Mom of the Month: February 2019

February is traditionally associated with love and so for this month’s feature I have chosen to embrace the theme of Sister Love within our community of moms. I find that this is such a vital concept which we should each try to cultivate in our own circles and specifically within our workspaces. Now don’t get me wrong…I’m not suggesting we all find the first female colleague we see, and attempt to skip away merrily to catch a coffee and weep about your toddler’s revolt against pumpkin! - Quite the contrary. To me, Sister Love or Sisterhood is better explained as having deep empathy towards any fellow woman; regardless of her race, her stature or level of authority within an organisation. It is the understanding that as women we have struggled in one way or another…which should then create better platforms, on which to raise other women onto…right?

Enter the Queen Bee – a powerful woman who has finally clawed her way to a seat at the proverbial Boardroom Table. Queen Bees tend to distance themselves from their own gender stereotypes and often challenge those who may threaten their position of power. Queen Bee Syndrome (Sobczak, 2018) as this is commonly referred to, is experienced by most women who have had a long and difficult ‘climb’ up the career ladder, in male-dominated environments. Upon reaching a position of power, ‘Queen Bees’ tend to then prevent other women from developing or progressing along the career ladder; essentially a form of intra-gender discrimination and workplace bullying. So why bring awareness to this topic? – I believe that it is this sort of awareness which will allow each of us to understand the tension in the room, or the unspoken power struggles and to then attempt to address it. If we could cultivate a community of women in every STEM space who understood the common challenges experienced within their field, race group or as the only mom in the team; surely we would be able to advocate for each other, for better policies, or for healthier discussions with our male counterparts? Granted, this may take a while, but at least we would get a little further along on this laborious journey to inclusiveness?

 

Today, my heart swells with pride as I introduce you to my sister and best friend of 16 years, Judica Somers. Judica is the very first friend I made on my first day at campus (as a terribly naïve engineering student) and we have been friends ever since 😀 We have walked different paths, but always acknowledged both the challenges and the accomplishments…and, above all, we’ve always been the other’s greatest cheerleader. I hope that you too have found a sister to walk with and dance with along this journey…the world is cruel enough, so let’s create more kindness through sisterhood.

Judica with her two little munchkins, Veer and Arushi

Bio

Name: Judica Somers

Age: 34

Location: Durban

Job title: Electrical Superintendent

Company: NCP Alcohols Pty (Ltd)

Judy is a mom to, soon-to-be seven year old, Veer and two year old, Arushi. She is a busy, creative and straight-talking mom who has found a way to embrace continuous learning. After obtaining her BTech in Electrical Engineering (High Voltage), she also went on to obtain her Wireman’s licence (as an installation electrician) and is registered at the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) as a professional technician. She is married to her best friend and jack of all trades, Sanvir.

A STEM mom at work!

An Interview with a fellow STEM Mom

1. What does your everyday work entail?

I am the Electrical Head of Department (HOD) on site, this entails running the electrical maintenance on site with the onsite electricians, apprentices, students and contractors. My main activities include managing budgets, audits (internal and external), as well as project work (design and implementation).

 

2. What career path led you to your current work?

I began studying at UKZN towards a BSc Electrical Engineering (High Voltage) and completed two years, however, due to financial constraints at home, I left campus. I worked as a waitress full time for two years and found that I missed the electrical industry and I still had a desire to continue pursuing a career therein. I enrolled at Durban University of Technology (DUT) to complete my studies, whilst working part-time as a waitress. I thereafter had to complete the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) programme for a year to graduate. I began my in-service training at NCP Alcohols in 2009 and during this time I worked predominantly on the floor; repairing, fault-finding and doing projects…I loved all of it. Due to my supervisor having some health issues at the time I also had the opportunity to do a lot of work with the electrical team which prepared me, in terms of teamwork, projects and processes. After my in-service, I was kept on as a contractor for two years and thereafter my current position became available.

 

3. How did you decide to move into this career path? -was it a certain person or moment which initiated it all?

Both! - My uncle worked at Sapref as a Senior in the Electrical team for approximately 20-25 years and he, to me, had the most exciting job. When I was in grade 6, we were tasked with making an electrical appliance by using things from around our home. I remember my dad helping me to make an electric beater by connecting wires, and batteries to the water cup used for the iron – probably the best memory I have till this day 😀

 

4. Was there ever a time that you recall wanting to change paths & what convinced you to continue on your chosen path?

Yes, many times, especially after having kids. I’ve thought of becoming a maths or physics teacher, just so I could get home earlier, not have to be concerned with callouts and be on holiday whilst my kids are on holiday. I have however also realised that teaching has its own demands and trade-offs. Also, my company and supervisor are, thankfully, very understanding regarding family concerns.

 

5. Give us a brief description of a normal/extraordinary 24hours in your life. (You can choose one 😋)

Normal day:

I start at 5h30. Making lunch, getting ready and chugging approximately 5 bags into the car. (Thank God for my husband who does the breakfast and changing routine)

I drop off my kids (Girl 2, boy 6) at my mums at 6h45, before starting work at 7am.

