Country of origin
Which company do you work for?
Ph.D. student in Chemistry at the University of Free State, Lecturer at the Central University of Technology, Free State and an award-winning Science Communicator. Speaker. STEM Event Facilitator. Mentor. Writer.
What is your specific area of specialisation?
Chemistry. Science Communication. Higher Education Researcher.
How long have you been in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’s (STEM) fields?
I ran my first titration when I was 14, and that was 13 years ago. To me, that’s when I started.
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?
Representation. Women are highly underrepresented in positions of authority, such as tenured faculty positions, but you will also see this reflected in STEM cohorts and organisation. Racial and sexist macroaggressions are also rampant in the sciences, and these macroaggressions, whether intentional or unintentional, expose hidden biases and prejudices that generally make women of colour feel undermined. I am a living and breathing contradiction to an outdated status quo.
Often, women exist in feminine and masculine transposition in the workplace with fear of being either too soft or intimidating. We all have an element of masculine and feminine energy within us. We exist on a spectrum. I love dressing up and often felt like I was “doing too much” at the lab. The best thing I did for myself was to find my unique balance in the workplace. I rock a red lip when I want to and I hold my own in project meetings. Your balance will be unique to you.
What inspired you to join this industry?
My mother is the wisest and most intelligent woman that I know but she never made it into formal high school education. In her family, boys took precedence over girls in the education budget, my grandfather’s only expectation from her daughters was to be able to read and write a letter and then you would get pulled out of school. She has gone on to be as successful as she could possibly be in a sexist, capitalist and patriarchal world. I always wonder which sector she would be dominating if she were just given a chance. Because of her, I will climb as high as I can.
What changes, if any, have you seen with regards to women in your field?
We have seen many new emerging science and technology breakthroughs and at less than 30% of world researchers, many products that are part of our daily lives have been developed without input from a large portion of the population- women. Adding diversity to STEM occupations results in increased creativity and innovation fuelled by different perspectives. More black women taking up space in STEM is directly proportional to the social and economic development of nations. Women’s experiences—along with men’s experiences—should inform and guide the direction of STEM innovation.
How can we attract more women to consider a career in the STEM fields?
The lack of women in STEM fields is a complex, multifaceted issue that requires more than diversity hiring. There is need for persistent, long-term action in order to see results. Organisations need to create multi-year plans with publicly declared goals in order to demonstrate their commitment to diversity and hold themselves accountable to their stated objectives. Modern hiring processes that do not require women to discuss their personal lives, which can include plans to have children increase hiring bias. Such implicit biases are embedded in many job descriptions, interview questions, and interviewer attitudes.
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?
The world is waiting for what YOU have to offer. Only you and your set of skills and unique view of the world can deliver it. There is space for everyone in this field, especially you.
You will strive and succeed. You will find yourself in rooms with smart, highly qualified and enigmatic people, remember, you deserve to be there. Breathe, relax, network. You have a lot to offer.
When faced with a tough life/career decision, do not run polls but instead search within you. Trust your intuition. You cannot ask people for directions to places they have never been – your vision and dreams.
Mistakes are not career or life defining, they are the learning curves that you rise from with more self-awareness and confidence. Never ever downplay your achievements and when you feel like you’re doing a lot, do a little more.
When not working, what do you do for fun?
I travel often within Africa, which has become quite complicated with Covid-19 restrictions. Luckily, I got vaccinated on my last trip to Zimbabwe and look forward to the world achieving herd immunity and the opening of many sectors including travel. I’m my happiest with my Airpods in, dancing along to my favourite Afrobeats or Zimabwe Dancehall songs. I love listening to intelligent black women speak on podcasts or narrate their audio books, black women are my favourite genre and I dare say, religion.
My favourite thing to do is stretch out on my yoga mat mostly as an excuse to bask in the sun.
Ask me again in a few months and I will probably be chasing whatever new interest makes my heart happy. I am the king of self-indulgence.
@ScientistEmmie on all platforms