Dr Avela Majavu

My biggest challenge was imposter syndrome. I was feeling overwhelmed by the new environment “male dominated”, the culture and the fast paced of operation. I could not keep up.

Country of origin

South Africa

Which company do you work for?

Sibanye Stillwater Precious Metal Refinery

What is your specific area of specialisation?

Research & Development Chemist and Science Communicator

How long have you been in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’s (STEM) fields?

4 years 7 months

As a woman in a male dominated industry, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge was imposter syndrome. I was feeling overwhelmed by the new environment “male dominated”, the culture and the fast paced of operation. I could not keep up. It actually interfered with my ability to stand confidently. Voicing out my opinion was the hardest thing to myself as “an introvert” and felt scared and lost confidence in myself daily in the boardroom. I had to acknowledge to myself that I have “Imposter syndrome” and went to seek help. Indeed, I went to The Voice Clinic, as I attended one on one sessions” Individual Voice and Pronunciation Programme in 2017” to improve and boost back my low self-esteem. The skills I have gain brought back my confident and I was able to speak out boldly. Since then I can voice out my opinion freely without thinking about who is around me. I am an Extrovert in the making.

What inspired you to join this industry?

When I was attending the International conference of “Mineral’s Engineering” 2012 in Cape Town, doing an oral presentation of part of my PhD research work, project title “Separation of Rhodium and Iridium using polymeric resins” which was a mining related project. A former delegate from Sibanye Stillwater PMR (formerly Lonmin PMR) had so much interest in my work and the university and Sibanye Stillwater PMR started conversations. It made me in a better position to finish and publish several articles. Whilst I was still doing my last year PhD (2014) I had a great opportunity being an exchange student to attend a short research visit in University of Florence (Italy) July 2014. Been exposed to present International Conference on Coordination Chemistry (ICCC41) (Suntec City, Singapore, July 2014), Poster presentation, and awarded Material Research Society of Singapore Student Bursary. I then had an opportunity to join the company in 2016, to do exactly what I have studied / researched for and gain exposure to the real world of mining. I brought the skills that the company needed as I have positioned myself in attending these above-mentioned conferences. I had an opportunity to be an Industrial partner / collaborator with Prof Zenixole Tshentu (Principal Investigator / Project Supervisor from Nelson Mandela University). The Project Proposal 2017: Resin development for separation of iridium and rhodium sponsored by South African Minerals to Metals Research Institute (SAMMRI). This work is currently conducted by PhD candidate (2021), and there is consistent interaction with updates and way forwards. Recently, Metallurgy Manager Mr Xolani Maseko had nominated and awarded me as “Rock Star Highest Performer” at Sibanye Stillwater Precious Metals Refinery in April 2021.

What changes, if any, have you seen in your field with regards to women in your field?

Working in a production environment and in a Research and Development Laboratory with other women has helped me acquire assertiveness, an ability to tolerate stress in a calm manner and the outcomes are enormous: positive engagement, sharing ideas, productivity, and stronger communication between different stakeholders within the organisation.

How can we attract more women to consider a career in the STEM fields?

Back in my days in my underprivileged rural primary school, students used to have an attitude in mathematics and physical science as they classified it, as it for a certain class “i.e students who you are beautiful /clever/ coming from a better family/ rich family”. Most of them developed a poor attitude towards science and academic marks / performance decreased drastically. The awareness of careers in STEM is not there, as it hindered by lack of knowledge and misbelief. To inculcate the joy of learning in science in rural areas, students need to be involved in science camps at early ages and expose them to different STEM activities, like Science festival and FameLab South Africa. Allow them to engage in English “not in their mother tongue” while conducting and preparing for these talks/ interaction/ presentations with other peers as it will build their self-confidence as well at an early age.  Also by stimulating and exposing them as to the various available opportunities out there.

If you were to advise other young women starting their careers in the tech or within the STEM fields, what is the one thing you would say to them?

Do not hide being an introvert, quiet, shy. If you see yourself being like that, try to be curious and learn to get out of the comfort zone while still young as you may have a long way to build yourself and learn to become an extrovert. You will surprise yourself one day. I have learnt it the hard way as it was painful and I have to force myself and pay for an individual voice and pronunciation programme at “The Voice Clinic”, in order to step out of my comfort zone.  Do not be like me, get assistance while still fresh and young "SMILING"!!

When not working, what do you do for fun?

  • I am TEAM5am gym fanatic,
  • I love mentoring upcoming generation and be a motivational speaker,
  • I participate in Black Women in Science workshops,
  • I volunteer to judge in Nka’Thuto EduPropeller on their final innovation Expo under STEM and business categories,
  • Feature True Love magazine, August 2020 in an article titled “Class of 2020 Women are coming for everything”,
  • Featured Nelson Mandela University Alumni Newsletter for March/April 2021 “Women in Science”,
  • Featured Nelson Mandela University “Women in Science booklet 2020”,
  • I am currently study science communication with Stellenbosch University,
  • I am activity involve in Women in Mining South Africa Mentee 2021 program,
  • I enjoy reading motivational books and spiritually book “Bible” and
  • I love reading the latest chemistry related articles of my field.

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