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Working in a man’s world?

Achieving gender cohesion across industries is not a question of moulding women into the existing labour market, but rather adapting the labour system to accommodate their unique qualities and needs. In an equitable society, like South Africa, women have the right to work in their industry of choice. Although women constitute 44% of the South African workforce, approximately 80% of the female labour force occupies low skilled positions (Stats SA, 2010; 2014). In corporate South Africa, at senior management level, according to the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s 2012 census of Johannesburg Stock Exchange listed companies, women account for 21.4% executive managers, 17.1% directors, 5.5% chairpersons and 3.6% CEOs. Considering women represent 52% of the South African population they are significantly underrepresented in leadership and managerial positions. Furthermore, women contend with remuneration discrimination, on average earning 23% less than their male counterparts’ salaries (Stats SA, 2010). Moreover, in most industries employment ratios are skewed towards men; only two sectors, private households and community and social services, employ more women than men, collectively accounting for 47% of all female employees (Stats SA QLFS:Q2, 2014). Women pursuing careers in male-biased fields often experience difficulties arising from gender prejudice. But, perceptions towards women employed across industry types is changing, as pioneering women continue to dispel myths over women’s capabilities, particularly in male dominated sectors.

KELIKILE KWINANA (43), CEO: Ntando-Thando General Trading & Services (Pty) Ltd

Kwinana’s foray into construction materialised from a desire to participate in the property space. “Initially I wanted to buy buildings and either lease or sell them for profit, but in the beginning I didn’t have enough capital for it. Then a friend suggested that I look into construction first, which made business sense; if you are going to trade in that space you need to understand building, what a good building looks like as well as a good building investment.” In 2006, she formalised her entrepreneurial vision with the registration of Ntando-Thando General Trading and Services, offering general building, civil work, renovation and maintenance services. Eight years after inception, her business turns over R15 million a year.

But to successfully trade in the male dominated construction sector, where women represent 10% of the labour force (Stats SA QLFS:Q2, 2014) requires conviction and tenacity.  “The first issue to overcome is gender stereotypes before you are assessed on your competency, I still hear men, even today, say, ‘Women in construction, what is that all about?’, so you have to prove yourself triple time, remembering that first, especially as a black woman, you have to catch up with black men, before catching up with white counterparts who are already established.”

To stimulate greater participation of women in building and construction has necessitated interventions. “Given South Africa’s history in the construction space, women were not on a level playing field with our male counterparts; therefore we needed an extra type of capacity, created through policies, to support women entering construction.  Today, policy states that 30% of expenditure should be set aside for women owned entities.” Additionally, institutions like South African Women in Construction (SAWIC) have been founded to promote and support the advancement of women in construction. Presently, Kwinana serves as SAWIC’s Gauteng Provincial Chairperson where she mentors women on aspects of enterprise development in the construction industry. One of the most critical aspects of this resource intensive industry is access to finance.  “Funding can be a serious bottleneck that impacts on business. In some cases contracts are awarded, but the bank delays funding well into the project’s time frame, which may compromise its delivery. This issue is exacerbated when financial institutions request collateral, especially in the past, when even if you were married in community of property, the title deed to your property only had your husband’s name on it. Where can you find collateral in those circumstances?” On a more positive note, she states, “Funding for women’s skills training development has proved successful and is effective.”

Kwinana explains what keeps her going, “I have been designed as a woman and by deciding to participate in a male dominated industry you don’t have to compete with men, you don’t have to lose your femininity, you can still retain yourself as a woman, don’t lose your identity.  We are all responsible for the economic well-being of the country we live in, so don’t be afraid to think out the box. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is being in agreement with your fear, to say, Fear, you and I are going to achieve what we set for ourselves, because there is nothing that we cannot achieve if we set our minds to it.”

NORA FAKUDE-NKUNA (65), Chairperson: Buscor (Pty) Ltd

Every day 160,000 commuters rely on Buscor to bus them to and from work, predominantly in the Lowveld region. To efficiently traffic high passenger volumes, without increasing road congestion, Buscor recently introduced a world first launching 137-seater bi-articulated bustrains into the market. This innovation is expected to contribute to its annual revenue currently estimated at R900 million.  Another example of its progressive stance is its support of female empowerment, 10% of Buscor drivers are women. Fakude recalls, “Initially when I introduced female drivers, no one got on the buses because they didn’t believe they could be driven by women! Fortunately they do now.”

