Gaby Mudau is from Vuwani in Limpopo Province and currently resides in Balfour, Mpumalanga. She works at Karan Beef as a Technical Assistant and her duties include formulating product and material specifications and assisting in operational and product research. Gaby studied Bsc(agric) Agricultural Economics and Food Science from the University of Free State.
Phro: At what point in your life did you become interested in pursuing a career in Science?
Gaby: I grew up in the rural area of Venda in Limpopo so the only career opportunities I was ever exposed to were Medicine and Law which was something I never cared for. I got introduced to Food Science during my matric year and decided to pursue it simply out of curiosity as it was something I had never heard of.
Phro: Were you exposed to Science (outside of school curriculum) in any form growing up? E.g tv shows, cartoons, books, museums, activities
Gaby; No, I was never exposed to science outside of school curriculum. In retrospect, I was never properly exposed to science at school either as the majority of the curriculum in science involves practicals and our school didn’t have the resources for that. The first time I ever saw a test tube or titrator outside of a textbook was in varsity.
Phro: What were your expectations/fears (if any) when you entered the workplace for the first time as a woman scientist? Were your fears confirmed or challenged?
Gaby: I didn’t have any expectations I was just extremely glad that I had finally found employment as I had been unemployed for a year after graduating.
Phro: Would you say that your work is a job, something you do for a living that is separate from your life or is Science a significant part of who you are?
Gaby: I would say it’s a mixture of both. I am able to switch off completely after work but because I love product development, I go out to a lot of restaurants and try out food that I am unfamiliar with. I also enjoy going out to supermarkets and hunting for new products and dismantling it piece by piece from the packaging, ingredients, aroma, texture right down to the taste.
Phro: Are you constantly aware of your gender when in your spaces of work/study? Do you ever feel like it is a barrier for you or in how others treat you?
Gaby: Yes, I recently lost out on a job opportunity I really wanted because the employer decided to employ a man as the job required a lot of travelling and sometimes to remote areas and they felt a woman wouldn’t be able to cope.
Phro: Studies have shown that women drop out of STEM fields at an alarming rate. Have you witnessed this first hand? If so, what do you think causes it?
Gaby: Yes, there’s a lot of prejudice against women, especially black women. I find as black women, we have to work 10 times harder than our male and white counterparts to get the same recognition. I know a woman that left her job to become an air hostess because of the sexism she was faced with everyday at work, it had become unbearable for her.
Phro: Some women Scientists have stated publicly that they feel gender-based awards for Science give them special treatment and that they prefer to be judged on a level playing with all genders. Do you agree with this? Or do you think gender-based awards are useful?
Gaby: No, If we are to be judged on the same level with men, black women will never get the recognition they deserve because society will always choose men. So yes, they are useful, it gives women an opportunity to also be celebrated.
Phro: How can society do a better job of sharing the stories of women in Science and encouraging women and girls to pursue careers in Science?
Gaby: The first step would be for society to shift the way it thinks and realise that women, especially black women, are as smart as everyone, if not more. Equal pay for the same job would also be a great start.
The WISe project is a collection of interviews from women studying or working in Science. Please note it is open to all transwomen and non-binary persons too. If you would like to share your story please contact me here.