Dr Thirusha Naicker

Gender diversity is still a topic however the dialogue and actions are moving towards gender and intersectional leadership equity.

Country of origin

South Africa

Which company do you work for?

Sasol South Africa

What is your specific area of specialisation?

I have a PhD in Chemistry and work as a Research and Development Scientist

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

+13 years

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?

When I first started work, I provided process research support to Sasol production plant operations (still do).  This is a very male dominated environment and as a woman my contributions were not acknowledged.  It was apparent that females had to be more vociferous regarding the views which were justified by scientific evidence.  Instead of being deterred, I ensured that my meaningful contributions were considered and evaluated on their merit.  My persistent scientific contributions definitely added value, and this justified my presence in such an environment.  This resilience forced people to concede my justified inclusion in such male dominated teams.

What inspired you to join this industry?

My first encounter with science was in primary school. Our teacher made science so fun and memorable.  My dad was also a biology teacher and I suppose the love for science may have also been in the genes ;).  Science was always about how something worked and how it could be improved and my love for this made me want to study this vast topic further. There are endless challenges in science, and these inspired me then and continue to do so today.

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

In my environment I have noticed that the younger generation is a lot bolder and braver. They are not afraid to ask for help and take up challenges that were previously reserved for males. Such confidence is an enabling trait to possess in a technology environment.

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

I believe initiatives such as this one creates a platform for young women to learn more about the different STEM fields.  Creating awareness and encouraging more women in their fields to share such experiences will empower and inspire the youth.

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?

STEM is a challenging field and requires a diverse combination of creative thoughts with the willingness to investigate and substantiate these thoughts into a reality.  Women’s views are often different to men’s, and we require a combination of both to be effective. Women are poorly represented in technology and perhaps this is due to the misconception that that one cannot have a private life if you work in technology. A strong technical aptitude needs to be balanced with a fulfilling social and family life.  Leading companies in major industries are cognisant of this and are transforming policies as well to promote work life balance and cater for mothers as well.

One of my favourite quotes: “If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.” Nora Roberts

When not working, what do you do for fun?

I enjoy baking and my daughters have taken an interest in this as well. We enjoy baking and recently I have also started #sundayscience on my Instagram page with them where we do some fun and challenging STEM activities.

I also love to travel and explore new places so when things have improved with respect to COVID-19, I look forward to some new adventures.

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