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Engineering body calls emergency meeting over CEO’s comments about women

Aug 07 2018 07:14
Tehillah Niselow and Lameez Omarjee

The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) will hold an emergency board meeting on Wednesday to discuss CEO Manglin Pillay’s widely criticised comments about women. 

SAICE said in a statement it was aware of the current controversy caused by Pillay after he penned a column in the July Civil Engineering magazine questioning whether South Africa should be investing so heavily into attracting females into STEM as evidence showed women are "predisposed" to caring and people-orientated careers.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

SAICE is under pressure to act after lobby group advocating for women in engineering, WomEng called on the organisation to “rethink their choice of CEO”. WomEng has since issued a petition to remove Pillay from his CEO position. WomEng believe that Pillay's comments are "derogatory, condescending and patronising".

"WomENG has worked tirelessly over the past 12 years to understand the challenges and bottlenecks for girls and women in STEM," the petition read. The organisation said that misogynistic comments such as those by Pillay are part of the reason women leave the profession. The petition must be signed by Wednesday morning.

The Commission for Gender Equality said it would request a meeting with SAICE to discuss transformation in the civil engineering sector.

Fin24 reported earlier that spokesperson for the Commission Javu Baloyi said it would assist the commission if someone lodged a complaint against Pillay, but the organisation will start discussing the issue internally.

SAICE said in its statement on Monday it was cognisant of the levels of debate around this issue. "Due to SAICE's procedures, it is required to align to internal controls and procedures and as such this matter will be discussed at an emergency board meeting on Wednesday 8th August 2018, after which a formal statement will be issued.”

SAICE's executive board however issued a statement last week on its Facebook page distancing itself from Pillay’s comments. "In this unfortunate article, Pillay’s views in no way reflect the views of SAICE’s membership of 12 000," the board said.

Women’s needs in design process

Naadiya Moosajee, a civil engineer, social entrepreneur and the co-founder of WomEng told Fin24 about the importance of women joining the engineering industry.

“It boils down to what engineers do. They design and create everything around us. If you exclude half of the population from that process, you're designing a world where women need to constantly adapt to because our needs are never considered in the design process.”

She added that if leaders do not see transformation as important or the CEO of the industry body uses a platform to “express blatant sexism”, women joining the industry will not be seen as important.

“You see it in their membership numbers as well,” Moosajee said.

According to figures Pillay quoted in his column "Out on a rib", out of SAICE’s almost 16 000  strong database, 17% are women and out of the 6% professionally registered members, just 5% are female.

Pillay also quoted from a study by Leeds Beckett's School of Social Sciences and the University of Missouri that women in gender-equal societies choose care or people-orientated careers while men tend to choose careers that orient them to things and mechanics.

"To the women in STEM... you know I am your friend. I wrote you Character Currency, gave you poetry and even sang you songs, so you know I am on your side. But we need to discuss a few things," Pillay wrote. 

Pillay said women prefer not to occupy high-profile executive posts because they would rather have "the flexibility to dedicate themselves to more important enterprises like family and raising children than to be at the beck and call of shareholders".

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