Khadija Ruguru Theuri is dismantling the stereotype that women cannot make it in a male-dominated field. With a background in civil engineering, she has built her construction
Construction is considered a man’s business since time immemorial but with time, women are warming up to the idea of working in the tough industry. Khadija Ruguru Theuri is one of the brave women who have entered the construction industry, not as a worker but as an employer.
Her firm Vioja Construction and Suppliers Company, employs more than 50 staff. Theuri built the company from scratch, guided only by her knowledge in civil engineering. With no assistant, she is often in charge of the workers. Night shifts are inevitable as are out of town assignments. Theuri points out the job requires a savvy approach rather than a forceful one.
Theuri, however, says working in the construction business is not easy and one has to be bold. The firm has faced many challenges since it started from court battles to contractors not paying on time. She spent years learning the ropes at different road construction sites until she felt ready to start a company.
The single mother of three, however, has been in the construction industry for over 15 years. She started her company in 2011. “This work is not for the faint-hearted, it needs a person to be strict to get the best results. In the long run, we are dealing with constructing roads, sewer lines and drainage so it needs seriousness,” says Theuri.
She boasts of building roads including 17-kilometre Kajiado Road, Falcon Road in Nairobi and sewers in Nairobi and several towns. Currently, she has been contracted to do pavements in Embakasi area.
Having undertaken her Engineering course at Mombasa Polytechnic, Khadija in a good month can have four major jobs, worth millions. Theuri charges services according to the metre of road, sewer line or drainage where a metre is charged at Sh80,000. “Construction is a hard, but well- paying job.
From the money I get, I cater for my employees’ lunch, accommodation when we are out of town and of course, their daily pay,” explained Theuri. Not intimidated by the testosterone around her, Theuri had since a young age wanted to do a unique job. She preferred handling the hard jobs at home like fixing stuff.
Despite being the supervisor in charge of all constructions works carried under Vioja Construction Company, 42-year-old Theuri has a handbags business; a side hustle in Nairobi. She imports her products from China. “Sometimes you find that contractors delay to pay for services where I had used my money to carry out a job.
It gets hectic and frustrating at times, especially when trying to start out another different project. Here is where my handbags business comes in handy,” said Theuri. The most difficult part of her job is when near completion, she has to step back from the project because the client has defaulted on payment.
To earn people’s trust in a male-dominated field, Theuri says one needs to be sincere, stand firm and earn them respect and always be present on site to supervise.
She has won bids to work on several jobs with Kenya Rural Roads Authority, Constituency Development Fund in different constituencies around the country and several from the Kenya National Highways Authority.
For a construction manager, learning is a continuous process that begins with graduating from university. As she explains, most of the organisational, budgeting and design work is done with complicated software that changes rapidly. As such, a construction manager should always be updated on the latest technological trends in the industry.