Interview with our featured Mom of the Month
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The STEM Mom: Doc, I’ve read and heard so much about your life’s story. It is such a varied and beautiful tapestry of experiences with everything from being a medical doctor, an entrepreneur, an author, a wife and a mom as well as the chancellor of a South African university!…Again, Congratulations!
What has your experience been, as a woman, fulfilling these various roles?
Dr Dlamini: I’ve had a full life and I’m truly grateful to my family for their support. As a woman you postpone some of your dreams to cater for your family needs. I got married in 4th year at the medical school and gave birth to our first child while I was doing 5th year. So I had to forego specialising to ensure I slept at home every day when the kids were still young. I don’t regret the sacrifice, my family needed my attention. I opened a medical practice in the township where we lived in the 90s. The experience was fulfilling. As a woman in whatever field you choose, you have to prove yourself, you have to work harder than your male counterparts. If you add race to the mix, the burden trebles.
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The STEM Mom: You’ve researched and written about the topic of gender equality. You and I have spoken on previous occasion around the lack of female representation within the STEM community.
Within our own community of moms at The STEM Moms Club, we’ve heard from women who have had various unhealthy experiences related to gendered stereotypes, sexual harassment as well as a lack of maternity and paternity policies within their work environment. These barriers make our field trickier to navigate.
How do you encourage women into STEM fields or to remain in STEM; whilst also being aware of the slow rate of progress, specifically with the underrepresentation of women in STEM as a global issue?
Dr Dlamini: That’s true. Though women in STEM are in the minority; the numbers are improving. The trailblazers in life have a lot of heavy lifting to do to open the path and change stereotypes.
As a young doctor in the 80s people thought because I’m a woman, I could only be a nurse. We had to work hard to change the gender stereotype and gain people’s trust. It has improved since. Each one of us as women, have to make it our business to work hard and change the stereotype.
There is strength in numbers. So it’s important to invite more women to the sector, to stick to the cause to reach leadership positions. When there are more of us in leadership positions, we’ll be able to change the status quo. Sometimes by just being in a position and performing your task well, you allow leadership to be more accessible to young people. We also need to galvanise support from men in leadership to assist with levelling the playing field. We can’t do it alone. We beat apartheid in this country because we worked hard together to dismantle it. We need the same effort and determination, if not more, to win the gender battle.
________ 3 ________
The STEM Mom: We’ve seen the recent figures released regarding the rather alarming number of unemployed youth in our country. Some of our STEM moms have spoken about the difficulty in moving companies due to a fear of not finding alternate employment or having to create alternate career paths whilst waiting for that ideal role. Many moms would love to return to the field that they originally started in, but there doesn’t seem to be a way back in.
Having worked as both a professional and as an entrepreneur, what would you say to them?
Dr Dlamini: We are going through difficult times as a country, but also globally. Our economy contracted by more than 3% in the first quarter of 2019. We’ve had pedestrian growth over the past few years. We need economic growth in order to create sustainable jobs, an inclusive transformed economy and to eradicate inequality.
I always advise young people not to leave jobs without a plan. It’s easier to find a job when you are in a job. I’ve always worked for myself whether as a professional doctor or businesswoman. However, to prepare for the change from a profession to business, I had to invest in myself through studying further and working at an investment bank before coming out to build my business. Nothing comes easy. I find that learning new things and being prepared to leave your comfort zone (with some plan) enables you to grow at a personal level. I’ve grown a lot mentally and spiritually from the many detours I’ve taken through my journey. Most of them were planned and prepared for. Some were unplanned, like being an author and Chancellor, but I allowed the detour driven by passion for teaching and giving back to education and the youth.
So define your path but be flexible when life throws you curved balls, as it sometimes does. Never give up on your dreams, even if you have to defer them temporarily. Never give up on yourself.
_______ 4 _________
The STEM Mom: You have had the opportunity to form part of executive boards and moved into a variety of industries with the Mbekani group. As women in STEM, very few manage to break the infamous metaphorical ‘glass ceiling’ or to move into other roles outside of their own field.
How do you suggest women develop, or prepare themselves to eventually get a seat at the table?
Dr Dlamini: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair’’ Shirley Chisholm, first African American congresswoman in 1968 and first majority party black candidate to make a bid for US presidency back in 1972! Those are some of the people I look up to.
Chase your dreams, work hard consistently and nothing and no one will stop you. The only person standing between you and your greatness is you and your mind set. In spite of all the prejudice that exists, I truly believe you are the master of your destiny. With all the changes I’ve made, I’ve always been scared and sometimes doubtful of myself. However, ambition and a positive attitude didn’t allow me to turn back.
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The STEM Mom: Whilst you have reached so many peaks in your career and lifetime, the journey has also been both challenging and painful. How have you navigated your way through the difficult times?
Dr Dlamini: The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my life was losing our son at the age of 27. What sustained me is my faith. I channelled negative energy and pain into developing others and focusing on their growth and living my purpose. The pain is deep but you learn to live with it.
_________ 6 _________
The STEM Mom: You’ve managed to influence and inspire so many people around you, Judy. What’s the best advice you’ve received and from whom?
Dr Dlamini: My parents’ best ‘’advice’’ was by doing. The way they lived, working hard, supporting each other, always having a positive attitude, being in control of their destiny in spite of the difficult apartheid years. No lesson can beat that. I am a product of my parents and their lives
_______ 7 ________
The STEM Mom: There’s a magical milestone birthday coming up this year! 😀 What a journey…what amazing accomplishments! How will you be celebrating and where would you like to focus your efforts next?
Dr Dlamini: My 60th is a few days from now (July 6 🙂 ). I am grateful to reach this milestone, life is a gift! I’ll spend it with family.
With regard to what’s next; I see myself studying further. I am driven by a curiosity to learn new things and share what I’ve learnt. My recent medium of sharing is through books. So watch the space for my 3rd and 4th books.
_______ 8 ________
The STEM Mom: Hypothetical situation: We’re 20 years into the future, where do you see us as a country?
Dr Dlamini: I see women leading government, academic institutions and business corporations alongside men; making this country and this world a better place. I see a country at peace with itself and its history. I see a country where it’s not a crime to be different but it’s a gift. That’s my prayer for my kids and their kids.