Work finishes at 4pm (if there are no breakdowns, planned overtime, project work or shutdown).

My work day comprises of meetings, plant work, planning, etc.

After school activities include karate and swimming for my son.

Then we’re off home for bath time and homework (hoping that both little people are not asleep in the car) and then bedtime.

 

6. Name the one thing which excites you about your field of work.

Everyday there is a new problem, it’s never the same. I find solutions for a malfunctioning toaster to an 11kV transformer!

 

7. What has your experience been like being a women in STEM?

I am lucky to have found employment in a company with a strong female presence, so any issues were approached with an open mind. However, there are many times I have met with counterparts or peers from other organisations who have not had the same response. Initially, it was difficult to ease into a role of authority being a woman in a male-dominated industry, especially with people you haven’t worked with before. I overcame this phase by realising that I was not in a position to prove anything to anyone; I chose instead to simply do the best job I can.

 

8. Do you find that there are still barriers within the STEM field?

Yes and no. I believe that a lot of women today have broken down a lot of those barriers which have paved the way for future females in the same or similar fields. I believe barriers are built by individual opinions and judgements, not an entire organisation. In a majority of workplaces, women are judged by individuals before they perform. For this reason I believe one should perform your best and the barriers will no longer exist.

 

9. Did becoming a mom change how you experienced your field of work?

Oh hell yes! - I now know what tiredness feels like!

I find that I also appreciate my work more because it’s a little time out from my kids. It’s a space where I get to be myself and not a mommy all day. It also makes me thankful for times I do spend with them.

 

10. How do you think organisational spaces could be improved upon in order to better support women in STEM?

I think better support is needed during the pregnancy and after maternity leave. I don’t think it is fully appreciated what a change a women goes through during this time: emotionally, physically and socially. Basically, workspaces should be sensitive to the fact that our priorities have changed after a pregnancy.

 

11. What do you hope to achieve within your career, whether in the short/long term?

We are currently implementing a major project on site which I am really excited about! This project will give me exposure to different technologies, processes and systems that I haven’t worked with before. I am also fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to go to Germany at the end of March for Hanover Messe. I am keen to eventually see this project through to completion.

Another short term goal would be to complete my Masters Installation Electrician (MIE) and for the long term, a Government Certificate of Compliance (GCC).

 

12. Would you encourage your little one(s) & other young girls to move into a career similar to your own & why?

Absolutely. If you have the passion and drive for this field, then you have the ability to make your mark. It’s rewarding to be able to be apart of teams and projects that allow you to make a difference.

13. What's your favourite mom & kiddie activity?

I love bedtime - it’s a time when everything is quiet, and we get to say the “I love you’s” and “sweet dreams” and enjoy quiet time together. Also, I try to create short games to get them into the bedroom. My son’s favourite was, what we would call, ‘ACTION Stories’. I would make up a story like pirates and monkeys and we would act it out in the room, but we were the main characters in the story…SUPER FUN!

 

14. Please could you give fellow STEM moms some advice on how to navigate the challenges within our field?

Believe in yourself and what you do, because nobody can do what you do; except for you!

We always put ourselves last on the list of priorities, but I feel that we need to find what makes us (as moms) happy; whether that’s a glass of wine or a video game. We call our husbands our “better halves” for a reason; we need to rely on them a little more 🤩.

We need to allow ourselves to ask them to help out: “Can you bath the kids today?” or to simply say “I need a minute to myself for now, can you get this?”…it definitely does not make you a lesser woman.

I want to send a huge thanks to all the sisters I have made within our community of STEM moms at The STEM Mom's Club, as well as those who have influenced my own journey...may we continue to recognise the good in each other, to support and lift those around us. To my sister Judica, you are pure power and I'm so honoured to be able to share your story here...thank you ❤

The Mom of the Month feature is a fantastic way for STEM moms to share their stories, in an effort to create discussion around how our workspaces could improve further. It is also a great tool for those outside of the STEM community, looking to hire these phenomenal women or to those younger STEM women who are on the hunt for a mentor. If you have come across our feature and enjoy it or think that it would be of use to anyone else, please share it! Also be sure to leave a comment, share, share, share (using #MomOfTheMonth and #TheSTEMmomsClub). Also feel free to reach out to any of our featured STEM moms, they would love to hear from you 😎 Inbox me any suggestions for future features on phenomenal STEM moms!

 

Kamie

 

Reference:

Sobczak, A., (2018) The Queen Bee Syndrome. The paradox of women discrimination on the labour market, Journal of Gender and Power, 9(1), pp. 51-61.

Smit, D.M., (2015) Labour law, the queen bee syndrome and workplace bullying: A contribution to the shattering of at least one glass ceiling for female employees, Available at:

https://www.saslaw.org.za/index.php/downloads/category/55-2015-conference-resources?download=342:smit-dina-maria (accessed: 27/02/2019).