Water-wise women

By: Kelly-Ann Prinsloo – writer

Plumbing Africa talks to ladies of the industry about the challenges they have faced and the experience they have gained in their respective journeys through the plumbing industry

Being a women in today’s world can be difficult for many reasons. Sometimes it is even more so for women who work in traditionally male-centric environments, like the plumbing industry. Plumbing Africa brings you the stories of women who have made the plumbing industry their own, despite the challenges they have had to overcome.

Who’s the boss?
Gloria MazwiWhen Gloria Mazwi left school, she decided that the sensible thing to do was to study business management. Unfortunately, she was unable to find permanent, sustainable employment in that field. But Mazwi would not be deterred: taking with her the knowledge she had gained from her studies, she moved into the plumbing and construction industry because she saw a gap which she knew she would be able to fill.

“I trained as a business manager, but when I looked for a job, I didn’t get one. So I decided to learn to do something with my hands, because I like working with my hands. I built my house with my own hands.”

Mazwi has been a qualified plumber for over 15 years. She began as a bricklayer and has experience in many varied disciplines, including plastering and tiling. She has worked for many companies as a plumber and bricklayer, but decided to open her own business, Sinazo Construction, in order to take charge of her career and to offer employment opportunities to her community. “I employ my people. I like to help the community,” she said, emphasising the dire need for community enrichment, especially in places like Soweto where there is a large contingent of unemployed youths and a distinct lack of skilled labourers.

“That’s why I like plumbing – to train people to work for themselves, not to wait for someone to give them work.”

Challenges
When Mazwi began her construction business, she employed men who often did not take kindly to being told what to do by a woman. “Men undermine women,” Mazwi said. “That was the challenge.” Mazwi doesn’t struggle anymore however, because the men she works with have learned to respect her skills as a plumber and as an employer. “That is very important,” Mazwi added. She has learned that, as an employer, it is also very important that one leads by example.

Mazwi is now an assessor, facilitator and moderator at South West Gauteng College, a technical and vocational education and training (TVET) college in Soweto, where she passes her skills onto industry newcomers.

It’s a man’s world?
Izaan Nel Pluvia consultant at GeberitIzaan Nel, Pluvia consultant at Geberit, joined the company nine years ago as a receptionist. Nel dabbled in many different areas of the business but was eventually offered an opportunity to move into Geberit’s technical department, an opportunity she grabbed with both hands.

Nel has faced many challenges in her career, one of which is the attitudes of male clients towards her. In her experience, older men sometimes take on a paternal role but can also be much more resistant to taking direction from or doing business with a woman. Nel added that culture also played a big role in the attitude of men towards women in the workplace. She has found herself in situations where male clients have been so resistant to her presence that she has been forced to take a male colleague along to meetings in order to make herself heard.

When it comes to younger men, however, Nel has been accepted as an equal. “I think it’s because it’s something they grew up with,” she said. Whereas the old guard might have gone through their entire careers without working with a woman in a position of authority, the younger generation of plumbers, engineers, salesmen and businessmen have likely worked side-by-side with female colleagues for many years and are therefore more accustomed to the intricacies of mixed-gender working relationships. Of course, the worst-case scenario does happen from time to time. Nel said, “I’ve had phone calls where they say they don’t want to speak to me because I’m a lady; they need to speak to a man.”

Challenges
In the beginning, Nel said, it was very difficult for her to get over the negative attitudes of some men. But, she added, “You learn how to deal with it.” As her experience grew, so did her confidence and now, if a man challenges her because she is a woman, she is able to deal with it in a professional manner.

Nel said that if she could advise young women entering the industry, she would definitely tell them to know their stuff. In an industry as technical as plumbing, it is very easy for experienced plumbers, designers and engineers to pick up when someone doesn’t know what they are talking about. “Show them that you have the knowledge,” Nel said. “And if you don’t know, just be honest. The more honest you are, the more work you’ll get.”

Nel added that it is also very important for women especially to stand up and be heard. It is easy to feel intimidated by an industry like plumbing, but it is important not to stand back. People notice people who are confident and willing to learn. “Also, be friendly,” Nel added. A smile and an accommodating manner go a long way.

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