International Women’s Day: disrupting ‘male-dominated’ industries

International Women's Day (IWD) celebrates women whilst bringing awareness to the challenges women still face. This year’s theme #BreakTheBias shines a spotlight on the biases that are traditionally found in certain sectors and industries.

In honour of IWD, Student Central is highlighting the stories of two amazing women who, following their experience studying as international students in the UK, have successfully broken into traditionally male-dominated industries.

The West African Waste Industry: Lolade Oresanwo

When Lolade returned to her native country of Nigeria, after graduating with her MBA from Cranfield University, she set about transforming the male-dominated waste industry in sub-saharan Africa.

It was clear to Lolade that the waste industry in Nigeria (and West Africa in general) was ripe for disruption. At the time that she undertook her MBA (back in 2010), the industry was solely focused on landfill and did not employ the recycling practices common in Europe and many other parts of the world.

Having already gained an undergraduate degree in microbiology and established a career in the commercial banking sector before taking her MBA, Lolade was well placed to lead a West African waste revolution. Her experience undertaking an MBA at Cranfield meant she also had the tools, confidence and connections to make her dream a reality!

On returning to Nigeria she co-founded WestAfricaENRG, which has grown into West Africa’s largest ‘landfill diversion company’. The company not only helps the environment (through reducing the toxins associated with landfill practices and recovering valuable materials for recycling and energy generation) it also has a hugely positive social impact on local communities. Indeed, one of the aspects of WestAfricaEnrg that Lolade is most proud of is the impact it has had through creating sustainable employment opportunities for local women.

What Lolade says:

“Going back home after the MBA was for me a no brainer, we are taking a business model that works and taking that to a market of over 200m people. We saw endless opportunities to do good, to reach people, to save our planet and in turn make a nice return. It was almost like living all the lectures of the MBA in the practical. It has been filled with love, pain, sweat , tears and no regrets”

Space Technology: Shefali Sharma

Shefali is also a graduate from Cranfield, having studied an MSc in Astronautics and Spacecraft Engineering back in 2013. This course enabled her to build on the experience she had already gained through her bachelor’s in Aircraft Engineering at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland.

Following her graduation from Cranfield, Shefali held a number of technical and commercial roles at startup and high growth space companies in the UK (including Oxford Space Systems and In-Space Missions) before branching out to start her own space technology startups Oxlabs and Oxford Dynamics based in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

The focus of her startup ventures is combining new space technologies with cutting edge research in the field of artificial intelligence. The aim is to solve some of earth’s biggest challenges through technical solutions both ‘on and off the planet’.

What Shefali says: “Don't try to squeeze into a glass slipper. Instead, shatter the glass ceiling. I taught myself confidence. You've got to teach yourself to take over the world.”

Are you a woman who wants to break into a male-dominated industry? Studying for a degree in the UK might be the first step on that journey. Create your profile today and take that first step!

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Rachel Burgon
Co-Founder & CEO
Published on 8 March 2022
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