Female Architect Karabo Malope Overcame Rejection and Beat the Odds to Make It in a Male-Dominated Industry

Karabo Malope shared the highs and lows of her journey to becoming a successful architect.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.” 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.”

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.”

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.” 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.

“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.

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