South African women have changed the landscape of entrepreneurship drastically, by taking a route which was believed to be for men only. Black women have ventured into the Mechanics and Construction industries.
Gender diversity in the construction industry is still shockingly poor. According to Statistics SA women make up just 11% of the entire workforce, while 89,3% of the industry is made up of men.
Who said manufacturing aluminium gates, windows and doors is a field for men only? Entrepreneur Marcia Simelane, founder of Alurcia Alluminium & Glass, and Neo Pearl Makhomu, founder of Tshete Holdings, are examples of women who stepped into the “shoes” of men and disproved stereotypes about women.
Most women have worked very hard to prove that they can make it in the construction industry as much as men can. They have proved that it’s not about masculinity, but having a strong mind.
Township entrepreneur, Simelane, affectionately known as The Iron Lady, said that she developed a passion for construction when she did her learnership with Wispeco Aluminium Company. Her workshop is based in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg.
While many people in the township initiate advertising by putting posters on gates and poles on the streets, Simelane said she advertises by distributing flyers and getting referrals from some of her clients. She sells windows, gates and doors directly from her home by displaying products at home.
She employs two project based contractors.
Simelane said there are people who still find it surprising for a woman to be in construction. “Many of my clients get to be surprised when I go on site to take measurements,” she said.
According to Simelane, creativity is critical to produce products that will satisfy customers, “Seeing a complete window or door and the smile on my clients touches my heart.”
Inasmuch as The Iron Lady is enjoying working in the industry, she says being a woman is a challenge; “I always have to explain myself”.
“The biggest change I have seen since I have been in the industry is Green building, Recycling and developers using aluminium now instead of steel or wood,” she said.
“I always carry a tape measure in my hand bag,” said Simelane, when asked about her favourite tool.
Based in Limpopo province, Makhumo and her husband have made a huge difference in the village of Moletjie (Ga-Hlahla) by employing 65 full time and 15 part-time workers.
Among other products, Tshete Holdings offers manufacturing of bricks, Cold Mix Asphalt for potholes and construction. Advertising is one of the most critical aspects of business. Makhumo said they advertise on radio stations and social media, and conduct demonstrations with various municipalities.
Makhumo said that from a young age, she knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. She acknowledges that it was tough for her to get customers when she started.
“People in the village did not believe in what we were doing, however I made sure that each project I do, I leave a mark.”
In 2013 the company was awarded the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award by Polokwane Chamber of Business. To add on the achievements, in 2016 they were part of National Gazelles Top 40, a prestigious award by the Department of Trade and Industry.
The Limpopo based entrepreneur said that, out of all her achievements, the most important one is making a difference in families through people who are working for them.
Some of the changes she has seen since she started are that women are changing the mind-set of how people think, “It’s not about the colour or gender.”
It is no secret that women are standing tall throughout the challenges they face in the industry. “I was faced with a challenge of being around men who think they know more than what women know,” she said.
Makhumo, who enjoys driving forklift, said the important thing about business is sharing ideas on how the company can grow.