Female Architect Karabo Malope Overcame Rejection to Make It in a Male-Dominated Industry

Female Architect Karabo Malope Overcame Rejection to Make It in a Male-Dominated Industry

  • Karabo Malope is a qualified South African architect who holds an MTech (Prof) in Architectural Technology from the University of Johannesburg
  • In an exclusive interview, she spoke to Briefly News about how she discovered her passion for creative drawing and struggling to get into varsity
  • For Karabo, mastering calmness and standing your ground as a woman in a male-dominated industry is vital
  • Architecture has allowed Karabo to dream big and recreate spaces as she imagines them

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From losing her mother to cancer in matric to being rejected by five of the biggest universities in South Africa, Karabo Malope has overcome great adversity both in her personal life and professionally to make it to the successful place that she is at as an architect.

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Some of her most significant career highlights include working on projects alongside the World Bank in Tanzania, designing public spaces in Temeke, Dar es Salaam, and designing a much-needed shelter for survivors of GBV here in Mzansi.

Female architect Karabo Malope
Karabo Malope shared the highs and lows of her journey to becoming a successful architect. Image: Neo Mdaka/ Supplied
Source: TikTok

Karabo spoke to Briefly News in an exclusive interview about her humble beginnings, adverse challenges and living out her dreams in the male-dominated construction industry.

Malope's love for buildings and architecture came from growing up in her grandmother's small apartheid house in Soweto.

The birth of Karabo's passion for architecture

"I had an obsession with sketching my grandmother’s house. I was always fascinated by buildings and art, although coming from a township, I never came across that many inspiring buildings.
"I enjoyed imagining different worlds through my sketches. At the time, I had no idea what architecture was until we were given an assignment in high school to research different careers that were interesting to us."

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That was the point when Karabo discovered architecture and instantly tapped into her passion.

Karabo admits that she took up science in high school, considering studying medicine. Still, it wasn't long before one of her teachers realised her drawing talent and encouraged her to take up technical drawing as one of her subjects in Grade 10 because it would allow her to utilise her creative skills.

Karabo's challenges in studying architecture

After matriculating, Karabo did not meet the required marks to study architecture and was unfortunately rejected by five big universities in the country.

"My dream to study architecture was bleak, and I had given up. Until I met a lady by the name of Sibongile Manganyi, who was an architect
"She reignited my passion for architecture. Her life story was similar to mine and inspired me to believe that I have a future in this industry."

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Karabo explained that Sibongile became her mentor and hired her as an intern in her practice. She had the opportunity of experiencing a black female-owned architectural practice. During this process, she learned how to be strong-willed and confident in her work.

"I went on to upgrade my matrics results while doing my internship in architecture.
"Even after improving my marks, the results needed to improve more to get me into university.
"The school of architecture once more rejected me. That never stopped me from trying.
"I woke up one morning and physically went to the University of Johannesburg architectural department and spoke to the secretary lady."

Thanks to her determination and impressive creative portfolio, Karabo was accepted into the school by the head of architecture.

Coming from a poor background in a poor household and losing her mother to cancer in her matric year, Karabo had no one to assist her with tuition fees.

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Sibongile then offered her a scholarship through her company and paid for Karabo's tuition until she completed her studies.

A few years later, Karabo obtained her master's degree in architecture in record time.

Female architect Karabo Malope
Karabo Malope shared how challenging it can be navigating the male-dominated industry as a young black woman. Image: Neo Mdaka/Supplied
Source: Original

The reality of a female architect in a male-dominated industry

For Karabo, being a woman in a male-dominated industry has been challenging, especially when leading a team of men on a project.

She explained that she constantly feels she must earn people’s trust and often receives a lot of backlash and aggression.

"I experience this a lot with older men, who are hesitant about being led by a young woman. I overcome these challenges by being confident in my work and firm in my decisions."

