This series 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.
Regina Mtonga-Mantina is one of three founding members of Asikana Network which is a nonprofit in Zambia that encourages women’s interest and engagement in STEM, with a particular focus in Technology. Regina works in the technological part of science and is an independent consultant in the field.
Phro: Tell me about your background in Science. How did you get exposed to it and what encouraged you to pursue it?
Regina: At some point in primary school, my father came home with a computer that run on DOS. My curiosity was officially peaked. I had very little exposure to technological sciences as a child, but my parents ensured that their children received exposure to other forms such as environmental sciences all the time. I believe my lack of ample exposure to technology had a role to play in who I became. I had no role models in this field and I wanted to see more of ME. Even if it meant creating more of me.
Phro: What were your expectations/fears (if any ) when you entered the workplace for the first time as a woman scientist? And are you constantly aware of your gender when in your spaces of work?
Regina: My fears: people won’t take me seriously, I will fumble it all up. Some of my fears were realised. But soon after I learned there are many women willing to be helpful in this line of work, they’re just not praised enough. I feel I am constantly aware of my gender. It used to be a barrier until I realised how powerful this made me and how I could use this to my advantage. I’ve used my gender to my advantage by realising that men will assume, after seeing a woman in certain positions, that the deal is theirs. I like the element of surprise towards a man as he realises I can do the tech job just as well as him, even better at times.
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?
Regina: My work is my life. In as much as I have a private life, which I value very much, the work I do with the organisation (Asikana Network) is very much a part of who I am and therefore I cannot say it’s always just a job.
Phro: Women drop out of STEM fields at an alarming rate. What do you think causes this?
Regina: I have witnessed the drop out by observing friends. I believe a series of reasons causes this behaviour; lack of self esteem in one’s ability to keep going, family/peer pressure to get a ‘easier’ job, delusions that one will become a millionaire or the next Mark Zuckerburg within a short period of time, not knowing why or how you entered the field to begin with. Those are a few of the main ones.
Phro: Some women scientists have stated publicly that 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?
Regina: I absolutely agree. Why must I be the best in a women’s category and be applauded only for that? I want to be best OVERALL. If the world truly wants us to be competitive, set us up with the boys too. Are these awards useful? Yes. They give a woman some sense of accomplishment. However, you can’t always only win against your own kind, you must venture out.
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?
Regina: Firstly, preservation preservation preservation. Society has a duty to preserve our stories for the next generation. This will ensure our work is not lost. The girl child learns mostly by seeing, as such, society needs to ensure more role models exist and function for the purpose of leading the young ones. Only when younger women see the success and benefits of being in this field first hand will they act and begin to pursue an interest in it.
Thank you Regina for taking the time to do this interview!
More stories coming up next week!