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Sunday, December 5, 2021

#WomensMonth2021: Women Have Sharp Minds, Brilliant Leadership Qualities

ANDRE DAMONS|

IT IS time that women realise their brilliant leadership qualities. Women are more sensitive and intuitive and bring a different dimension of leadership to the workplace.

For Itumeleng Mabusa, analyst at the South African Doping Control Laboratory (SADoCoL) hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS), this is one of the ways to address the challenges that women still face. Mabusa believes the opportunities for women are not as prominent as it should be and believe that gender discrimination in the workplace still exists and should be addressed.

Mabusa, who has been a member of SADoCoL since April 2015, analyses urine samples from athletes to test for prohibited drugs in sports. Her day-to-day work involves sample extractions, running the extracts on analytical instruments such as the high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) or gas chromatography (GC) machines, and analysing the data to see if there are any performance-enhancing drugs that are prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Women still face the most discrimination in the workplace

According to her, women in South Africa and the world at large are still facing the most discrimination in the workplace. Women still have to fight to get their views across, and they are still not taken seriously because of patriarchal stereotypes. 

“In some corporate settings, women are still remunerated as well as men, regardless of both being in the same position and equally talented. It is hard enough to be equally recognised as a professional in your own field of expertise as a woman, which is exacerbated if you are a woman of colour. The other most pressing issue is the high prevalence of gender-based violence, with women holding the record for high incidents of violence against them,” says Mabusa.

Addressing the challenges

These challenges, says Mabusa, can be addressed by allowing women to do any job that a man can do. Women in leadership are often disregarded and their judgments are always questioned, she says. 

“There has to be more outreach programmes to teach young girls at a very young age that they can be leaders in absolutely any career they desire, from science, engineering, and aviation – to name but a few. Most importantly, leaders should groom the women in their organisations to one day take over the higher positions, and not always leave them for men.” 

“My opinion regarding issues of gender-based violence is that it must be addressed from an early age, in addition to teaching and preparing the girl-child to fend off danger. I think the boy child should also be empowered and taught to be self-sufficient, and not be egotistical, but respectful towards women of any age. Boys and girls should be groomed to be able to co-exist cohesively in a society where they both have equal chances of achieving greatness.” 

What is the most interesting thing to you in the field of anti-doping science?

As a WADA-certified scientist, Mabusa says the best and the worst part of her field is when she has to take part in external quality assessment scheme (EQAS). All the WADA-accredited laboratories in the world must take part in the analyses of the same samples three times a year at the same time. 

“These are both nerve-wracking and exciting all at the same time; it always reminds me of the feeling I used to get when I had to write final exams. I like comparing my statistical results with the rest of the world, for example finding out what quantitative concentration values and Z-scores the rest of the world obtained for their analysis compared to mine.” 

“It is also very interesting to find the scientific evidence and analysis you completed, led to the prosecution of an athlete due to an anti-doping rule violation. I also love doing scientific research and being able to share it with the rest of the world. Working with different analytical equipment and different software – from GC-MS and LC-MS to LC-UV – is exciting,” says Mabusa.  

Community value impacts life as a scientist and woman

Mabusa says as a woman, especially a black woman being given the chance to use her scientific skills as a WADA-certified scientist, it is an honour, as it gives everyone competing in sports in Africa a fair chance to compete. By testing these athletes, she explains, she is making sure that everyone plays fairly without their performances being influenced by any prohibited drugs. 

“Among the prohibited drugs are also drugs of abuse, including for example, cocaine and MDMA (ecstasy). By testing athletes for these drugs, I am helping the athletic community to try to stay off illegal recreational drugs.” 

Playing her part in the Olympics and coping with challenges

With the Olympic Games taking place between July and August, Mabusa says it is a great feeling to know that she is part of a team of scientists who are producing test reports that will ultimately determine whether tested athletes will be eligible or banned from representing their African countries at the Games.

According to her, they have a high volume of samples to analyse on a daily basis, because of all the sports competitions in South Africa and the continent in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics. 

Mabusa says the challenges associated with this work include the extremely strict rules of analysis, called the International Standard of Laboratories (ISL), set for all accredited laboratories to follow. The strict timelines that they all have to stick to in order to report the results to clients on time – no matter how many samples there are – is also a challenge. 

“This means analysing a large amount of data as accurately as possible in the shortest time I can. A skill I had to harness and embrace and learned to perfect over time, is the ability to pay very close attention to detail; this comes in handy when dealing with analytical work.” 

“There is also countless paperwork to fill in in order to follow a chain of custody for a sample. Each and every step gets recorded, from sample reception all the way to reporting; paying attention to detail comes in quite handy through all this,” says Mabusa.

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