Asked what unique strengths and perspectives she brings to the job, Karabo said:

"The industry can be stressful and requires one to operate outside their comfort zone. Being calm in overwhelming or stressful situations has helped me overcome challenges."

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For Karabo, leading a team of professionals, it is important for her to always remain calm and find creative ways to manage whatever issues they might face in a project.

"The industry is dominated by white men, and sometimes issues that arise may be dealt with a lot of aggression, and that can demotivate people in a project and may result in us not reaching deadlines.
"It is important to stand your ground as a woman in this industry and be stern when it is required; however, humility and respect go a long way, and that creates a positive work environment," she shared.

According to Karabo, promoting gender diversity in the construction industry should begin in high schools, introducing career expos that not only focus on mainstream careers, such as medicine, law, etc. but also on the different careers the construction industry offers.

"In most cases, my gender does not affect how I deal with problems in projects; I rely on my professional training as an architect. However, there have been cases where I felt I was not being taken seriously.

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"Educating young women of the important roles they can play in construction industries is vital for promoting gender diversity."

Karabo explains some of the misconceptions and stereotypes about women in construction

"Architecture is a tough industry for women to break into. The misconceptions are that women do not understand construction as much as men do or that women cannot lead a construction project from its infancy to completion."

Another misconception that Karabo highlighted is that women are only interested in the pretty or artistic side of architecture, not necessarily architecture.

However, she shared that the truth is that women are more than capable of breaking boundaries in the construction industry, running construction projects and leading teams successfully.

Karabo shares her favourite project that had a positive impact on the community

As someone who experienced GBV between her parents growing up, a government project to design a gender-based violence shelter for women and children remains close to Karabo's heart.

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"It was important for me to design a space that will be a haven for women and children affected by gender-based violence."

The project considered the safety and privacy of the victims as a high-security facility.

"It also created a small safe community for the mothers and their children. The project also considered programs that would empower the victims with skills that they can learn during their stay at the shelter.
"It was important to create a home for the women and children away from their homes."

Key contributions that women have brought to the construction field, according to the female architect

Karabo believes that women are working hard to change the urban landscape by designing spaces that are safe and comfortable for women and children. These spaces allow women to roam freely without fear of constantly looking over their shoulders for any danger.

She said that women are more sensitive in their design approach.

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"We consider many factors when designing public spaces. I am not sure how this will impact the industry, but it will give more women the courage to use public spaces freely, knowing that their safety was considered in the design process.

Successful architects share their lessons learned in life so far

Karabo's profession has allowed her to dream and recreate spaces as she imagines them.

"I pursued architecture because it would enable me to create beautiful, inspiring environments for people that never had the opportunity to leave the townships.
"Our environment shapes how we think about ourselves and the world.
"It is also a dream of mine to inspire young women the same way other women inspired me to pursue a career in architecture."

Asked what advice she would give her younger self, Karabo said she would tell her younger self to take it easy because things will work out in the end.

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"Growing up in a township made it difficult for me to dream big for myself. I never envisioned myself in a university and getting a degree. I always doubted my abilities and felt I did not belong in certain spaces."
"It took me a while to realise I could be anything I dreamt of.
"I wish I had known back then that the sky was never the limit and that I could reach for the stars.
"My passion for architecture gave me the willpower to push myself to where I am today. The last piece of advice I would give to my younger self is never to stop dreaming," said Karabo.

Karabo also encourages women to pursue a career in construction because their voices and contributions are needed in this industry.

Young lady who works as bricklayer for a living showcases her work with pride

In another story, Briefly News reported that a 31-year-old lady, Hlayisani Lorraine Sono, has gotten much attention on the internet after photos showing her at construction work surfaced on the internet.

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Women Power Africa, on their LinkedIn page, said that the South African lady is also the founder of Mhani Builder Construction and Projects. According to the association, Hlayisani's company also carries out roofing and painting duties.

The 31-year-oldd woman encouraged women to follow after their passion irrespective of what people say.

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Source: Briefly News

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