Making Their Way in Male-Dominated Professions

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Madina Kenzhina (center) and Balzhan Azibek (right) during the study tour to Ereimentau organized through USAID’s Power the Future program.
Makpal Abduldinova for USAID’s Power the Future

On International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Meet 3 Women Pursuing Careers in STEM in Kazakhstan

Globally, higher education is a critical stage for young women who want to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). While more women enroll in STEM majors today than they have in the past, there is still a significant lack of women’s representation in higher-paying STEM fields in Kazakhstan and many other parts of the world. Many factors, such as social norms, education, and training gaps prevent women from participating in male-dominated fields like STEM. Expanding women’s participation in male-dominated fields leads to significant economic outcomes for women, including expanded formal employment opportunities, higher incomes, and decreased gender disparities.

USAID is committed to encouraging women and girls to pursue STEM careers. Through USAID’s Power the Future program, young women in STEM disciplines in Kazakhstan have been awarded internships with key energy sector stakeholders. These internships give young women job skills and access to business networks, while also expanding their horizons to future career and academic opportunities. As we commemorate International Day of Women and Girls in Science this year, read about three young women in Kazakhstan who are making their way in the energy, engineering, mathematics, and technology fields.

Alua Zholgazy

Alua Zholgazy, 21, is a fourth-year electronics and electrical engineering student pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Nazarbayev University in Nur-Sultan. In 2018, she completed an internship at the Kazakhstan Ministry of Energy facilitated by USAID. She is also a co-founder of startup Refill-Me, a vending machine that dispenses liquids used in households, a sustainable development initiative to cut down on the use of plastic.

“We used our engineering skills to develop our own prototype of vending machines optimized to dispense liquids,” said Alua. Alua and her co-founders have also received a grant from USAID’s Civil Society Support Program to help them scale the rollout of their vending machines to more locations across Nur-Sultan.

“Through USAID’s program, I visited a wind power plant in Astana, where I saw how a wind power plant actually works,” Alua said. “I’d studied it, I had a theoretical background, but when I saw it in real life, it was surreal. It was so magnificent and mind blowing. It got me really interested in renewable energy.”

Alua is excited about what the future has in store as she continues to study renewable energy and ecological innovations that can drastically reduce Kazakhstan’s carbon footprint.

Balzhan Azibek

Balzhan Azibek, 23, is a master’s student in electrical and computer engineering at Nazarbayev University. She’s working on her master’s thesis on game theory using mathematical modeling. Through USAID’s program, she visited an energy power plant that awakened her interest in the energy sector.

“During the field visit, I was surprised to see so many women,” Balzhan said. “I was expecting that when women enter the field [of engineering], they will be questioned about their place in the industry. For me in particular, I felt that I could embarrass myself if a male engineer asked me a question that I couldn’t answer. But I learned not to be afraid, to just be confident. It was during that trip that I realized that I wanted to continue in engineering. It helped me to be more confident.”

In 2019, with USAID assistance, Balzhan pursued an internship with Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Energy. After her internship, she now sees the big picture of the country’s energy map and understands the main sources of energy that fuel the economy. Once she completes her master’s degree, Balzhan plans to either look for a job in analytics, or pursue a PhD in game theory.

Here is Balzhan’s message to other young girls considering pursuing a degree in engineering: “Don’t be shy. Don’t think you’ll face problems because you are a female in the industry. People who study engineering have creative minds, they have three-dimensional thinking. Just believe in yourself.” She also recommends pursuing as many internships as possible to get exposure to different industries to better understand which is a good fit.

Madina Kenzhina

Two years ago, 24-year-old Madina Kenzhina graduated with a degree in electrical engineering, specializing in power system engineering. Through USAID, she was offered an internship with the Kazakhstan Electricity Grid Operating Company, a USAID energy partner in Kazakhstan, before graduating. She has since been working at the National Dispatch Center as a systems engineer.

“My internship helped me understand the national electric grid structure and organization,” Madina said.

Madina says she thoroughly enjoys her job, where she is constantly learning and is surrounded by peers who mentor her and help her excel. Here’s her advice to other young girls considering a path in engineering: “Don’t be afraid. Ask questions to understand how the parts of a whole connect. The best way to overcome your fears is to work hard and keep learning.”

Across our programs, USAID in Central Asia creates employment opportunities for young women and girls in traditionally male-dominated fields. USAID is committed to supporting women and girls’ equal access to opportunities and participation in their countries’ institutions, so that they can be agents of change.

Last updated: April 22, 2021

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