With over 80% female staff, this biotechnology company is home to some of SA’s top female leaders in science
August is Women’s Month – a time in which we pay tribute to the generations of women whose struggles laid the foundations for the freedom and empowerment we enjoy today.
There is no doubt that women in South Africa have come a long way. Every year, on 9 August, we commemorate the 1956 march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, which saw 20 000 women present authorities with 100 000 signatures against the country’s pass laws.
During Women’s Month, we celebrate the strength and resilience of all women and their contribution to society and our country. Despite men and women having equal access to education and work opportunities, there are still several industries in SA that are largely dominated by men. One of those, is the science and technology industries.
While a lot is being done to advance women in sciences and to encourage young girls to take an interest in science, the South African science and technology industries are still largely lacking diversity. In March 2022 it was reported that only 7% of all engineers in South Africa are women. When it comes to empowering women and advancing their presence in particular industries, we often look to government for solutions. However, the reality is that a lot can be achieved when private companies take it upon themselves to hire and empower female staff.
Skin Rejuvenation Technologies (SRT), the company behind the renowned optiphi® skincare brand, is one such business. Boasting incredible female leadership, the team consists of more than 80% women, many of whom are in senior and managerial positions. Part of the Southern Group of Companies (a group of highly-advanced biotechnology companies), Skin Rejuvenation Technologies utilises the research and technology held by their sister companies to develop advanced formulations for their flagship product, optiphi® cosmeceutical skincare.
While SRT is celebrated for employing a majority female staff, the company places major emphasis on staff development, offering assistance to those who wish to further their studies and education. And their achievements are second to none – from award-winning products, to ground-breaking innovations and first-of-its-kind skincare launches, each of the women in this dynamic team form an integral part of the company. Despite the statistics, South Africa is home to amazing women in science, many of whom are responsible for innovative and cutting-edge skin care technologies. Developed locally, these products compete on an international level, often showcasing innovations that have never been seen before. SRT is lucky to have some of these women at the helm of their business.
Meet some of the amazing women behind optiphi® and Skin Rejuvenation Technologies:
Dr Xandra van Heerden, General Manager
It’s not often that a renowned bio-technology company is steered by a woman, let alone a young woman! At just 32 years old, Xandra is a true inspiration. At such a young age, her résumé rivals that of professionals twice her age: She has a PhD in Chemical Engineering, she is a former part-time senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria, and an R&D engineer. Xandra’s duties include managing the teams at SRT to ensure all processes run smoothly. Involved in all of the various departments within the company, her scientific background and problem-solving abilities have given her the unique skill set she needs to lead the team. Always up for a challenge, Xandra has embraced this opportunity and has, in a rather short time, already had major positive impact on SRT.
A dynamic team player with a wealth of knowledge, her ability to lead the team with forward and innovative thinking makes her invaluable (and in an industry that is ever-evolving, also critical!). Her impressive contributions to her industry and SRT have cemented a very bright future.
Danielle de Villiers, Group Business Development Manager
Danielle’s life-long fascination with science led to an Honours degree in Genetics and a Master’s degree in Medical Immunology. An experienced project manager, she works across all five biotechnology companies under the Southern Group of Companies portfolio in areas of product research, design and training.
Khilona Natha, Geneticist
Holding a Master’s degree in Forensic Genetics, Khilona works on the genetics aspect of optiphi®’s Helix Tests, which offer advanced DNA analysis, allowing consumers to understand their genetic predisposition and make healthy lifestyle choices based on those results. Her work involves researching and analysing genetic risks and tying these findings into product offerings.
Shalene Bothma, Research & Development Scientist
With an MSc Chemistry degree, Shalene, who is currently completing her PhD in Chemistry, plays a fundamental role in product development, ingredient research and product formulation. She is responsible for the research that goes into creating new products, testing their clinical efficacy and developing formulations.
Tebogo Bayi, Procurement Manager
Tebogo studied a BSc in Medical Sciences and an Honours degree in Human Cell Biology, qualifications that gave her a much deeper understanding of the items she works with. As Procurement Manager, Tebogo is responsible for sourcing and purchasing the raw materials, laboratory consumables and packaging required to bring optiphi® products to life.
Subashni Pillay, Group HR Manager
The glue that holds the Southern Group of Companies together, Subashni is the HR Manager for all 160 staff across the five companies. An example of the type of staff development encouraged by the company, Subashni recently completed her degree in Business Administration, with the bulk of her studies being done while working for the company.
This incredible team features diverse, intelligent and highly-qualified women, and SRT recognises the importance of nurturing and empowering their employees, not only for the greater good of the company, but also to inspire and help each team member grow as an individual.
At the heart of the company is a strong culture of upliftment and empowerment, with each woman in the team lending her expertise to her colleagues and offering support when needed. These women are so much more than their education and titles: they are an inspiration to one another, and to other women and young girls looking to upskill, or enter a field in the sciences. It is truly inspiring to see women break the mould and excel in fields that were traditionally dominated by men.
Looking back at the origin of Women’s Day, this is a real testament to what women can overcome.
Skin Rejuvenation Technologies takes a keen interest in the development and encouragement of young women and girls who are interested in entering scientific fields. They regularly invite high school learners to spend a few days job shadowing the various departments within the company, and offer bursaries and learnerships to encourage youth development. They also take on young science graduates in paid internship roles, allowing them to experience various fields of science to find their niche.
While there is still a way to go, it is inspiring to see the incredible progress that South African women have made in the fields of science and technology. It goes to show that with support and encouragement, women really can do anything.