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Women in STEM: Meet Prianka Padayachee

The fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have historically been skewed towards the male gender. Women make up only 23% of STEM talent globally. In mining, just over 20 years ago, women weren’t allowed to work underground. Today they’re blasting through the proverbial glass ceiling to carve out a niche for themselves in production-critical roles. And they’re more than holding their own.

A perfect example of how women are excelling in this field is Prianka Padayachee. Prianka is a professional mining engineer-in-training at our South African coal business where she heads up a production section at our Zibulo mine. With a BSc in Mining Engineering from Wits under her belt, she was the first woman to chair the Wits Mining School Council. She has since gone on to further her qualifications in explosives engineering.

Prianka is a vocal advocate of mentorship for young women pursuing careers in mining, having gained first-hand experience of its benefits through our coal business’s long-standing mentorship programme. She feels the female element has a huge role to play in furthering STEM fields.

“The world’s challenges and opportunities can’t be tackled from a male view alone, and women bring with them a necessary advantage. Creating gender diversity helps companies evolve. If we fail to include more women in the science and technology sectors, we may miss out on untapped potential and perhaps never discover the next Marie Curie, who against the toughest odds, became the only person ever to receive a Nobel prize in two different sciences.”

Sharing experiences 

Now, a mentor herself, she is particularly passionate about woman-to-woman mentorship. While some might find this a different kind of gender bias, for her, it’s about shared experiences, sharing life skills and nurturing the added emotional intelligence it takes to succeed as a woman in a male-dominated field. “I’m not saying that male mentors are not skilled at providing mentorship, they most definitely are. The truth is that women engineers can relate to other women engineers who face - or have faced - similar challenges in their careers.”

By sharing their personal journeys, she believes, young women can visualise the path to high achievement and are likely to believe that it is possible for them to succeed.

“Seeing is believing. It is how we use these personal interactions to inspire a passion for a future not previously considered.”

Technology is making it easier than ever to connect with women from anywhere in the world at any time. Prianka cites online talks, face-timing, and communicating via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat as invaluable channels through which mentors can reach young women.

“As women pursue STEM careers, more and more young girls will see career opportunities open to them and are able to seize them. The more women in the field, the more young girls will understand how much they can offer the world.”

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