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Gender prejudices threaten women in male-dominated fields

2021-01-20  Paheja Siririka

Gender prejudices threaten women in male-dominated fields
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TV personality and geologist, Selma “Tega” Usiku (34) said cultural stereotypes and gender prejudices unfortunately still threaten the participation of women in traditionally male-dominated fields such as geology, mining, and engineering.
Usiku was speaking to Youth Corner upon receiving news that Zonk Magazine, a South African publication identified her as an influential African woman to look out for in 2021 in the field of geology.

Usiku is an Exploration Geologist at Azinam Exploration Namibia, a leading independent South-Atlantic Margin Focused Oil and Gas Exploration Company, currently chasing enormous untapped hydrocarbon potential offshore in Namibia and South Africa.
She stated that in Namibia, only 21% of the human resources in the mining industry are women, and globally only about 10% of the workforce in the mining and energy sector are women.

“The issue of female underrepresentation in our industry, especially at the senior leadership level is something I am passionate about addressing. Unfortunately, there are still assumptions that gender issues lack relevance but we cannot ignore that there are several reasons why we still see few females pursuing careers in male-dominated fields,” shared Usiku.
She said a lack of visible role models, mentors and peers in the workplace, young girls often aspire to be an example of what they see and that affects their performance in general.

She said: “I think the single most influential factor that led to my enrolling for a degree in Geology was the plea from former president Sam Nujoma to Namibian youth to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) related fields. This meant Namibians would be in a better position to participate in their country’s economic development. That was a powerful motivator for me, especially as a woman.”

“Socially constructed stereotypes regarding the “dirty”, “physically demanding” and “rough” nature of jobs in the industry make it appear unsuitable/ unappealing for women. Also, from an education perspective, STEM focus and gender stereotypes that boys perform better at math and science and technical fields which often discourages young girls to participate,” commented Usiku, who has a Bachelor’s Degree in Geology and Environmental Science from Rhodes University in South Africa and a Master’s Degree in Petroleum Geoscience from the Royal Holloway University of London in the UK.

Moral support from family is something she is appreciative of, something that many don’t have access to sometimes. “Thankfully, my family and circle of friends have always been very encouraging of my career choice and are always happy to lend a hand when the work-life balance becomes challenging. Throughout my career so far, I have also been so privileged to have worked with and been under the tutelage of open-minded and extremely supportive male colleagues, who allow me to flourish as an equal,” narrated Usiku.

For a physically small person like herself, she said working on an offshore drilling rig for the first time seven years ago was initially a daunting and intimidating experience, being only one of two females on a vessel with over 80 men. 
“Despite feeling voiceless and inadequate at times, I simply grasped the opportunity with both hands, rolled up my sleeves and worked hard, letting my technical ability do the talking,” reminisced Usiku.

She added: “That is the kind of proactive attitude I encourage all women to have regardless of their work environment or position. Traditionally, leadership roles aren’t automatically handed to women, one has to be willing to work in a team and address the limitations we set on ourselves; don’t wait to be given opportunities but work towards getting a seat at the table, based on individual merit and be heard when we are there.”
Usiku urged girls and women to explore and develop their natural abilities and interest as often as possible because pursuing a career or starting a business in-line with the things brings you a sense of pride and happiness is a key ingredient to their success.

“Don’t be afraid to seek mentorship from women who have overcome all odds to make their mark, who uncompromisingly commit to maintaining the integrity of their work and who are confident in their ability to succeed, even if they are not in your industry,” she hinted.

2021-01-20  Paheja Siririka

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