In an article in the June edition of Civil Engineering magazine titled “Out on a Rib”, Pillay claimed investment in women in the field needed rethinking because they were more predisposed to work in caring and people-oriented careers.
Pillay quoted a study by Leeds Beckett School of Social Sciences and the University of Missouri which said that women at a certain age “prefer to work part-time or dedicate themselves completely to child rearing or pursuing other meaningful exploits generally related to caring”.
He further wrote that in cases where women and men do the same amount of work but are not paid equally, it was because women are “agreeable”. “Stop being agreeable when negotiating pay,” he said.
Following the uproar over his comments, Pillay apologised. The SAICE has accepted his apology and said he could keep his position.
After the article was published, the SAICE board held an emergency meeting to discuss the matter.
SAICE president Errol Kerst said: “While the publication of Pillay’s article was unfortunate, we cannot ignore his invaluable contribution to SAICE and 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.
“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 SAICE had initially distanced the institution from the article.
Pillay has been forgiven despite pressure from WomEng, a lobby organisation for women engineers that has started an online petition demanding that he be fired for his discriminatory views to set an example for other men in the industry. The petition has been signed by nearly 1400 people.
Reacting to Pillay being forgiven, WomEng said: “SAICE has let the engineering fraternity down by its failure to take action against him and his openly discriminatory rhetoric. Valuing the contribution that Pillay has made to SAICE in the past over the grave damage he has done with his current commentary has exposed just how deep the sexism and misogyny within the industry is embedded.”
Consulting firm Aurecon has also written an open letter to SAICE slamming Pillay. In the letter, Aurecon managing director Ferdi Nell said: “We believe the article published under your organisation’s name is extremely damaging to our reputation as engineers and is also insensitive to the ongoing challenges that women engineers face. The article stereotypes women by presenting them as soft and caring, yet ultimately ill-suited for roles that are technically and managerially demanding.
“It also stereotypes men who by implication are presented as less caring and less suitable for parenting or people-oriented careers. It justifies unequal pay, despite codes and legislation prohibiting discriminatory practices in the workplace.
“We are worried that so few females are involved in STEM in South Africa and the broader African continent. Based on our experience and as research shows in many organisations, a more diverse workforce results in more creativity, a broader perspective on potential solutions and excellent technical outcomes. As a profession and industry, we should be doing all that we can to increase the number of women, and many other people who have been previously excluded from STEM, by making STEM more attractive.”