Manglin Pillay, who represents the civil engineering industry as CEO of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice), recently questioned whether “we should be investing so heavily in attracting women to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers, specifically engineering”.
He asserts, in the July 2018 issue of industry magazine Civil Engineering, published by Saice, that women should stick to what suits their “maternal instincts” and implies that they are not up to the task.
Pillay, who was presumably chosen to lead and represent the views of the civil engineering industry, cites research showing women “prefer to choose care or people-oriented careers, while men tend to choose careers that orient them to things and mechanics”.
He takes issue with a female engineer who spoke about her challenges working in a male-oriented environment and treats women with the contempt and derision he evidently thinks they deserve, saying: “To the women in civil engineering – you know I am your friend. I wrote you Character Currency [presumably another ‘From the CEO’s desk’ article], gave you poetry and even sang you songs, so you know I am on your side. But we need to discuss a few things.”
According to Pillay, men occupy more high-profile executive posts “because of [an] appetite for work load and extreme performance requirements at that level”.
He adds: “The reason why women do not occupy these positions is that women choose to rather have the flexibility to dedicate themselves to more important enterprises, like family and raising children.”
Women, he says, are more agreeable than men because the maternal instinct requires this trait – “to avoid conflict in managing babies” and that “it is this agreeableness that prevents women from negotiating higher pay”.
He also cites statistics showing that while women represent 17% of Saice’s database, 31% of its student members and 21% of its graduates, only 5% of its professionally registered members are women.
Perhaps there would be more if people like Pillay were not allowed to lead industries like these and be in positions to scupper the chances of women progressing in them.
Pillay’s view is alarming and abhorrent for many reasons, which should not have to be explained, but as he represents the industry, perhaps he is not a lone aberrant voice and some explanation is required.
This is a patriarchal, patronising, misogynistic attitude which is no longer acceptable in 2018. It is also incorrect. It beggars belief that it needs to be said that women are actually capable of understanding maths, science and technology and are able to be engineers or whatever they want to be. Whether they are allowed to is still, unfortunately, questionable, especially given that they may have to come up against Pillay and his ilk.
It is not acceptable for someone chosen to represent an industry to declare that engineering, or any other job that requires proficiency in maths and science, is not suitable for women.
If this is the industry view, it should be made clear in its mission statement so that it can be challenged.
If this is not the industry view, then the board of Saice should immediately fire Pillay, state publicly that it is willing to accept female engineers and graduates on an equal footing to men, and put in place steps to make sure it does so.
Pillay says that “gender equality and equity needs deeper understanding than simplification into male dominance, patriarchy and companies providing baby care in the office”. It sure does. Saice should also urgently get its leadership educated on what gender equality means, and apply it.
There is nothing on the Saice website reacting to Pillay’s comments, but there is a statement, published by Infrastructure News, where the executive board of Saice distances itself from his comments.
That it felt this response was sufficient is in itself an indictment of the industry. Action is required. Now.
* This article was written by a mother in the hope that all young South Africans will be able to enter the profession and industry of their choice, being judged not by whether they are female, black, gay, or whatever industry leaders find so hard to accept – but by their ability to contribute to that profession and industry.
* On approaching Saice for comment, Moneyweb was told that none would be made until after its next board meeting.