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”.
Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane told Fin24 his “remarks are really out of order. It’s just unfortunate in the month of August, [Women’s Month] because we should be looking at how to support women.”
Pillay asserted, in the July 2018 issue of industry magazine Civil Engineering, published by Saice, that women should stick to what suits their “maternal instincts” and implied that they are not up to the task.
He cited research suggesting women “prefer to choose care or people-oriented careers, while men tend to choose careers that orient them to things and mechanics”.
He took issue with a female engineer who spoke about her challenges working in a male-oriented environment and treated women with the contempt and derision he evidently thought they deserved, 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 added: “The reason 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 said, 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 cited statistics showing that while women represented 17% of Saice’s database, 31% of its student members and 21% of its graduates, only 5% of its professionally registered members were women.
A petition has since started circulating calling for him to be fired. WomENG, an organisation for female engineers, has also called for the removal of Pillay.
Marcia Klein, writing in Moneyweb, called “Pillay’s view 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.
In a statement released on Monday, Saice said: “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.”