This Women’s Month, MiWay celebrates women are leading in traditionally male-dominated sectors – and who make a big success of it too!
Women have been making breaking barriers for generations, yet there are still many industries and sectors which tend to be ‘preserved’ for men. But even in those areas, exceptional women are showing that they truly can make a contribution in these industries.
Take Selinah Mtilene, who runs Diamond Panelbeaters in Mabopane, near Pretoria. Selinah was a traditional woman, who believed that it was the men who needed to wear work overalls while women stayed in the kitchen. But that all changed as she shared the challenges of running a business with her husband, who operated a backyard panel-beating business. Over a period of 11 years, Selinah developed such a passion for the motor industry that she quit her office job to lead Diamond Panelbeaters in partnership with her husband. After 3 years in the venture as partner, he left the business, and Selinah now runs it on her own.
Selinah found running the business tough, especially when it came to accessing finance. After her 3-year stint as a solo business owner, Selinah was forced to return to a full-time job so that she could obtain a personal loan to buy the necessary equipment. During that period, she relied on her assistant, Valencia Khoza, who ran the business while she was working. “Having a woman I could rely on, and a fixed income to steady the course, I grew in self-confidence and at the same time, my confidence in the strength of women also grew,” she says. She mentions, however, that the lack of women in the field meant there was little support from what she refers to as "a sisterhood’, commonly found in women’s social circles and family networks.
“Regardless of how long or how hard the road was, I couldn’t and didn’t allow myself to lose focus,” Selinah advises. “As my biggest client account since 2019 MiWay gave me the opportunity to really spread my wings, to fly. Today, Diamond Panelbeaters still employs Valencia, but we also have 48 professionals who are employed full-time! Yes, mine is a success story against the odds, but we need more, especially the stories of women, like me, who are using their small businesses as a vehicle to create employment opportunities and, ultimately, to alleviate poverty.”
Pretoria-based Gillian Grobler is another mbokodo (Nguni word for “rock”) who, by her own admission, “stumbled into telecommunications by chance”, and went on to make a success of it against all the odds.
A secretary by profession, Gillian was fascinated by her fiancé’s state-of-the-art telephone he carried under his arm when he came home from work one night. He went on to tell her that one of his business contacts was hoping they would be interested in setting up a local branch selling that type of equipment.
Knowing first-hand how painful it was to spend days with a phone lodged between neck and shoulder while typing, they knew there would be a market for phones with functional design, including the option of a speaker. The couple agreed, and opened their business a few months later “financed” by no more than R30 000 worth of stock from the supplier.
“I never imagined that 34 years later I would still be a salary maker, not a salary taker,” Gillian says.
The challenges of starting and running a business cannot be underestimated, she says. She faced the biggest one of all when her husband was given a terminal diagnosis but, as she says, the hurdles are never-ending, and “one must simply persevere”.
Gillian already knew that most offices are run by secretaries and personal assistants, women, really. She leveraged this insight and her extensive sisterhood of highly competent women to achieve her business goals: connecting with office executives, mostly men, as potential clients for their new telecommunications venture.
When it comes to broken glass, Mumtaz Moola is an expert, more specifically in the motor glass industry. When the founder of MyGlass approached her with an offer to join the company’s leadership team, for Mumtaz, the decision was easy. He was clear about his vision to transform his business by empowering and enabling women in a sector which is not represented by women business owners, instead only women in administrative roles.
“That conversation ignited my passion to not only be a woman leader, but also to inspire more and more women to sink their teeth into the male-dominated motor glass industry,” Mumtaz remarks. She joined MyGlass in 2016 as a director and shareholder. “As an approved vendor on a panel of service providers to a major insurance company, I made it my business to learn and understand the ins and outs of this niche sector. And I had to learn fast, especially since I was committed to bringing more women into this industry.”
Mumtaz believes that women need to be given the opportunity to own businesses, “but this can only be realized in an environment conducive to growth, acquisition of business and technical skills”. MyGlass currently one of Miway’s biggest woman-owned fitment centres.
“We have now set our sights on ensuring that by 2024, 60 percent are Level 1 BBBEE with at least 25 percent of these centres owned by women,” she says. Like Selinah, she believes that the biggest challenge aspirant women business owners face is obtaining finance.
Tselane Halata, Head of Procurement at MiWay, says that while these are incredible stories we must celebrate, there is still so much more work to be done to integrate women-owned enterprises, even small businesses, into big business supply chains.
“Empowering women-led businesses will not only unlock significant socio-economic growth but will drive innovation in markets where their voices have previously not been heard,” she says. “Women-led businesses are not looking for handouts, they just want to be given a chance to compete. They have earned it. That’s why corporates need to be deliberate in incorporating women into their procurement policies and networks.
“Where we cannot find existing women-led businesses to supply particular products of services, we must develop them,” she summarises.