Manglin Pillay, the CEO of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering, says politicians have shown a 'brazen disregard' for all warnings. Picture: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE
Manglin Pillay, the CEO of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering, says politicians have shown a 'brazen disregard' for all warnings. Picture: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE

The board of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice) has accepted an apology from its CEO over his recently published sexist comments.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, after an emergency board meeting, the industry body said Manglin Pillay would remain CEO despite the criticism leveled against his problematic views, as it could not "ignore his invaluable contribution to Saice and to the broader engineering sector over the past eight years".

In the opinion piece carried in the July edition of the Civil Engineering magazine, Pillay dismissed the challenges faced by women in the engineering industry and other workplaces, such as unequal pay. Although SA is one of the most unequal countries in the world in terms of income and wealth, with women bearing the brunt due to structural discriminatory patterns, Pillay sought to blame women for their misfortunes in the article.

He said the reason women earn less than their male counterparts was due to "more sophisticated" reasons than male dominance, patriarchy and oppression of women. He wrote that it was, instead, life choices, age, work-life balance and flexibility that influenced the disproportion.

The board meeting was convened after industry stakeholders, including the UCT engineering department, female engineers and Science and Technology Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, among others, hit back at Pillay for his sexist, stereotypical stance, while some said he should be sacked for the remarks.

On Wednesday, Saice said it regrets the publication of Pillay’s article and additional steps would be enforced internally to prevent such from happening again. Pillay’s views in the contested article also go against existing research on the reasons women are underpaid and overlooked for top positions.

In PwC’s July report on executive pay, women were found to earn less than men in all major sectors, with the gap among executives ranging from 5% to 10%. Women also made up only 13% of all top management positions in the country, according to the Employment Equity report.

On more men occupying high-profile executive posts than women, Pillay said it was "not because of gender, but because of appetite for workload and extreme performance requirements at that level, choosing what is important and where to allocate time". He said the reason why women weren’t occupying the positions was because they "choose" to have flexibility and to dedicate themselves to family and raising children.

Contrary to Pillay’s problematic views, a recent study by the UN agency, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on what women want in the workplace, showed that women across the globe preferred to work in paid jobs and also care for their families. The data showed that 70% of all women, including South Africans, regardless of employment status, prefer to work in paid jobs.

Pillay’s comments come as a slap in the face of women who took to the country’s streets during the #TotalShutDown marches last Wednesday against all forms of abuse and marginalisation of vulnerable groups, including women.

The Saice board has described Pillay’s views as "derogative and patronising". Part of the resolutions made at the emergency board meeting on Wednesday was to intensify initiatives to redress gender and diversity issues within the engineering sector.

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