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Our financial industries are still very male and very white centric in posturing and languaging. The odds of finding people who look and have lived like me are few, let alone women who also speak my language. As I was thinking of July being National Savings month I realised that my relationship with money stems from my relationship issues with maths! One of my highschool maths teachers was… I’ll call him Mr Blue. One day during maths class Mr Blue felt the need to express his utter annoyance with what I can only assume he thought to be a stupid question that I had asked by banging his head against the board in a slow and painful death kind of way – much to the delight of some of my peers and the shock of others. Needless to say, from that day my fourteen year old self’s desire to understand and do well at maths were buried. 

Sadly, a lot of women of colour have been discouraged from fully exploring their relationship with maths by their own Mr Blue encounters. 

Thankfully our guest Lubalethu Dube, a two time UCT Actuarial Science graduate’s relationship with maths does not involve a Mr Blue archetype but what she clearly understands is the unfortunate frustration at the lack of representation and understanding why there is none. So in between work, studying for 10 out of the 12 required Technical Exams and living life Lubalethu also avails herself through her social media platforms. Before I giveaway our entire interview, here’s how it went down: 

Q. Lubalethu welcome to AoS and thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! Now before we get into the nitty gritty’s of your mathematical world, tell us a little about yourself. Where were you born, how many siblings do you have? 

Thank you for having me! I was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. And, I come from a family of three. I have two brothers. 

Q. What is your favourite childhood memory? 

Every morning before we went to school my mum would make us listen to Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston on repeat while we were getting ready. It is a beautiful song about loving yourself for who you are inside, believing in yourself and living in your truth. To this day when I find myself struggling with self doubt and feeling overwhelmed I go back to that song.

Q. Wow! That’s really beautiful. Can you remember the moment you knew you wanted to pursue a career in actuarial science?

I always knew I wanted to do mathematics for the rest of my life. It was something that genuinely came easy for me. My first thought was engineering but my father was an incredible engineer and I felt like that was his journey and not mine. Then my brother came home after his first semester at the University of Cape Town and said “I have figured it out you are meant to be an actuary.” I did some research and I too became sure that this was to be my path.

Q. Okay so Actuarial Science is the study of…who am I fooling. Please explain in layman’s terms what is Actuarial Science and since its National Savings month where/how does an actuary  fit in the financial world? 

Actuarial science is the field of study that applies mathematical and statistical techniques to assess and manage financial risk. 

Actuaries look at past experience, they incorporate their judgement as well as everything happening around them, this would include changes in interest rates or inflation rates and they use this information to try to ‘predict the future’. 

So because of the calculations we do people are able to for example take out a medical aid policy and transfer the risk of them winding up in hospital and incurring very high medical bills to their medical aid provider.

Traditionally actuaries work in different types of insurance, investments and pensions.

Q. Got it. So is there a demand for actuaries in South Africa and what steps does one need to take in order to become one?

There is a high demand for actuaries in South Africa. A survey was done at the end of 2021 and it found that of the population in South Africa, actuaries constituted less than 0.1%. It is said that the unemployment rate for a fully qualified actuary is 0%

I would say this is attributed to the difficulty in obtaining the qualification. In order to qualify to be an actuary one must complete 13 technical exams and complete the required work-based learning under the supervision of a mentor.

I myself have 3 technical exams left to complete and I can say so far the exams have been quite challenging. The content, however, is very interesting and applicable in the real world.

Q. What advice would you give to a young girl in high school who is thinking about getting into the field?

Studying actuarial science opens many doors. Others who have obtained the degree have moved on to pursue other less traditional career paths as the technical skills you obtain are valuable and transferrable. 

It is however a difficult career path to pursue. I would say don’t focus too much on the difficulty as challenges are a part of life. Focus instead on the journey –  what you will learn, what you stand to gain and the amazing doors this path can open for you. Overcoming those challenges will show you that you are more capable and deserving of this path than you previously thought.

If you enjoy mathematics and love problem solving, definitely consider it. Do the research. Ask for advice. I am always willing to answer anyone’s questions on my social media pages;

InstaGram: @lubadube_

Twitter: @luba_dube

YouTube: Lubalethu Dube 

Q. What surprised you about the student to professional transition? What advice/tips do you wish you had received in preparation for your transition? 

As a student your time is yours. You planned your day and worked around what worked best for you. Once you start working you have to be available at certain times off the day. You no longer own your time in the same way you did before. That took some adjusting.  

Another huge shift was that university is very individualistic, you do need to fit into the culture of your university to learn there, everyone is different and unique and it is not really questioned much. Companies however have cultures and it’s good to adapt to the culture while being true to who you are. I have always been very social and bubbly and I always feared that it would not be “accepted” in the field, I felt I had to tone it down. However, it’s something my colleagues really love about me. My way of adapting I guess would be not interrupting my colleagues every other second to ask them how their day is going and if they ever fixed the issue they had with their car. I try to keep those conversations for when we are all in a much more relaxed environment.

Q. The South African financial sector is a male dominated space especially the Actuarial world.  In your opinion what needs to change/shift systemically and or structurally to make room for women?

In education, it is important for students to see other women who are actuaries as this makes it feel less like a pipe dream and something that is very possible for them to achieve. Representation matters!  During my days at the University of Cape Town, the head of department was the incredible Joanna Legutko, a force to be reckoned with in the actuarial profession.

One thing that I think will contribute towards changing the gender disparity is in the recruitment process. Companies need to work toward a diverse and equitable workplace by creating accurate and inclusive job descriptions, sourcing gender-diverse candidate pipelines, and conducting fair interviews.

Statistically women have been found to underrepresent themselves and their skills. Training on how to approach interviews, promotions and salary negotiations would help decrease the gender pay gap.

Companies can also offer women’s health and wellness benefits to assist them in the physical aspects such as PMDD, fibroids and PICOS that affect women’s productivity.

Q. What is one of the most challenging aspects to your career and what keeps you motivated to keep going?

While the technical work does require you to really engage your mind and I have really enjoyed that aspect so I wouldn’t personally view that as a challenge per se. I guess I would say that the challenge has been managing time effectively, while working long hours, making room to study for these exams which are no walk in the park with very high failure rates. On top of that you still need to have a life otherwise you might find yourself burning out.

What keeps me motivated is that I do really enjoy my work and when I study I enjoy the content. I remember that at some point I did pray for this and I will not let the pressures of my dreams coming true distract me from the fact that I am living my wildest dreams. So yes I do get frustrated and exhausted and at times I push too hard but I am living in the fulfilment of yesterday’s prayers and how many people can say that? 

In honour of National Savings month, AoS will be celebrating and amplifying the voices of women who are at various levels doing the work of changing the face of the financial industries and institutions while simultaneously being the change. This week’s chat with Lubalethu Dube about her ongoing journey to achieving her dream of being an actuary has not only inspired a sense of pride at seeing another young sister out there living her dreams but I am also inspired to continue mending my relationship with maths.