Chemistry Women’s Day Brunch 2022

31 Aug 2022
Women at Chemistry brunch
31 Aug 2022
Women attending brunch

The Department of Chemistry hosted an inspirational Women’s Day brunch on Friday 26th of August - celebrating women in science and the department of Chemistry in particular.  The Chemistry boardroom was transformed into a beautiful space with wonderful food, drinks, lucky draw prizes and even a photo booth!  In addition to this inaugural brunch, the department also hosted a women’s month charity drive where they collected toiletry items for Ons Plek – a child and youth care centre. This departmental initiative is aimed at connecting the department with the community and to have a positive impact on society.

Food for brunch

HOD Professor Anwar Jardine welcomed everyone to the event and commented that it was important to celebrate Women’s month and women who across the ages have bravely marched against the government, who often bear the brunt of conflict in the world and go to great lengths to feed and educate their children.  He said it is fitting that the UN recognised the importance of women and bringing attention to the plight of women globally.  Bringing the issues of women close to home at UCT, Prof Jardine said that it is important to remove the bias in the world of science where only 28% of the workforce in STEM and science are women.   He also challenged the participants to raise sons who are respectful towards women.

Guest speakers

Megan Becker, Dalielah Jappie and Chanell Marthinussen

Guest speakers from Unilever and a medical doctor were also invited to the event. Dr Chanell Marthinussen, a medical doctor and founder of The F-word – a company that sells silicone menstrual cups and aims to encourage women to become more comfortable with speaking about their period and reproductive health.  Chanell captivated the audience with her story of the power of dreams and freedom and finding her niche in the world.  Despite the many challenges she faced, both personal and academic, she continued to persevere and remain positive. She attended UCT Shawco Saturday school and worked extremely hard at her academics, to fulfil her dream of becoming a medical doctor.   Chanell highlighted the need to be free to dream – even the things that seem impossible; being free to stand out (because there is only one of you) and to feel the freedom where she talked about the freedom cup she has designed for women with her business which aims to have conversations openly and not think it is taboo.

Next up in the line-up of inspirational speakers was Megan Becker, a Research and Development manager at Unilever who flew down from Durban specially for the event.  Megan, a Chemical Engineer who completed her studies at UCT spoke about the theme of Fluid.  She noted how life is constantly changing and shared 3 of her life hacks – adaptability, courage and curiosity. Her first point was the need for adaptability and compared this to a river which runs through a landscape and finds ways to get to the ocean despite obstacles.  Megan shared her challenging journey at UCT and how despite being a top performer at school, in her second year at university she was barely passing and was on the brink of giving up, when she was approached by a complete stranger who told her that she needed to persevere with what she was struggling with.  She realized she had to do things completely differently and ended up getting the highest mark in the class for a subject that most people failed – and this was a turning point for her.  On completion of her engineering degree she ventured off to Sasolburg, far from family and friends, where nothing quite went according to plan but she persevered through challenges and despite the predominantly male environment who initially judged her – they ended up respecting her. 

Her second pointer was about courage, something she had a great deal of working as a female in a male dominated world.  She challenged the audience to be first so that they can unlock the potential for other women.  Megan was the first in many areas of her life:  first female engineer in her community and the first female in her family to move out of Cape Town.  Soon after getting married she accepted a new job offer in a different town and found out soon thereafter that she was pregnant – facing so much change, which was repeated two years later when she moved to Durban to a new job with Unilever.  Megan stressed the need to have the courage to be one’s authentic self in the workplace, recognising the unique qualities each of us brings to the workplace.

The third life hack Megan spoke about was the need for curiosity and she shared how interesting things happen when we are curious and start asking questions.  Here Megan spoke about how she taught herself Visual Basic programming language.  She shared how you don’t know where your curiosity will end up - it could be a gentle stream of a big waterfall!

Megan’s final words to the audience were about the things that hold us back- anger, guilt, jealously and greed. She encouraged the audience to forgive others, be generous in sharing information/ ideas; celebrate the success of others; share experiences with others and take others along on the journey.

Saaliha Essack, and Barbara Lack joined the conversation online from Unilever in Durban. Barbara, an R&D Director, shared about the importance of never giving up and what it truly means to be resilient. She spoke about finding your fit and striving forward with excellence. As a fellow chemist at heart, she inspired the audience by sharing her journey which helped her find new meaning and appreciation for learning through failure and advised the audience to learn to find a way to flow around problems. She went on to remind everyone that as women, we are never alone.  

Saaliha who is the R&D for skin cleansers and works with differently abled customers and asked how we co-create and serve the underserved consumer.  As a chemist she has a passion for designing and developing products from scratch and says she really enjoyed lab work.  However after the birth of her first child who was born blind, she had to stay positive and she decided she would be the best Mom she could be to her daughter – and she described her courageous and determined journey of perseverance – to give her daughter an education, even though it came at a huge personal cost to herself, having to drive approximately 300km every day to get her daughter to school.  Saaliha described the importance of balancing work and home life and learning how to live life differently, while still staying positive.  Testament to her determination and perseverance is that her daughter is currently in matric and that Saaliha is raising her as independently as possible.  She challenged the audience to reach for success and persevere in doing what you need to do, living life with purpose and making the impossible possible, by taking one small step at a time to get to the goal.

Women's day event organisers

Event organisers Dr Dalielah Jappie, Dr Roxanne Mohunlal and Ms Laa-iqa Rylands

The students and staff who attended the brunch lapped up every word of the speakers who spoke so inspiringly of their challenges and successes in reaching for the stars in pursuing their goals.

Congratulations to the Chemistry Transformation and Marketing committee, Dr Dalielah Jappie, Dr Roxanne Mohunlal and Ms Laa-iqa Rylands for organising the event.  Sponsors of the event were the Department of Chemistry, Unilever, Mantelli’s and Bloom by Meredith