families now spend less time to access clean water.” Though a manager, Beatrice is not afraid to get her hands dirty on the job. “I do not hesitate to climb up water tanks to check on water levels or soil my clothes to ensure uninterrupted water supply,” she said. Since taking over the leadership mantle, the utility has increased its customer base by more than 1,800 people and revenues have nearly doubled from US $7,000 to US $12,000 per month.
It is not always easy to be a female leader in a technical field. “Gender bias is rife and real especially in our patriarchal society,” said Beatrice. She recounts an instance that molded her positive can-do attitude and attention to detail in her tasks. “I once showed up at client’s house carrying my spanners and other tools ready to fix a faulty water connection. He loudly dismissed me by clarifying that he had called for a plumber, not a woman.” Despite the man’s protests, Beatrice repaired the connection and restored the household’s water supply which she attests changed the client’s perspective to date.
Her only regret is that she wishes she had known the satisfaction of having a career in water engineering earlier in life. “My first stop after high school would have been the Kenya Water Institute or an engineering school,” she said. However, she attests that it’s never too late to follow one’s passion and ambitions. “Girls should not choose careers based on gender narrative. It is a matter of putting your heart into it and loving what you do,” Beatrice concludes.