Dear Mr CEO : A letter to the SAICE CEO

After having read your recent article “Out on a rib”, I am overcome with acrimony and deep sense of disappointment. As an engineer, mother, student of IOL studies and advocate for women in STEM; I write this article to educate those readers who perhaps agree with your sentiment, but also to clarify the horrible inaccuracies of your article.


Let’s start with the study you referred to. As you’ve pointed out, the study demonstrated that countries with the highest amount of female STEM graduates are often those which are the least gender-equal. You then state “they (women) prefer to choose care or people-orientated careers, while men tend to choose careers that orient them to things and mechanics”. This is an untruth. Upon reading the full study, one would see that the researchers make a more interesting discovery, which you were perhaps unaware of. Boys and girls across 67 countries show similar strength in the sciences, with girls showing even higher strengths in reading. So if asked to choose a career based on the highest performance, girls would be unlikely to make STEM their first choice. Whether or not to choose STEM as a career, is also dependent on wider social factors like gender equality and life satisfaction. Females in countries with a lower gender equality are more likely to choose a career in STEM as they realise this would allow for better financial stability in the long term. STEM as a whole, during a study of this kind, does also not include those fields which utilise STEM related skills like health and health care, which may then be the cause for lower numbers in the related study.


You say that you cannot understand how a woman is able to state that ‘she works twice as hard as a man’. To explain it simply, she is referring to the perception men already have of her before she even begins in her chosen place of work– you can read the Athena Factor study which gives a really detailed account of much of the experiences women have within STEM careers. Again, there are hundreds of studies out there which you could easily read through but in summary:


Most young women tend to place pressure on themselves in order to disprove the perceptions their male co-workers have of them – whether this is related to their technical ability or their tenacity to survive in an environment believed to be more congruent to males. Females in engineering get to experience what’s referred to as the hard-hat culture, as well as maternal profiling - Hard-hat culture is characterised by a ‘macho culture’, predatory behaviour and often language flavoured with vulgarity and sexual innuendos;  Maternal Profiling describes the ability to question a woman’s commitment to the labour force and to then downgrade her abilities due to her potential to be a mother.


To answer your question of, ‘Do women get paid less?”- Yes. The SABPP 2015 report states that in South Africa, “it is estimated that women earn, on average, 15% less than their male counterparts, based on data on a large subset of South African corporates”. A 2015 EU study also shows that the gap in pay is also significant between those women who have children and those which do not. Due to a disruption in careers due to unpaid child-care, women find it more difficult to find paid employment; thus contributing to the gender pay gap and gender gap in pensions.  


Then there’s the sweeping assumption you make that women do not choose to become CEO’s because they prefer more flexibility to raise their families. While society may have most men believe that this is a choice we make; may I desecrate that altar that you, and many others, worship at. Women being domesticated and then leaving employment or opting for more flexible working times, to stay home with our families, is not a choice – it is sometimes the only option for some women. Due to a lack of support systems or organisational policies which are unable to support parental leave policies and onsite child-care; parents do not have the luxury of raising their children in a gender-equal home. We are still part of a society which places the burden and expectation of being the breadwinner on that of a male. Our organisational policies more often than not, make allowance for a woman to dismantle her career to care for a child, whilst a father is not allowed longer than a few days to be part of an infant’s life.


You have painted women in an aura of “agreeableness”, who apparently choose a life less stressful than that of a CEO and are also unable to negotiate higher salaries when necessary. Perhaps here is where I can suggest that you as a CEO, may need to spend some time understanding the plight of women in STEM. The rhetoric used in this article shows that as a representative of the SAICE, the organisation is more entrenched in a discussion from a few decades ago and may require a refreshed understanding of how diversity in STEM should be handled.


Here we are, only two days into the celebration of #Womensmonth; thanks for reminding us all that there is still an insurmountable amount of work to be done within the field of gender and the organizational effectiveness of development and retention of women in STEM. Were it not for your article, we may have continued believing that some of the work had already been done. But once again we’ll have to work twice as hard to make sure we are recognized.




An Aggrieved Woman


An article by SAICE Ceo in the July 2018 issue