Pil­lay keeps his job amid calls for more women in STEM

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - TE­BOGO MONAMA

AF­TER WRIT­ING a sex­ist ar­ti­cle about women in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics (STEM), chief ex­ec­u­tive of the South African In­sti­tu­tion of Civil En­gi­neer­ing (SAICE) Man­glin Pil­lay gets to keep his job.

In an ar­ti­cle in the June edi­tion of Civil En­gi­neer­ing mag­a­zine ti­tled “Out on a Rib”, Pil­lay claimed in­vest­ment in women in the field needed re­think­ing be­cause they were more pre­dis­posed to work in car­ing and peo­ple-ori­ented ca­reers.

Pil­lay quoted a study by Leeds Beck­ett School of So­cial Sciences and the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri which said that women at a cer­tain age “pre­fer to work part-time or ded­i­cate them­selves com­pletely to child rear­ing or pur­su­ing other mean­ing­ful ex­ploits gen­er­ally re­lated to car­ing”.

He fur­ther wrote that in cases where women and men do the same amount of work but are not paid equally, it was be­cause women are “agree­able”. “Stop be­ing agree­able when ne­go­ti­at­ing pay,” he said.

Fol­low­ing the up­roar over his com­ments, Pil­lay apol­o­gised. The SAICE has ac­cepted his apol­ogy and said he could keep his po­si­tion.

Af­ter the ar­ti­cle was pub­lished, the SAICE board held an emer­gency meet­ing to dis­cuss the mat­ter.

SAICE pres­i­dent Er­rol Kerst said: “While the pub­li­ca­tion of Pil­lay’s ar­ti­cle was un­for­tu­nate, we can­not ig­nore his in­valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to SAICE and the broader en­gi­neer­ing sec­tor over the past eight years.

“The board has ac­cepted his apol­ogy and his ac­knowl­edge­ment of the pub­lic furore this has caused.

“The board re­grets the pub­li­ca­tion of Pil­lay’s ar­ti­cle. Ad­di­tional steps have been put in place in­ter­nally to en­sure that this does not hap­pen again.”

The SAICE had ini­tially dis­tanced the in­sti­tu­tion from the ar­ti­cle.

Pil­lay has been for­given de­spite pres­sure from WomEng, a lobby or­gan­i­sa­tion for women en­gi­neers that has started an on­line pe­ti­tion de­mand­ing that he be fired for his dis­crim­i­na­tory views to set an ex­am­ple for other men in the in­dus­try. The pe­ti­tion has been signed by nearly 1 400 peo­ple.

Re­act­ing to Pil­lay be­ing for­given, WomEng said: “SAICE has let the en­gi­neer­ing fra­ter­nity down by its fail­ure to take ac­tion against him and his openly dis­crim­i­na­tory rhetoric. Valu­ing the con­tri­bu­tion that Pil­lay has made to SAICE in the past over the grave dam­age he has done with his cur­rent com­men­tary has ex­posed just how deep the sex­ism and misog­yny within the in­dus­try is em­bed­ded.”

Con­sult­ing firm Aure­con has also writ­ten an open let­ter to SAICE slam­ming Pil­lay. In the let­ter, Aure­con man­ag­ing direc­tor Ferdi Nell said: “We be­lieve the ar­ti­cle pub­lished un­der your or­gan­i­sa­tion’s name is ex­tremely dam­ag­ing to our rep­u­ta­tion as en­gi­neers and is also in­sen­si­tive to the on­go­ing chal­lenges that women en­gi­neers face. The ar­ti­cle stereo­types women by pre­sent­ing them as soft and car­ing, yet 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 par­ent­ing or peo­ple-ori­ented ca­reers. It jus­ti­fies un­equal pay, de­spite codes and leg­is­la­tion pro­hibit­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tices in the work­place.

“We are wor­ried that so few fe­males are in­volved in STEM in South Africa and the broader African con­ti­nent. Based on our ex­pe­ri­ence and as re­search shows in many or­gan­i­sa­tions, a more di­verse work­force re­sults in more cre­ativ­ity, a broader per­spec­tive on po­ten­tial so­lu­tions and ex­cel­lent tech­ni­cal out­comes. As a pro­fes­sion and in­dus­try, we should be do­ing all that we can to in­crease the num­ber of women, and many other peo­ple who have been pre­vi­ously ex­cluded from STEM, by mak­ing STEM more at­trac­tive.”

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