In my special Women’s Month edition of #MindsoftheYouth, I caught up with Refilwe ‘Chichi’ Masia. Chichi is a breath of fresh air and a maverick.
I admire her confidence, fearlessness, honesty, love for family and friends. Her strong work ethic and her outlook on how women are striving to improve and shape Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) careers is commendable. Please take a few minutes and get to know her; you might learn a thing or two. See our conversation below.
Tell me about your upbringing and where you come from?
I was born and raised in Gauteng in Thembisa. I started my primary school at Isiziba and did my high school at Zitikeni. Looking back at my life, I had a happy childhood. I was that girl who was good academically since primary school and I had a great support system. I matriculated in the class of 2010 with 5 distinctions. This contributed in building my confidence and to be the woman that I am today.
To people who don’t know you, how would you describe yourself?
I am confident, loud, kind and easy to get along with. I am an advocate for justice and my friends think I am funny.
What did you study and where?
BEng Industrial Engineering and BEng Engineering and Technology Management Honours at University of Pretoria (UP).
What do you do for a living?
I am a Production Manager for cereals at Tiger Brands. I manage a production facility in the North West province. We produce four different types of cereals.
How does it feel to be a woman working in STEM careers?
It feels good because it was always my dream since high school. However, it has its challenges. As a woman I always find myself striving to over deliver to validate my space. There is some progress, but we need to transform and support more women in STEM careers. More work still needs to be done to transform work spaces. Many women are now studying towards STEM careers, but the absorption and retention of women is shockingly low. A lot of women end up changing careers because of the unfair treatment and this breaks my heart.
Before Covid-19 what were your plans and are you still pursuing them?
The goal was to finish my postgraduate research paper. I managed to do that, and I am graduating this year in September. Balancing work, doing the research paper and Covid-19 issues was challenging.
What’s your philosophy of life?
“If you want to take the island you need to burn the boats.”
This simply means that there is no retreat – conquer or be conquered. In whatever you do give it your all!
What is your most valuable asset?
The gift of good friendships. This is the space where I am fully myself.
What are you willing to struggle for?
I am willing to struggle for my mother and myself to live a comfortable and better life.
What did you enjoy in school and what were your favourite subjects?
I enjoyed Life Sciences and I was obsessed about Mathematics. I enjoyed going to school it was a safe space for me. I also loved being around my friends.
What are you most proud of in your life thus far?
Me and my friends developed an App called ShareOpps while at UP. ShareOpps was shortlisted in the Top 5 MTN Business App of the year Awards under the Best Solution by Women in STEM category. ShareOpps is a unique mobile app that functions as a platform where students and industry can connect through the sharing of opportunities. It is a marketplace platform that aims to conveniently and reliably connect students to industry opportunities such as bursaries, scholarships, internships etc.
To you what does it mean to be a woman in this modern age?
Being a woman, to me, means being unapologetically myself in day-to-day things I do. It means having the choice to be bold and to speak up, advocating for myself and other women. It’s a privilege that I don’t take for granted. I will forever be grateful to women who came before me, who fought for all the privileges and freedom I enjoy today as a woman. While remembering that across the globe women still have a long way to go to achieve equality in all parts of life.
It’s also about being multifaceted. Rejecting the idea that womanhood is one dimensional. The way I show up to the world will always be varied and nuanced.
What’s your quake book?
All About Love: New Visions by Bell Hooks. The book discusses aspects of love in modern society. I highly recommend it.
Do you have a favourite quote?
“You owe your dreams your courage” – Koleka Putuma