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South African unemployed female graduates in transit to the market place: does social capital matter?

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The objective of this doctoral study was to investigate the role social capital play in assisting unemployed female graduates to transit to the job market, secure the type of employment for which they were qualified, and build entrepreneurship. Twenty-five years into democracy, young black African women post-graduates face plethora of challenges which are based on race, class, and gender. Whereas research has showed that pursuing masters and doctoral studies particularly within the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) increases their social mobility, the research finds that the process of promotion and securing better jobs for these women has not been consistent. They continue to be discriminated against by the labour market which is biased towards white and Indian candidates. In defining the current state of transformation within Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), the principal research question is Does Social Capital matter? Beyond this institutional transformation, the study investigates the impact of these policy instruments to the experiences of women post-graduates within the field of Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The theoretical framework of the study is underpinned by the following: i) the role of grounded theory within the feministic paradigm in emancipating women from the endocentric tradition of structural functionalism by valuing the women’s lived experiences as legitimate source of knowledge. ii) The use of the matrix of domination theory to understand plethora of challenges facing Black African women post-graduates and iii) the equality of opportunity theory to demonstrate that despite being admitted within the STEM sector, they do not enjoy equal treatment and rewards for equal performance. A group of more than 50 postgraduate students across all racial groups was selected within STEM departments in the University of KwaZulu-Natal using random sampling and semi-structured interviews as part of the qualitative research method. The study found that black African women of South African descent face discrimination on three fronts, namely, race, class and gender which makes them to work trice harder to secure their position in university, fight for their respect and confidence, and build the necessary relationships that will enable them to gain successful entry to the ideal job they are qualified for. Not only is social capital an indispensable asset, but also, it empowers black African postgraduate women not to be defined by their historical antecedents but the appropriate social networks and decisions they make.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.