In South Africa, female participation in the male-dominated construction industry comprises a measly 11% of the total construction workforce and more worrying is that most of these women only have grade eight qualifications. How do we fix this and where should the focus be?

With Women’s month celebrated in August, the ever-growing gender employment gap should be a main area of focus for not only the construction industry, but indeed the country as a whole.

As Sabelo Wasa, administrator of the Construction Sector Education and Training Authority (CETA) points out, “Transformation is a national imperative, so everyone must get involved to drive it; it is not a choice.”

Closing the skills gap

Priscilla Mdlalose

Like mining, this sector is very hard to transform. The excuse of “physicality” has been employed to keep the sector male-dominated. There are different views on how to transform the sector, but unquestionably, skills development is vital for lifting women out of poverty – and men cannot be excluded from this process. CETA has launched a programme to this end and has policies that are favourable towards women, for instance, all apprenticeship programmes must have 50% female participation.

Priscilla Mdlalose, CEO of the Council of the Built Environment (CBE) agrees, “It is critical for women to be made the centre of attention in the construction industry so that they can be upskilled.”

She adds that it is imperative for women to register for a skills development programme and undergo training to increase their presence in the sector. Training must be relevant so that the correct skills are obtained and there must be a special focus on rural areas.

Monitoring progress

Vuyolwethu Badi

The CBE’s key role is to monitor progress on the economic empowerment of women and recognise challenges such as high dropout rates among young women because of pregnancy. The CBE is developing ways to work with CETA to monitor the skills development programmes and whether women’s lives are actually being changed. Women in rural areas must be linked with professionals so they can develop and must be supported financially. Education and training are critical for women’s empowerment.

Vuyolwethu Badi, director, shareholder and board member at RLB Pentad, a global cost consultancy firm, says that there is a gap regarding B-BBEE as it only recognises race, not gender figures within companies. She asks how do we actually make women the centre of development in the construction sector? Can women be factored into the B-BBEE scorecard?

Monitoring and evaluation are going to be particularly important to measure the impact of training. Also, women already in the sector must speak to those entering it to find out what the problems are. Digital training is helpful, but there is a lot of practical training involved, for instance, to learn bricklaying.

Women taking charge

Thandeka Nombanjinji-Nzama

“Look, the time to talk is over. We have spoken about gender inequality for decades. It is time for us to walk the talk,” comments Thandeka Nombanjinji-Nzama, owner of Mbokodo Building, a 100% female-led and owned general and civil engineering company that has realised R200 million worth of projects. She also notes that empowering women and getting them working is not just beneficial for women and their families, but for the country as a whole. “As Michelle Obama once said: No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens,” Thandeka adds.

Thandeka is also hard at work to support the work done to close the gender gap mandate, which revolves around the training, empowering, upskilling and employing of women in the sector and helping them excel. So far, over 80 women have been given work opportunities, with more on the cards as the company grows.

Much still needs to be done but it seems that women are doing it for themselves in many instances, not waiting on industry bodies or the government to change their fortunes. In this special feature on Women on Construction, we look at some of the industry’s success stories and find out how these women are changing the future.

Our sincere thanks and appreciation to the Mail and Guardian for some of the information contained in this article.

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