Fakude’s career in the transport industry began nearly 20 years ago, and is a journey of hard work and determination. “In 1997 I started a company, Bohlabela Wheels, which manufactured refurbished military vehicles. It was a white male dominated industry and I was written off even before I started. My opponents gave me three months to survive in the industry. But, I stuck by my commitment to enter the military industry and that’s when I was granted a small contract. From that point on I never looked back, I tendered for big contracts, secured them and completed them. I started growing the business, expanding into different regions and winning new contracts. But I didn’t stop there, I started training ladies that came in as secretaries to become mechanics and now they run plants. Despite the odds, I did it my way and built a leading accredited bus company in a male dominated field.” Today, women make up 18% of the transport sector’s 950,000 employees (Stats SA QLFS:Q2, 2014).

Reflecting on some of the difficulties she encountered in her early days, Fakude says, “When I entered bus operations I think I was the only woman in the industry and I wasn’t even recognised as part of the company. Sometimes people would ask for the ‘Boss’ and I said that’s me, they would persist, ‘We want the owner, not the cleaner’. It was worse, when I entered the military industry, personal attacks and accusations were rife to discredit me, to discourage me from continuing, and that’s when I really got focussed and determined to succeed. I have had to endure many hardships but have persevered because I wanted to make a success, and fear of failure sustained me.”

As a self-made businesswoman Fakude believes entrepreneurship is the key to accelerate economic development and personal empowerment.  She further advises women not to become distracted in their endeavours. “If you have a goal focus, nothing beats focus. A jack of all trades is master of none. Focus on your career of choice and as you rise lift other people with you, and if you care for your community God will bless you, because it’s not just about you, it’s about the community around you. Don’t feel threatened by anybody or your circumstances because you are a woman. I always say women are well organised men, we have the same brains but we can do more, as long as you are dedicated and allow nothing to get in your way, you will achieve what you are supposed to.”

MAJOR GENERAL YVONNE BOTSHELENG (47), Head: Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS), South African Police Services

Upholding the law can be a highly demanding profession, especially for women in this characteristically male environment. The South African Polices Services (SAPS), as an organ of state, strives to adhere to the government’s call to achieve equality for women within its structures. Botsheleng is proof of the SAPS commitment towards gender equality.  “I consider myself to be part of this development, a product of women empowerment. I have travelled a long route in the SAPS. I started in the former Bophuthatswana Police in 1989 as a constable and went through the ranks of the SAPS.  In 2003 I became station commander of Bainsvlei, in the Free State, where I was the first African and first women to hold the position. It was very challenging and I confronted a lot of resistance, especially from male employees; it was the first time they had encountered a woman occupying the role of station commander and leading them. In 2004 I was promoted to the level of Senior Superintendent becoming the first female station commander of Selosesha, also in the Free State. In 2010 I went on to establish two station clusters and rose to the rank of Brigadier”.  Botsheleng has systematically progressed through the SAPS hierarchy; today as Major General she leads 176 provincial clusters under the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS). Botsheleng remarks, “I really persevered to get to where I am today and I can say my perseverance paid off”.

Throughout her career Botsheleng has advanced herself through education. “Whilst working I tried to develop and empower myself, I studied a diploma in policing, then a B-Tech degree in policing, and now I’m busy finalising my master’s degree in governance and political transformation”. She has applied her learnings and experience to help overcome gender obstacles in the workplace, she states, “This involved cultivating an understanding amongst employees that the empowerment of women is a deliberate development in South African society and rather than trying to delay the inevitable they should direct their energies into fulfilling their obligation to service delivery”.

Botsheleng’s FCS Unit is tasked with investigating crimes involving family violence and sexual offences and takes responsibility for both reactive and proactive action. “We go out and educate communities across the country, sensitising them about crimes against women and children and the procedures required to deal with these offences.”  She underscores the importance of stakeholder collaboration in the FCS environment, “We work together with our communities, and include different government departments from the justice cluster in this process. Working alone or in silos takes us nowhere, we have to work together, educate each other and assist each other. We need information and co-operation from the community to prove our cases in court.”

Botsheleng’s sense of duty to aid women in their communities is echoed within the SAPS community where she chairs the SAPS Women’s Network, an organisation that promotes women empowerment to achieve gender equality within the SAPS structures. She asserts, “There are lots of opportunities for women ahead of us. The ball is in our court to play. Let’s stand up as women, empower and capacitate ourselves through lifelong learning. No matter how much you know, somewhere, somehow, somebody knows something that you don’t”.

Kelikile Kwinana, Nora Fakude and Major General Yvonne Botsheleng challenge gender paradigms in male dominated industries. They do not conform to expected stereotypes and they apply their differences as strengths. Men and women are not the same; they possess inherent biological differences and express variations in behaviours. Instead of trying to neutralise gender traits, these should be optimised for success in enabling environments that afford men and women equal access to rights and opportunities to realise their working potential.

Dr. Amaleya Goneos-Malka produces and presents a gender-based radio programme called Womanity – Women in Unity. Follow her on Twitter:@Womanitytalk

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