Despite many reports to the contrary, there are many accomplished young women with successful careers in male-dominated STEM fields, many of them doing so while navigating significant financial obstacles, raising children and often lacking professional support.
This powerhouse of a South African (SA) scientist is working towards her PhD at the Global Change Institute at Witwatersrand University, is the founder and CEO of Black Women in Science (BWIS) and the 2002 winner of the Gagasi FM Shero Award in the Science and Technology category.
“The number one thing young aspirational African women should do is start with identifying who you are, what you are good at and how you interpret failure. It is a good start towards a successful science-based career” – Ndoni Mcunu
She should know as early on in her career she realised that the scientific industry is male-dominated and tough and needed a resilient personality, sometimes without the benefit of a mentor. She walked the route without someone advising her on her academic journey and also realised that there is a distinct lack of black women pursuing specialised sciences.
According to her, in an interview last year with News24, it is of the utmost importance to be able to “re-interpret failure for yourself and not make failure define you and to keep on trying even when you fail.”
She says that seeing the impact of her efforts on other young black women is motivation for her to keep on pushing the boundaries and overcoming the negatives. According to her experience the career obstacles women, (not only black women), in sciences face in SA is lack of financial support and female networking. Maintaining that women need more role models, she also advocates providing advice to younger scientists on how to deal with challenges on this rather rocky road.
Mcunu also highlighted the need for female professors and lecturers, labelling it “the leaking pipeline in the academia sector,” of which she has first-hand experience. Strong family support and exposure to science were the hallmarks of her decision to become a STEM scientist.
This is the main reason she decided to establish Black Women in Science (BWIS), a Fellowship delivering capacity development interventions specially targeting young black women scientists and researchers. Her hope is to change “how we practice science in academic institutions and see more women pursuing a career in science.”
She is also advising young female scientists to step outside their comfort zones and network, because in her opinion, science communication has been underplayed and is of crucial importance. “Young female scientists should ensure they are as relevant as possible” she advises.