Since the Industry’s establishment in 1944 we have been one of the few bargaining councils that has grown from strength to strength and therefore I think we have a great deal of potential and fair amount of work to do to ensure women are represented at the highest levels. While there are companies like Arcelor Mittal that have given a woman the opportunity to lead at the highest level, the reality is that the metal and engineering industry has a long way to go to ensure women are given a fair chance to explore their potential in this sector.
The lack of women role models at the highest level also means that the industry is less appealing to female entrepreneurs; compounding the challenge of making the sector attractive to women. To date, the Council represents over 11,000 firms and over 400,000 employees in the Metal and Engineering industry.
What attracted you to take up the opportunity to join the MEIBC?
As a communications specialist this is a totally new challenge for me as I had to establish and consolidate the strategy (Siyanqoba Business Strategy) itself. I enjoy what I do but this was an avenue that promised exciting challenges beyond measure. I also had to restart some of the Council’s projects such as the newsletter as well as putting together the Council’s coffee table book. This was something new and, fresh and really exciting for me.
Why do you think women have avoided this sector?
I think the interplay of a number of complex factors results in the poor gender diversity in this sector. Much of this is rooted in our social conditioning that historically has been biased towards men entering the sector. One only has to look at the prominent role that men play in the representative parties at our Council to see the effects of this. That being said, there is change happening. One only has to look at our Further Training and Education colleges, where young women are starting to pursue training in fields like welding.
As these young women are absorbed in the industry I believe the will be an appreciation for the value women can add and women will grow. We will start to see them flourish in the sector.
Do you think the physical demands made of individuals in this industry is one of the key stumbling blocks to seeing women reaching their potential in this sector?
There are many roles in this industry that place physical demands upon you. In fact, there are a number of parallels one could draw with the mining industry and the physical demands made upon one in that environment.
Whether the physicality can hamper your ability to do the work is a debatable issue. One only needs to look at the transformation that has occurred at all levels in the construction industry to get a perspective on what can be achieved.
Giving women opportunities can have an enormous positive impact on our country’s economy, not to mention the impact it will have on unemployment in general.
What do you think the particular strengths are that women bring the workplace?
I think women can have a tremendously positive influence on labour relations and contribute to overall stability in the workplace. In the post-Marikana environment there has been a lot of debate with respect to how the situation could have been avoided and the actions that could have been taken to resolve the dispute in an amicable fashion.
I think one of the things that could certainly be done is to ensure that women are increasingly drawn into the labour relations sphere. Women have the ability to collaborate across any sort of divide – South African women have certainly throughout our country’s history proven their ability in this regard. Women have always been known as implementers, people who get things done. As we discuss this, the industry is faced with a huge gap of skills and sadly, the more we talk about it, the less anything gets done on the matter. However with women coming on board, I have started seeing more of these issues that have been undealt with coming to a finality of some sort through implementation. I also believe that women are change agents.
Primarily women have been seen as people who belong in the home and in the kitchen. When they come into the work place they become agents of transformation which is so vital for progress.
What have been the key learnings garnered from the various challenging roles you have held in the past?
The secret of knowing that I am the only person who can affirm myself. So the knowledge that I bring into an organisation will always be something that I have learnt over the years. Most important is that I can be my own hero and best fan or cheerleader and therefore do not need affirmation from another person. This is something that has pushed me over the years to achieve whatever goals I set for myself. When I focus on a goal I do not allow myself to be swayed by anything or anyone. Additionally, all organisations will always have petty politics and internal squabbles. The key here is how you deal with such and for me it is being diplomatic all the time. I am also aware that there comes a time when a person is no longer of value to a particular project or company, Thus, for me, moving on at the appropriate time is not an issue but an opportunity to contribute more elsewhere. Always endeavour to be happy in all that you do and be your own best friend.
You are a big advocate of life-long learning. Why do you believe it is important?
I think it is important to recognise that life-long learning is about more than gaining a number of formal qualifications. It is about ensuring that one develops in many spheres of life, that you are emotionally rounded and that you are able to grasp what motivates those around you and how to get the best out of them.
I think if one pauses for a moment and reflects on the great leaders of the world, you will find that they never stopped learning from the situations and the people that surround them. This type of approach to life can give you a great deal of wisdom, which is enormously beneficial in the long-term.
Is this also the departure point for your approach to mentoring?
Absolutely, mentoring is not a one-way street I have shared a lot of life experiences with the people I have mentored over the years. Similarly, I have learned from the challenges they face and the way young people confront the changing dynamics of the business world. The reality is that a mentoring relationship is a growth experience for both the mentor and mentee. It is simply the type and level growth that differs for each individual.
Do you think the concept of a career-path is an important one?
It is without a doubt an important concept. You need to know where you are heading in your career and understand what building blocks you need to put in place to obtain your career objectives. In many respects it comes down to having a vision about where you want to be in the next five to ten years.
I spent a lot of time working in the government sector because I wanted to come to grips with issues surrounding policy implementation. During this time I strengthened my technical abilities and developed my conceptualisation skills, laying the foundations for my career in the communications field.
