What gender immediately comes to mind when you think of the building construction industry? Whenever the topic of women in construction comes up, one can immediately see the gaps in the lack of inclusion and advancement of women. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, of the 1,339 million people employed by the South African construction industry, only 11% were female, this is according to transportevolution.com. The International Conference on Multi-National Construction Projects further states that women account for 41.3% of South Africa’s construction workforce, only 15% are executive managers, and just 7% of women are directors.
Why is this? Is it because men still hold the power to decide what positions of leadership women can occupy? Is it the biases in the industry? What are the stumbling blocks in the industry that keep women away and what will it take to construct solid foundations to provide tools for women to be key players in the industry?
As we always do, we will be celebrating women in different career paths on our careers feature for the month of August. We will be highlighting these under the theme: A Woman Belongs…. To kick start this, we shed light on an inspiring woman in the construction industry, Palesa Manche.
Palesa Manche is excelling at changing the unsettling reality of the disproportionate gender representation. She is the multiple award winning founder and director of Sun Success Construction Projects. Palesa, has made an intentional decision to ensure that on each project her company employs and constructs, at least 60% women. Making her company’s Womenomics score on a project high. Talk about being the change you want to see! She is also the mother of two businesswomen, Gomolemo and Tshego Manche, and a doting grandmother of three. Gomolemo was the founder of a travel agency, and now is also full time in construction, while Tshego is CEO of La Manche clothing.
The construction industry veteran made time to talk to us about business in construction and helped us understand the construction industry from her perspective.
Q. In a highly competitive industry, and the level of difficulty when it comes to acquiring government projects, how have you managed to set yourself apart and breakthrough?
Construction is my passion and nothing melts my heart like handing over completed quality houses to my community. I have a very strong team and we do not compromise when it comes to quality. My work speaks for itself. I have won several awards as the best woman contractor.
Q. Please take us through some of the biggest challenges you have faced as a black woman in construction.
Political and general protests affect our projects, and the progress thereof. Having to go to the crowd as a woman and try to calm down the situation. Our people need to know that there are proper channels to raise concerns, burning of facilities that are there to make their lives easy is really not a solution, because it does not only affect them but future generations as well.
Q. What barriers did you have to break through in the industry as a black woman, and are those barriers still there?
Most men think that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, as a woman in a male dominated industry, you have to put twice the effort, in order for men to see that you are also capable. The mindset is still there, but it is not as bad as it was when I started the business. The South African government is doing a good job in ensuring that women are recognised, within the construction industry.
Q. Did you have any fears before venturing into construction?
I would be lying if I say I didn’t have any fears. If your dream doesn’t scare you then it’s not big enough.
Q. You have been in business for more than 10 years. How has the construction field changed since you joined, compared to the current day?
Being in the construction industry for more than a decade has not been smooth sailing, especially with our country’s economy that is not stable. Yes, it has improved now that the field is accommodating to women.
Q. The word ‘tender’ in South Africa has negative connotations. A lot of questions always rise when one acquires big tenders, this is also due to the way the system is structured. Do you think there must be changes in the way tenders are awarded?
My personal view on this is that I don’t think the system has a problem. The only problem is business people who are fronting.
Q. You have spoken proudly about how you influenced your daughters in becoming who they are today – thriving business women in their own right. Who played a big role in moulding the kind of woman you are?
My mother has been a pillar of my strength. She was a businesswoman, I remember growing up helping her run her businesses. She owned a number of shops in Bothaville.
Q. Can you share how your company is contributing to the upliftment of women in the construction industry?
Absolutely, in every project we do we make sure 60% of our employees are women. We mostly consider women for sub-contracting work.
We transfer skills by conducting onsite training to our local labourers with a focus on women.
We issue our women local subcontractors with recommendation letters for the advantage of their own companies.
Q. Running a business, especially in construction can be emotionally draining. How do you relax?
I love jogging and swimming. During my spare time I love spending time with my family, especially my grandchildren.
Q. What are the top five skills that you think women need if they want to be key players in the construction industry?
- Be passionate about the business you want to venture in
- You have to have physical strength and endurance
- Hone your leadership skills
- You have to be a team worker
- One has to work on their communication skills
Q. Your daughters have previously mentioned that you love music and travelling. What’s your favorite song at the moment, and what destination is next on your travel list?
My favourite song has to be, “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal. My next destination will definitely be somewhere in Africa – I love Africa!
Q. Tell us a little about the businesses you’re involved in as an investor alongside your construction business.
I love fashion! I love looking beautiful and I am an investor for La-Manche Clothing. (La Manche is a popular South African fashion brand founded by her daughter, Tshego Manche).
Q. How would you advise a young entrepreneur who would like to enter the construction business?
- Choose a business that you are passionate about. Remember it’s the passion that will drive your business, when you are passionate about something it’s not easy to give up on it.
- Have a solid business plan.
- Find yourself a mentor and put your faith in a trusted mentor.
- Market your business, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Lastly, have a strong team that shares the same vision as you.
Q. August is women’s month in South Africa. Can you offer any words to lift the spirits of women who are going through a rough patch at the moment?
Things may seem impossible for now, one thing is for certain – change will come. The best thing you are blessed with is life, as long as you’re breathing, change will come. No situation stays the same. Reach out to the people you can trust, cry out to your creator. Our creator is the only one that can mend our lives, and can take us out of any situation. In Jeremiah 29 verse 11, He says “For I know the plans I have for you…” Trust in Him.
We are rooting for women such as Palesa Manche who have taken it upon themselves, and made it their duty to create the change they’d like to see in their respective work field. She is not only a veteran in her space and industry but has moulded the next generation of entrepreneurs that are set for growth and success.
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