By Boitumelo Thipe, Marketing and Business Development Manager, Master Builders Association North
Meet some of SA’s women in construction, whose progress is helping to drive a culture of change in the industry.
Once a male-dominated industry, the construction sector is undergoing major changes with more and more women successfully assuming positions once considered ‘male’ roles.
Overcoming outdated stereotypes takes time, however. According to the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB), by 2019 48% of the country’s construction enterprises were owned by women, but the CIDB January 2020 ‘Construction Monitor – Transformation’ report found that women-owned contractors access just 20% of total public contract awards and make up only 30% of all contracting enterprises.
Master Builders Association (MBA) North has long called for a culture of change in the sector, with more opportunities and support for women in construction. This Women’s Month, we spoke to three women in construction who are quietly forging ahead and in so doing, helping to change the culture of the industry:
Jackie Coetzee, Director at Victoria Letlapa Trading and Projects, says women entering the construction sector should believe in themselves and not be afraid to venture into the unknown. “Nothing is off limits, go for it,” she says. “My advice to any woman in the industry would be to be patient, work hard, strive to learn something new every day, and be a sponge to absorb all the knowledge around you to make yourself better as a person and as a professional in the construction field.”
Eva Matjekana, Managing Director at MoPuMo Holdings, trained in the construction and carpentry industry and now heads a fast-growing construction business. “Construction is a very interesting industry to be in. It is still very much male dominated but there are lots of opportunities for women,” she says.
Matjekana notes that there are highs and lows in any business: “When you hit those lows, you always remember that they’re not there to last forever, but you pick yourself up and look forward to a new dawn by working hard in getting those projects. Enjoy the highs and make the best of the lows.”
Thembi Maesela, director and shareholder of Marumo Green Projects, says a key lesson she has learned is that managing costs and project implementation times is crucial for success. Her advice to women in construction is to push themselves by setting targets. “I set myself targets and I motivate my team by giving them targets, as well and give them bonuses based on achieving their targets,” she says.
Cynthia Mfolo, award-winning CHSO Health & Safety Coordinator at Gothic Construction, started working in the construction sector ten years ago, when attitudes were different. “It wasn’t easy. Being a woman, with a health and safety background in a male dominated industry. The hardest part was to get my men colleagues to understand that I’m not an enemy, because they all had a mentality that I’m a spy for the management.”
One factor that helped her win the support of her colleagues was the fact that she is fluent in 10 of the 11 official languages, she says. “I’ve created a good working and communication relationship with my team. I make all my team members feel valued, and they know they can talk to me about all their problems even if they are not work related,” she says.
What we see from these successful women and others who are progressing in the sector is that – in addition to the right qualifications – determination and a can-do attitude go a long way to driving a culture of change within construction companies.