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SA: Pandor: Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, at the NACI symposium on the leadership roles of women in science, technology and innovation, Pretoria (13/08/2010)

13th August 2010

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Date: 13/08/2010
Source: The Department of Science and Technology
Title: SA: Pandor: Address by the Minister of Science and Technology, at the NACI symposium on the leadership roles of women in science, technology and innovation, Pretoria


Prof Mazwi-Tanga, Chairperson of the SET for Women Committee of NACI;

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Members of the NACI Council;

Members of the SET for Women Committee;

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Distinguished guests

 

It's a pleasure to welcome you to this National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) symposium on the leadership roles of women in science.

 

In June this year I attended the TWOWS Fourth General Assembly and International Conference on Women Scientists in a changing world, in Beijing, where hundreds of women scientists from over 80 countries deliberated on challenges and presented a wide variety of research projects and findings.

 

I'm therefore encouraged to see a Beijing type of gathering by women scientists in South Africa today. I am pleased that NACI is taking a leading role in alerting South Africa to the work we need to do to increase success and participation by women scientists.

 

There are two points that I want to highlight this morning.

 

First, South Africa has done very well in expanding the access of women to education at all levels of the system. In higher education, women are a majority but they are not a significant presence in science and engineering.

 

However, the thing is that women stick to traditional subjects and shy away from science and technology. According to university records, women continue to largely pursue studies in the ‘traditional' disciplines - humanities, social sciences.

 

In fact, the greatest gender imbalance is in engineering and engineering technology where only one in four students is a woman.

 

The second observation is that despite the increased access, a great number of students don't graduate.

 

Nearly 6 in 10 of first-year students who entered university in 2000 had dropped out of the system in four years. Female students constitute more than half of this group. Even more distressing African female students constitute 7 in 10 of this female student group.

 

Last weekend the Sunday Times <http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/article591791.ece/SA-brains-choose-dosh-over-degrees> ran with a story about our future knowledge economy. Its thrust was that our knowledge economy was in peril, because our doctoral graduate numbers were too low.

 

We are not, it says, going to reach our target of 3,000 PhDs a year in science, engineering and technology by 2018. Why? Because there were only 1,182 PhD graduates in 2008, and only 575 (less than half) were in the SET sector.

 

Some academics call the target a ‘tragic fantasy'.

 

The journalist did not stop there. He went further. Not only were the numbers too low, but half the black PhDs were not even South Africans. They were from other African countries. The data apparently created the "illusion of transformation".

 

Now let's take a closer look at what appears to be a case of academic xenophobia.

 

This is old news <http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20100219145415434> . The Council on Higher Education released these statistics at the beginning of the year.

 

But more importantly it is our explicit policy to encourage students from the SADDC region and the rest of Africa to study in South Africa.

 

While we encourage foreign doctoral candidates here, there is an equal if not larger outflow of South African doctoral candidates abroad. Those figures are not counted by those who argue for academic xenophobia. Furthermore they fail to acknowledge the fact that almost all countries encourage foreign PHD students.

 

For example, one in four doctoral candidates in Sweden is a foreigner and this fact is regarded in a positive light by Swedish universities. Why? The answer is because most of them continue to live Sweden after graduation. They want the best candidates and they make it known that foreign students are most welcome. A similar number of foreign doctoral students study in Norway. In fact, foreigners are essential to beef up their numbers in maths, the natural sciences and technological studies.

 

Our major concern at the moment is that we do not have enough supervisors with PhDs in our universities. We are going to tackle this issue and we anticipate being able to announce some funded plans in the near future.

 

It is well known that American research universities are world leaders in science and technology. They have long trained cohorts of Indian and Chinese PhD students. While many of these students remain in America, there has been a recent trend for return to their home countries. There, of course, they are not lost to the country where they trained. They play an essential role in global research and development, which is increasingly outsourced to developing countries. There is a global academic culture in which most top scientists no longer live and work in the countries of their birth.

 

It is clear from experience elsewhere that we can do better on gender equity in the science and technology sector.

 

Gender equity in education and employment is easier to achieve in a post-industrial economy than in an industrial economy.

 

Industrial occupational structures were divided into "male jobs" and ‘female jobs" with those professions requiring technical skills being largely the preserve of males.

 

With the growing importance of knowledge-based occupations - the legions of lawyers, doctors, and managerial professionals - women find it easier to fit in.

 

The services industry is a case in point, where we see more women entering the management professions and occupying high-level positions.

 

This trend is also more evident in universities and certain sections of the business sector where women in science have achieved leadership positions.

 

Allow me, now, to touch briefly on the matter that has brought us to this symposium that is the "Principles and Good Practice Guidelines for enhancing women's participation in STI", in particular in leadership roles.

 

NACI's "Good Practice Guidelines", which I launch today sets out three major assertions/demands.

 

The first call is for cross-sectoral principles to underpin gender equality across the SET sector.

 

By this is meant equal opportunity, commitment to transparency and the attentive mapping of women's needs and priorities.

 

You as leaders and senior managers in the STI environment should become champions of gender equity policies in your respective spheres of influence.

 

These principles call for reviews of gender equity policies in the STI sector, with respect to recruitment, retention and advancement of women and the development of reliable and valid indicators.

 

These principles call for a safe and healthy work environment, in particular sensitivity to the effects of hazardous environments on women. They also advocate safety equipment and clothing and provision of appropriate facilities.

 

The second demand is for workplace principles.

 

Women in the STI experience a range of gender-specific challenges including gender stereotyping, lack of flexibility options for women, unequal remuneration, gender insensitive communication, sexual harassment and lack of mentorship.

 

I hope that these guidelines will promote a change in the psyche and culture of the sector and resources that assist in creating an environment that will support increased access and success are vitally necessary.

 

The third assertion is for principles that address re-entry into the workplace after a career break, more specifically the introduction of re-entry programmes and support for potential re-entrants.

 

These should include child-care facilities and flexible options for nurturing mothers who are employed in positions that require them to be relatively mobile.

 

Successful implementation of the guidelines requires a comprehensive review of existing policies and incentives to ensure that they are more effectively directed at ensuring success in achieving gender equity in STE.

 

In closing, I thank all of you for your participation in this symposium. I hope that it will give you all - business leaders, academics, women's associations in the STI and civil society - an opportunity to interact and discuss ways in which we can advance policy frameworks that are inclusive and supportive of women as participants in the STI.

 

I thank the National Advisory Council on Innovation which has already provided me with invaluable advice on gender policy.

 

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