One of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffett, tells a story of his two sisters, who he explains were as intelligent as he was and equally driven but denied the opportunities that made him a wealthy man. He pointed out, “If I’d been a female, my life would have been entirely different’. And how right he was about winning the “ovarian lottery”.
It is time to go beyond ensuring equal access to recognising and elevating women as agents of economic growth, stability and sustainability, and for men to work with women to accelerate progress toward gender equality. Cipla acknowledges women.
You Inspire Me Campaign
From becoming head girl at school, being accepted at UCT’s medical faculty to representing South Africa at the Miss World beauty pageant while studying to become a doctor – Dr Dhiveja Smith has never let anything stop her. It was her time as Miss SA that led to Dhiveja becoming a TV presenter, first for Eastern Mosaic and then Top Billing. But by 2010 she realised if she didn’t return to the medical field she may never go back. “This meant doing my internship and community service and when it came to choosing between medicine and television, medicine won the day.
Practicing a different kind of medicine
Unlike most newly qualified doctors Dhiveja was drawn to the corporate world, first working in public relations, and then joining Cipla. “This was a great opportunity to experience the corporate side of medicine. What particularly appealed to me was Cipla’s commitment to providing affordable access to medicines to as many people as possible. “Studying medicine prepares you for real-life experiences, which became even clearer in the corporate environment. Spending a large part of my studies interacting with patients, seeing the difference you can make to lives gives you a special insight to people.
“Although the corporate world has its challenges, the biggest learning has been working with so many different types of people with incredible experience who add tremendous value to the business. Everyone, regardless of colour, race or culture adds something worthwhile.”
The changing face of Cipla
“Corporate pharmaceutical companies are trying hard to change from the traditional white, male dominated leadership. Cipla is inclusive from a diversity and gender perspective, and hopefully this will continue in the senior to upper management positions. The combination of long term and new employees adds value to the company, even with the graduate programme. They all help to promote new ideas and find the best way forward.”
Zethu Mkhondweni is an admitted attorney with many years of experience gained from private practice and other corporate entities. Joining Cipla meant she was accepting a new challenge in the pharmaceutical industry. “Working in Cipla’s legal department means each day is different. On a typical day, I might be working on anything from contract drafting, advertising campaigns, consumer law, competition, employment, dispute resolution as well as assisting anyone who comes to my desk with a “quick question”. The experience is tremendously enriching; the learning never stops. “What I love is the unpredictability of my role, as well as having leaders and stakeholders who really support and challenge me to grow. There’s also a fair share of pressure, responding to urgent matters and putting out fires.”
“It’s no secret that the legal profession has low female representation, but this is changing gradually. At Cipla, both in Africa and in India, most of my colleagues in the legal department are female. This shows that the company is committed to gender transformation. I love that I’m at the forefront and amongst other females who are trusted with this responsibility.”
“Other companies can learn from Cipla. I believe it depends on the attitude of the leadership – whether they trust women to do the job. My role has given me hope that things are changing for the better for women.“
It was another two weeks before Olwethu got a call from someone who was interested in recruiting her for the Graduate Programme in a role she could fill. “I was so excited to be working in my field for Cipla.
“The job market is really hard for graduates, as even though they may have the right qualifications it often comes down to experience. More programmes like this are needed to give graduates practical work experience and opportunities to kickstart their careers.”
Another difficulty for graduates is that job adverts will often stipulate a specific language or ownership of a car as an essential criteria, which takes many out of the running. “The job search can be frustrating and disheartening. I’m one of the lucky ones and the first prize for me would be a permanent position. It’s also inspiring to work in a company where you can see women of colour getting ahead.”
Women in Science
Women are powerfully selfless. Investing in a girl has social and economic returns that go beyond her, extending not only to her family and future children, but also to her community. We must harness, guide, mentor and strengthen our young girls to find their strengths and help them navigate the hurdles along the way. My message to young girls is to remember that they will be the scientists and leaders of the future. The very present and very future of the planet could be in their hands. Success comes with patience, commitment, dedication, passion and hard work. As a woman, we do sometimes have to work much harder and certainly much smarter, but know that as a woman our success and our strength makes a difference to a legion of lives!
I remember my first job at 19, I was working on those green terminal computers, trying to merge customer information of two companies after a merger acquisition. I found it fascinating that the two sets of data became one customer record. I documented details such as how many collective customers we had, their age ranges, locations and gender. Little did I know that this is what we would now call “customer segmentation”. This project started my love affair with data.
Since then my desire to expose more young girls to tech or the STEM field, a lot earlier than their secondary or tertiary education, has been a driving force. The change needs to take place way before the neural pathways have been formed and for that to happen, the introduction has to take place during toddler/pre-school age. Our education systems have to change to include practical application and design/systems thinking, which would encourage our kids to broaden their thinking patterns and allow the transition from tertiary education into the professional arena to be less of a leap.
I knew that I would pursue my studies and that it would be in the science field. It was an interaction with my family pharmacist that helped me decide which science field I would pursue. Watching him provide guidance to my dad on various health matters left an impression and is still one of my clearest memories of what made me pursue Pharmacy as a career.
Though it’s been many years since I wore a white coat and dispensed medicine, my pharmacy degree has taken me further than I could have imagined as a young 14-year-old girl.
A career in the sciences is limitless. I would encourage young girls and ladies to pursue a career in the sciences because of the direct and meaningful impact it has on your life and those you serve through your work.
There are very few careers that provide and require compassion and passion in equal measure like the Medical Sciences do; I have enjoyed all the challenges and opportunities it has blessed me with.
We have the odds stacked up against us as women even before we realise it. But I truly believe the world is our oyster no matter what race, sex or creed we may be. We have a God-given right to be and to achieve our purpose, so go out and do your best ladies. The world of science and its wonders awaits you.
My message to aspiring female scientists is to:
• Disrupt. Innovate. Lead
• Disrupt – Ask questions, don’t take no for an answer
• Innovate – Don’t be afraid to be creative
• Lead – Set your own path and inspire future generations
My advise to other women is to be conscious of your decisions and engagements in life, as your advice, guidance, and inspiration can be transferred to others unknowingly. Advocate to continuously learn within and outside the field so that your mark is magnified through helping others. Challenge the status quo respectfully in a manner that aims to promote equality. Change is inevitable and spearheading that narrative will give others the confidence to chase towards a fair and equitable environment.
Science has many opportunities, gain the experience in all facets to identify the gaps which you can fill that will be to the betterment of your community. Follow your passion and don’t be influenced by aspects that can deter you. And most importantly find a mentor who will allow you to fly. Read, learn, change.
1. The World Bank. The World Bank in Gender. Accessed online: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/gender/overview
2. Public Servants Association. Women and the workplace: Challenges of diversity and women progression. Accessed online: https://www.psa.co.za/docs/default-source/psa-documents/psa-opinion/women-and-the-workplace--challenges-of-diversity-and-women-progression.pdf?sfvrsn=18797042_1