Professional organisation Women in Engineering, engineering company Aurecon, and the University of Cape Town (UCT), as well as the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice), have expressed their dismay at Saice CEO Manglin Pillay following an opinion piece he wrote on women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem).
The opinion piece was published on various social media platforms near the end of July, as well as in Saice’s Civil Engineering magazine’s July edition.
In the piece, titled “Out on a Rib”, Pillay said women choose to have the flexibility to dedicate themselves to enterprises such as family and the raising of children, rather than the beck and call of shareholders.
“The fact that more men occupy high profile executive posts is tremendous, not because of gender, but because of an appetite for work load,” he remarked.
Pillay added that the increased representation of women at university level (31%) and graduate working level (21%) in comparison to managerial and director levels (5%) might be explained by the same interpretation of data in the legal profession.
About the time when graduates progress into middle management, is about the same time that the majority of women wish to have families, reported Pillay.
“In this phase, most women prefer to work part time or dedicate themselves completely to child rearing or pursuing other meaningful exploits generally related to caring,” he stated.
Pillay added that it is owing to the same maternal instinct that women are more amenable than men – “to avoid conflict in managing babies” – and are, therefore, less likely to negotiate higher salaries.
Moreover, Pillay questioned whether the industry should be investing so heavily in attracting women into Stem careers, specifically engineering, or whether there should be investment into creating more gender-equal societies.
Since the piece was published, Saice has distanced itself from the CEO’s opinions, and assured that personal opinions, which diagonally oppose what Saice embodies, will never again be aired in any official Saice communication.
UCT commented that the opinion piece raises concerns about Saice’s commitment to the professional development of women in engineering, and shows a shallow understanding of higher education and the role of engineers in modern society.
Aurecon stated that the article is damaging to engineers’ reputation and stereotypes women by saying they are ultimately ill-suited for roles that are technically and managerially demanding.
“It also stereotypes men who, by implication, are presented as less caring and less suitable for people-oriented careers,” it added.
Aurecon further noted that the article justifies unequal pay, despite codes and legislation prohibiting discriminatory practices in the workplace.
Women in Engineering denounced Pillay’s arguments, stating that they are not based on the facts of current gender research on women in Stem careers, and that Pillay’s comments could cause more women to stay away from the engineering profession.