'No place for women in engineering'
Industry head causes storm with remarks about 'caring' careers
Women's Month sentiments in the civil engineering profession collapsed in a pile of rubble after an industry head questioned investing in women in the field.
Engineers and companies were incensed by comments by Manglin Pillay, CEO of the SA Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice) in the July industry magazine.
An associate member of the institution said she was "highly offended by such a sexist article". She said "this flies in the face of all the work that is being done to promote diversity in engineering".
In his CEO address, Pillay questioned investing in women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, based on a Nordic study he said indicated that women opted for "caring and people" careers.
Pillay questioned whether the profession "should be investing so heavily in attracting women". He said at a certain age "most women prefer to work part-time or dedicate themselves completely to child rearing or pursuing other meaningful exploits generally related to caring".Saice's executive board distanced itself from the article, saying it was "horrified" and "unfortunate". The board denied that Pillay's opinions reflected those of the institution's 12,000 members. It said the institution was committed to "being nonpartisan, nonsexist, racially diverse, transparent and taking responsibility".
Ferdi Nell, MD of engineering firm Aurecon Africa, said Saice and Pillay owed South African women an apology.
Writing to the president of the institution, Nell said: "The article ... is extremely damaging to our reputation as engineers and is also insensitive to the ongoing challenges that women engineers face."
Nell said the profession should increase the number of women and many other people who have been previously excluded. He said science, technology, engineering and mathematics should be made more attractive.
"We need to create space for women to succeed and to become the role models of our young women engineers."
Pillay told the Sunday Times he was simply starting a discussion.
"The article is based on a technical, scientific study. If anyone wants to debate, it must not be an emotive discussion, it must be based on data.
Pillay said a railway engineer with the Passenger Rail Agency of SA had said in an interview that she needed to work twice as hard at her job because she was a woman.
"What did she mean? Did she have to do the same job twice in comparison to a man? Did it take twice as long to achieve the same outcome? What exactly was she saying - I was not being facetious, I really wanted to understand," he wrote.
He added: "The fact that more men occupy high-profile executive posts is tremendous, not because of gender but because of appetite for workload and extreme performance requirements at that level."Engineer Lindokuhle Mahlangeni said: "As a fellow male in the contemporary built environment I unequivocally distance myself from the argument advanced by the author of this article. I have always attributed the issue with women not steadily advancing to professional level status to the lack of support they receive in a patriarchal industry and the gender wage gap that continues to be perpetuated," he said.
Salona Moodley, a civil engineer and chairwoman of Saice's environmental division, said: "We did not endorse or approve this article. To read an article by someone I've known for such a long time, to say this on a public forum, is upsetting because of the work we do to attract females to the industry. It is as if we are going a few decades backwards in just one article. We struggle with membership and female participation and our aim is to assist women and the youth forum."
Moodley said it was "a highly skewed understanding of the female psyche" and lived experience. "It is the same argument from men that women belong in the kitchen."
Pillay said the article did not "mean we are against women. Nowhere in the article are we discrediting women."