Whilst my time in government was not very rewarding in terms of remuneration, the exposure I enjoyed to complex projects and the mentoring I received from strong leaders, is something I would not easily have obtained in the private sector.
It also served as a good basis for me when I entered the private sector as I was able to provide insight into the processes that underpin government systems and help private sector organisations in their dealings with government.
Ultimately this is where I wanted to be in my career as I could leverage my sound knowledge of government operations for the benefit of my career in the private sector.
Young people are often criticised for firstly pursuing financial rewards and thereafter considering their career development. What is your view on this?
I think if you are a young person in pursuit of a professional qualification you should do the hard yards early on in your career. If this means working as an articled clerk or intern for very little money, you should accept this and push through until you are qualified. One must always remember that your chosen career path may not unfold in the way you desire – there could be obstacles that require you to be flexible in your approach. It is often the case that the better your foundation in terms of your qualifications, the more easily you can find new avenues to put you back on your career path.
What values do you think drive women to succeed in the metal and engineering field?
For me it will have to be diligence, particularly because in the male-dominated environment that we are in, there will come a time when you don’t have to validate your cause as a woman but rather being the best at what you do. One can never over commit on things that they can deliver on solely because they are in competition with a male. I am comfortable in my womanhood and will serve people with dignity and yet remain stylish and achieve results. I firmly believe that I will enjoy leading men as a woman. Many women have fallen into the trap of wanting to look like men and acting like them to their detriment at times.
What do you think motivates women to enter these traditionally male domains?
Obviously one of the top reasons is that the remuneration is good given that women are not paid as much as men in any sector. The impact that you potentially have to make in a male environment is another driving force. Zoning in closer to home, this is particularly true given that the metal and engineering sector is the main player in the building of the country. So, to play a huge role in building the country, would be motivation enough for women to enter these fields.
Are there any specific programmes aimed at women in the metal and engineering sector?
Presently there are none but this is definitely a matter that is up for discussion among the various stakeholders. My past experience in the housing sector will shape and guide how we formulate a programme for females in the metal and engineering sector. One thing we are looking at is to have a kind of an incubation programme for women who enter the Council and we already have a New Member Nursery that will be fully implemented soon. However, we have resolved that any programme will have to, in one way or the other, include women. We hope to showcase our success stories in this regard in the very near future.
How do women achieve work-life balance in this type of environment? Is it more difficult than in any type of office environment?
Personally, in this environment, achieving work life balance is all about [self] discipline. I try as much as possible to balance work and home life accurately. I cannot afford to have a disconnection between the two as I need my career to survive on the one hand and I need my family for emotional stability.
So, excelling in both has become non-negotiable and I cannot over service one over the other. I am a family orientated married mother of four and I do try and ensure that I balance everything accordingly. Another secret that I can share in this regard is that women should try and create their own habits; either you make a habit of spending time with your children individually or your husband. At the workplace this can be a habit of debriefing your boss on a regular basis. However one must build on these and ensure that work does not neglect the home or vice versa.
Are there any social protection projects in place within the metal and engineering sector?
We are an industry-based forum of organised business and labour that regulates employment conditions and labour relations in the metal and engineering industry. As a Council we provide the necessary, administrative infrastructure and technical expertise to ensure effective collective bargaining, industry compliance, dispute resolution and social protection services.
On social protection services we have the pension/provident fund, sick pay fund which protects income for instance materinity period and excess sick leave. The industry,we have several initiatives that caters for the well-being of our its members. In short I can say that our industry, and, our members, to be specific, are socially protected citizens. Our industry wage rates have been concluded and effective as per Minister’s gazette published on the 24th December 2014. The rates are also available on various publications including our website in detail.
Over and above such services our objectives is to ensure that we remain true to our vision “To Sustain Collective Bargaining Through Administering and Ensuring Compliance with Industry Standards” by providing a co-regulation of stable and productive employment relations in the metal and engineering industries. We are an industry-based forum of organised business and labour that regulates employment conditions and labour relations in the metal and engineering industry.
Any words that you would like to share with readers?
I think the onus is on us as women in the metal and engineering industry to communicate more with other women to ensure that we make the industry as attractive as possible to lure more women. I believe this is one of the most exciting industries and other women have to see it as such. I am strongly of the view that the more women enter into the sector then the more exciting it will be. So let’s encourage other women to come into this space as much as we can.
Women show their Metal
While women have made significant strides in terms of entering professional career roles during the past few decades, they still lag behind men in the technical field. Monki Hlutwa, Communications Manager at the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC) shares her perspective on the progress women have made in this field and what her own experience has been.
Nana Ditodi, a dynamic, determined and successful businesswoman, who initially started her career as a nurse, is now President of the organisation. This mother of three, a grandmother and wife, certainly wears all these hats with confidence and true ability. She obtained a hairdressing and beautician's diploma to
Do you think the progress that has been made in terms of gender diversity in the metal and engineering industry is enough?
LEADING EDGE | MEIBC
by Valdi Pereira & Andrew Ngozo