Sasol civil engineering

Women in STEM: Sasol’s Anthea Dennis’ journey to a career in civil engineering

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Anthea Dennis has had a passion for mathematics and understanding how the physical world works since she played with Lego as a child. That fascination with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has inspired a career at Sasol, where she is an engineering lead for Sasol Secunda Operations.

ALSO READ: Embrace your future with the Sasol Bursary Programme

But her path to her current role in civil engineering was far from linear. Dennis says she always knew she would pursue a career in STEM, but her initial dream was to become a pilot. When she commenced her studies at University of Johannesburg, she started out with plans to major in electrical engineering and IT before switching to civil engineering.

Math is for everyone 

It’s a change she has never regretted. Dennis, who grew up in Eldorado Park, says she can thank her schoolteacher, father and her school for encouraging her interest in STEM-related fields. What’s more, her family and school never positioned mathematics as an esoteric or inaccessible field—Dennis learned from a young age that math could help everyone.

That’s not to say the journey was always easy. One barrier was a lack of access to people working in STEM and resources to get to grips with the many options in the field. Another was funding her studies. It was only halfway through her studies that she got a bursary at a company offering social support to the township school where her father taught.

Dennis says that at the time she studied, women were heavily outnumbered by men in engineering degrees. The ratio of men to women grew over the years as more women dropped out of studies than men. However, Dennis says that engineering is today an inclusive field that offers great opportunities for everyone.

The early years of a career in STEM can put one’s resilience and confidence to the test, says Dennis. It’s important not to get discouraged by negative feedback. Instead, it’s key to assess feedback to see if it’s constructive and offers a learning opportunity, or whether it can be discarded as simple negativity. “Emotional processing was as necessary as intellectual development,” Dennis says.

Find a purpose to guide your career 

Her advice to young women moving into STEM is to find a purpose to guide their journey and to understand what value they can bring to the world. Furthermore, it’s important to be curious, remain teachable and always be open to learning. Additionally, it’s important to build a personal and business network of peers, sponsors and mentors.

Dennis says that there’s a worrying dearth of mid-career and senior engineers to mentor young talent in South Africa. It’s important for young women entering the field to join a company with a strong intern or graduate development programme to give their careers a sound foundation, she adds.

After 10 years as a qualified civil engineer, Dennis is mentoring others at Sasol because she believes in paying it forward. She recently completed her Management Acceleration Programme at INSEAD and is a deeply engaged member of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) Highveld Branch.

Sasol, regarded as the employer of choice in the chemical and energy sector (as voted for by graduates in the SAGEA employer of choice survey), is inviting high-performing mathematics and science learners currently in Grade 12 to apply for all-inclusive bursaries to study engineering and science at approved public universities and universities of technology.

To apply:

Please note that applications close 27 May 2022.

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