Women forge ahead on level playing field
Mining, construction, manufacturing and health and safety were once male dominated sectors. But the women heading the SafetySA business units serving these sectors have upended the stereotypes, proving that South Africa’s women need nothing more than a level playing field to forge ahead in any industry sector.
With all three SafetySA business units headed by women, the company is growing strongly across South Africa, Africa and Middle East. The company, part of the international Carlyle Group, delivers key safety, assurance and risk management services to sectors ranging from mining, oil & gas and logistics, through to public sector, construction, hospitality and retail.
Palesa Gaasenwe, SafetySA Group CIO and managing director of the SafetySA MetrixCloud business unit, says the company stands out as a fully equal opportunity employer. At the relatively young age, Gaasenwe has been entrusted with the task of growing the health and safety solutions business, as well as serving as an EXCO member and group CIO. She has also been earmarked as a possible successor to the Group CEO Karl Campbell.
“While many companies just talk about equal opportunity and empowering women, SafetySA has actually made it part of the company culture,” she says. “It’s very clear from the moment you start working in the company that you will have equal opportunities. The culture is not patronising, our group CEO is very supportive, and there is good visibility of women across all levels of decision-making.”
Gaasenwe concedes that some of the sectors SafetySA serves were once male dominated. For example, sectors such as mining, construction and manufacturing may initially have had reservations about a young woman being sent in to train their mainly male staff, for example. However, SafetySA aims for an equal sector and assure our customers all our staff are highly qualified.
SafetySA not only fosters an equal opportunity environment – the group also makes every effort to support parents.
Gaasenwe, herself a new mother, highlights the updates of their policies to ensure it caters for support in attaining a work-life balance such as enabled work from home. “In addition, all staff have been enabled to work remotely for the past year or two, which allows some flexibility for parents,” she says.
Chantal Gray, Managing Director at SafetySA’s NOSA safety training business unit, says: “Nothing stops women from rising through the ranks at SafetySA. In fact, we provide extra support and structure work conditions to help us retain our key resources.”
Opportunities to grow
Gray entered the SafetySA Group through the phased acquisition of her logistics training company from 2012. “Initially, I had to think long and hard about moving from being a business owner to becoming an employee,” she says. “But the group has been amazing. Last year, I was asked to move out of the logistics training niche and take the reins of the entire training business unit, which gave me an opportunity to grow from managing the multi-million rand business I built myself, to heading up the larger R100 million business. I now have the freedom to focus on strategic business growth and making positive change, with the full backing of the group.”
Gray believes the group’s culture makes it stand out in an industry that has been a male dominated one. “Health and safety could be seen as a male dominated industry, but SafetySA group has certainly “bucked the trend” – as a result, women have risen to the top in HR and Operations across all the SafetySA businesses, and are well represented at middle management level too,” Gray says.
Fostering a new wave of women in science
Venisha Bachulal, Managing Director at SafetySA’s AssureCloud (previously, NOSA Testing and Aspirata) business, believes South Africa’s young women are entering laboratories in fast growing numbers. She sees evidence of this in AssureCloud’s own testing laboratories, where 5 of the 7 lab managers are women and the bulk of the students and interns are women. “We offer internships for microbiology students and environmental health students; and we now see more females than males entering these fields now,” she says. She welcomes this development, and expects to see growing numbers of young women in STEM fields in future.
Bachulal, who started her career as an environmental health practitioner in the local and US public sector, joined the SafetySA group in 2004 as a food safety auditor. She rose quickly through the ranks, becoming an associate, technical director and operational director, and was appointed Managing Director of the business in 2017. In this role, she has spearheaded the business’s growth and two acquisitions to become the largest environmental health practitioners in the private sector in the country. The business grew from a staff complement of 100 to 200 in a year, and now turns over more than R250 million.
Bachulal says it is not necessary to give women special treatment to help them rise to the top: a level playing field is all women need. “In my team it’s very simple for women to rise through the ranks – if you show initiative, and get the job done, you will progress,” she says.
In addition to its commitment to equal opportunities for everyone in its operations, SafetySA also makes a special effort to address gender-based challenges in SA: due to the fact that NOSA has numerous facilities around the country, the business has implemented the SafetySA Group’s safe haven initiative for victims of gender based violence. This initiative, launched last year, offers a safe haven to any woman who feels threatened or at risk. The office coordinators at the NOSA training facilities have been trained to offer sympathetic assistance to any woman in danger, and will refer them to the relevant counsellors or support.