INWED 2023: Marlene Kanga on the Satisfaction of Engineering a Safer Society

Article by Orla Douds AMIChemE

Marlene Kanga: "I enjoy chemical engineering very much and the contribution it has enabled me to make to society and the wellbeing of people."

FOR International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) 2023, members of the IChemE National Early Careers Committee (NECC) have interviewed inspiring women from the world of chemical engineering. We hope that sharing their interesting and varied career paths will inspire and inform other early career engineers, and ultimately help them see a future for themselves in industry.

For this article we interviewed Marlene Kanga, an expert in process safety engineering.

Q: Could you please describe the career path that led to your current role?

A: I did a Master’s degree in chemical engineering at Imperial College London specialising in process safety and that led me to a career in process safety engineering.

Q: What is your current role?

A: I am chair of the IChemE Safety Centre, which is a volunteer role. I am a non-executive director of several large organisations in Australia involving utilities, transport and innovation. As a board member I provide oversight and leadership for the company along with other members of the board.

Q: What do you feel about the gender ratio and diversity in your current sector/role and how has this impacted you as an engineer?

A: There have always been a small number of women in engineering in Australia, around 10-12%. Though the proportion is higher  for chemical engineering. I faced difficulties early in my career, firstly to get a job and secondly to be able to work on sites. The challenge getting onto sites was that I was a woman! The managers were “concerned” about me and I was expected to work at a desk. Eventually I did get around to working on sites including many gas plants, refineries and petrochemical plants across Australia and New Zealand. There are very few women in this specialised area and I am frequently the only woman in the team. However, I am accepted because I am seen as competent in my role.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you have faced as an engineer?

A: The greatest challenge has been acceptance, firstly into a job and secondly in being able to perform the job such as being able to go on site.

Q: What do you enjoy most about being an engineer?

A: My work involves ensuring the chemical plants are operating safely. I get a huge amount of satisfaction in knowing that I am keeping people on the plant safe and keeping the community safe by ensuring safety and avoiding large fire and explosions that can cause injury or fatalities.

A: What advice would you give to a recent graduate or early careers chemical engineer who wants to work in your sector/role? 

Q: It’s important to enjoy your work as this will enable you to be resilient and get through difficulties in the workplace. With the enjoyment you will also have job satisfaction. I enjoy chemical engineering very much and the contribution it has enabled me to make to society and the wellbeing of people. This enjoyment comes through in everything I do and also engages others that I meet in the job.

Q: What advice would you give particularly to female early careers engineers?

A: It’s important to find out everything about your job and take opportunities to do extra tasks because this will help you to learn not only about your job but other ones as well. As you develop your competencies in various areas, you will, no doubt, become indispensable to the organisation and the promotions and accolades will follow. Your enjoyment of your role will also increase with your competency.

Reading Marlene’s answers back, it’s really impressive how she kept pushing to be accepted in her early career, ultimately leading to her being the respected engineer and non-executive she is today. I think the key message for all early career engineers is to persevere when you encounter challenges, as this can lead to an exciting, fulfilling and highly successful career!

We hope you have found this interview useful! If you are an undergraduate or recent graduate and want to boost your network, join the IChemE National Early Careers Committee by following us on LinkedIn and contacting our committee members.

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Article by Orla Douds AMIChemE

Vice chair of IChemE's National Early Careers Committee (NECC) and a graduate process engineer at Jacobs

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