Engineering CEO apologises, keeps his job

'While the publication of Pillay’s article was unfortunate, we cannot ignore his invaluable contribution to SAICE and to the broader engineering sector over the past eight years.' — Errol Kerst, SAICE president. (UCT)

'While the publication of Pillay’s article was unfortunate, we cannot ignore his invaluable contribution to SAICE and to the broader engineering sector over the past eight years.' — Errol Kerst, SAICE president. (UCT)

Manglin Pillay will remain CEO of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), the industry body said in a statement following an emergency meeting on Wednesday.

The SAICE board met to discuss Pillay’s comments in a column he authored. In the column “Out on a rib”, featured in the July issue of the civil engineering industry magazine, Pillay questioned whether there should be investment in attracting women to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, or investment in creating more gender equal societies.

He quoted a study by Leeds Beckett’s School of Social Sciences and the University of Missouri that women in gender-equal societies choose care or people-orientated careers, while men tend to choose careers that orient them to things and mechanics. He inferred that women prefer not to occupy high-profile executive posts, dedicating themselves to “more important enterprises, like family and raising children, [rather] than to be at the beck and call of shareholders”.

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SAICE apologised “unreservedly” for the article and the distress it caused. The board also accepted an apology from Pillay and said that processes were being implemented to deal with the matter internally.

“While the publication of Pillay’s article was unfortunate, we cannot ignore his invaluable contribution to SAICE and to the broader engineering sector over the past eight years.

“The board has accepted his apology and his acknowledgement of the public furore this has caused,” said Errol Kerst, SAICE president.

“The board regrets the publication of Pillay’s article. Additional steps have been put in place internally to ensure that this does not happen again.”

The board will establish an inclusive team to intensify existing initiatives to redress gender and diversity issues within the engineering sector, the statement read.

SAICE had initially distanced itself from the comments in a press release it issued on August 2. The body was criticised for the passive reaction by organisation WomENG, which advocates for women engineers. WomENG had issued an online petition calling for Pillay to be removed from his CEO position in an effort to set an example and send a message to the industry that discrimination would not be tolerated. By Wednesday morning the petition had over 1 100 signatures, co-founder Hema Vallabh told the media.

In an open letter to SAICE’s board, published on WomENG’s Facebook page, Vallabh and co-founder Naadiya Moosajee said that Pillay’s views could not be regarded as separate from the organisation he had been appointed to represent. The organisation further called out Pillay for using a platform given to him because of his role, to make “unfounded and irresponsible” remarks. 

Vallabh told the media that the lack of action by SAICE, and Pillay remaining at the helm of the industry body, was disappointing. “We incredibly disappointed at weak stance taken by SAICE. While we support their efforts to establish an inclusive team to intensify existing initiatives to redress gender and diversity issues within the engineering sector, we firmly believe that any efforts will be diluted as long as Manglin Pillay remains at the helm of the organisation.

“SAICE has let the engineering fraternity down by its failure to take action against him and his openly discriminatory rhetoric,” she said. Vallabh added that valuing the contribution Pillay made to SAICE over the damage done through his commentary exposes the “sexism and misogyny” within the industry. — Fin 24

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