From STEM to Entrepreneurship

Interview with CEO Chioma Onoshakpor

At Yellow Rose Launch Pad, our mission is to inspire more young females from Nigeria and worldwide to pursue a career in STEM. So when we heard about Chioma, we got all excited and reached out to her to hear her story. Chioma is such an inspiration to us, and we are delighted that she could share her journey to STEM and beyond with us in this interview.

The Interview

Hello Chioma, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by YRLP. YRLP is a U.K. based registered charity that is focused on increasing the diversity in STEM industries by encouraging more females through financial scholarships and mentoring. it is so wonderful to be able to interview you. Before we start, let me just say that we are in awe of what you are doing with bossbabes Ng and how you are empowering women to create networks and leverage those networks to grow their businesses and careers. We know that you are a huge brand creator but a little birdie told us that you actually studied engineering. Is that really the case? Could you please introduce yourself and tell us the story of how you got to where you are.

As a young girl growing up in Nigeria, Africa, I was taught by my parents and society that I had to study either medicine, law or engineering to be able to survive after tertiary education (university). It was a thing of prestige for parents that produced children in these disciplines. So in order to be an obedient child, I chose engineering not necessarily because I knew what it was all about, but since I had the prerequisite O’Levels needed to be accepted, I went for it.  I also went ahead to do a Masters in Oil and Gas in the Uk where I finished with a Distinction. I thereafter looked for a job in the oil and gas sector but couldn’t get one because of the stereotype against women in STEM. Out of an eagerness to do something for me and not solely rely on my partner, I floated a start-up in branding and design and the rest is history. But in everything I do, as it relates to branding, I see my engineering skills show up. From identifying what brands to work with, pitching to brands and identifying the best locations for any photoshoot, I am very analytical in my thinking. I also see my STEM background show up in my PhD research because after thinking and writing critically, I also think analytically which I believe is a strength.

Wow! That is so amazing. So many people would have carried on trying to break into a sector and would maybe start doubting themselves. I love how you dug deep and asked yourself deep questions that set you on the path you have taken to success. It’s also amazing that you are applying the complex problem-solving skills from engineering to the businesses that you have started. Once an engineer always and engineer, right!

Ok, here is the next question. Before this interview we took a look at your Instagram profile @personal_brand_boss and wow!!! Your pictures don’t look like what most people expect an engineer to look like. I know this is a myth but many people think that women who study engineering or technology are dowdy and mouse-like in appearance, with no colour and little personality. What would you say to people who say such things?

Absolutely a Myth! Style for me is for everyone irrespective of gender and profession. It’s true that a profession can influence your style because as a rig worker, for instance, you may not be required to appear in suits and ties at work. But ask yourself, when you get out of that professional scene, going out to public places, dinners, parties, you have no excuse to show up in a jumpsuit. The fashion police will come after you. I think we should invest in our personal style either by doing it ourselves or getting someone to help us do it.

Thanks for your great answer. It is so important that we understand our selves and stay true to our personal brand irrespective of the careers that we choose. Lets move on to the next question if you don’t mind – When you think back to your years of studying STEM subjects in secondary school and Engineering at Uni, what parts did you find most exciting about your subjects and course?

Hmm, I loved Maths in secondary school in fact I did Further Maths and thought it was better than Maths. I thought it was quicker to finish once I remembered the formulae. Then in the university, I loved Petroleum Economics and Offshore Operations, the whole idea that you can optimize anything intrigues me.

Being an Electrical/Electronic Engineer myself and having completed a Masters degree in Advanced Control Systems, I also love the thought of optimising processes and systems. Isn’t it amazing that two women like us from different backgrounds share a common interest in optimisation, and this leads me on to the next question. The Statistics from JAMB show that only about 14% of the intake into Engineering in the last few years have been women and this number is falling. Nigeria is a country where so many problems that we have can be solved by applying engineering and knowledge from technical subjects. Against this backdrop, do you think that Nigeria and the world needs more women to study engineering and other STEM subjects and why do you think it is important to have more diversity in STEM industries?

Simply put YES! The world needs more women in STEM because I believe in equality and the world is unequal today because it all started with the inequality in STEM. Even in the field of entrepreneurship, the credit gap facing female entrepreneurs can be linked to the lack of relevant education and managerial skills that a STEM background can offer.

We have really learnt a lot from this interview With you. Thank you for being so open and honest about the challenges you faced and the things that inspired you and the actions you have taken to be so successful. The last question we have for you is this- what would you say to young girls studying STEM subjects in school and young ladies who are on the journey to reading degrees in STEM courses, what advice or encouragement do you have for them?

I would say go for STEM, it builds you, gives you that extra edge to do anything you possibly will want to do later on in life. You will be well calculated, analytical, mannered and very progressive. So my dears, GO for it!!

Well its a wrap. It has been an absolute pleasure to speak with the amazing Engineer Chioma Onoshakpor. Key messages from this interview are; It doesn’t matter what you choose to do with your STEM degrees or certificates, you can work in a bank or own you own business as long as you are using your skills to make this world a better place. Once a woman in STEM, always a woman in STEM.

Interviewed by Anuli Marshall on behalf of YRLP.

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