South Africa hosts its first women in manufacturing conference


The importance of women in manufacturing and their experience in a male-dominated industry were among the topics discussed at the first Women in Manufacturing, Textiles and Leather Conference held in Johannesburg.

women in manufacturing south africa
The Department of Trade and Industry’s Rashmee Ragaven advised entrepreneurs looking for funding: “Tell us how government will benefit from your business.” (Image: Melissa Javan)

Melissa Javan
The first Women in Manufacturing, Textile and Leather Conference 2016 was held in Sunninghill, Johannesburg this week. One of the important messages for attendees over the two day event on 26 and 27 October was the importance of knowledge. Knowledge about your industry, its importance and how and where to get assistance when needed.
Spinola Dube, organiser and founder of Amabhubesi Training and Conferencing, said in a press release the event is dedicated to support, promote and inspire women in this industrial sector. “For decades women have been under-represented in the sector. It’s high time that we close the gender gap within the manufacturing sector.

“It’s not just about getting more women into manufacturing – it’s about strengthening manufacturing by engaging more people,” said Dube.

Why women should be in the manufacturing sector?

Philippa Rodseth, executive director for the Manufacturing Circle, said women leaders are important for the manufacturing sector. “Women should be in the manufacturing sector, because we are good at multi-tasking. We are resilient and have tenacity.
“The manufacturing sector accounts for 12% of South Africa’s GDP and employs about 1.6-million people, 34% are women.”

Rodseth advised that women should empower themselves with as much knowledge as possible. For example, if you are interested in funding, one of the things you should find out is if that funding is available.

Philippa Rodseth manufacturing circle women
Philippa Rodseth of the Manufacturing Circle says one of their goals is to enhance the competitiveness of manufacturing within South Africa. They also promote buying 100% local goods and services. (Images: Melissa Javan)

Felleng Yende, chief executive officer of the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority (FPM-SETA), said that the government is trying to get more women in the manufacturing sector. There are training and bursary opportunities specifically available for women.The number of women trained per year grew since 2011: a total of 1 832 women were trained in 2011/12, 1 848 women in 2012/13, 4 427 women in 2013/14, 6 328 in 2014/15, and 5 335 women in 2015/16.The women were trained in internships, learnerships, skills programmes and as artisans.
Yende said they need 50% of women to become artisans. She added: “We for example need more women in paper packaging- and pattern making space.”

She quoted Statistics South Africa: “Women are mostly appointed in non- executive directorship positions [in manufacturing]. Only 9.2% of women hold chairperson positions and only 2.4% are appointed in chief executive officer positions.”

Yende said that there are funding opportunities available such as the Women in Leadership project for women in the fashion industry.

felleng yende manufacturing seta women
Felleng Yende, chief executive officer of the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing SETA, urged people to ask themselves regularly ‘how can I make an impact in this occupation’. She says they need 50% women to become artisans. In the book year 2015/16, 5 335 women were trained by SETA.

Know your game

Rashmee Ragaven from the Department of Trade and Industry said women easily get stigmatised. For example, she said she used to be called “Miss BEE (Black Economic Empowerment).

“You have to know your game or you won’t be relevant,” said Ragaven. “I told myself I would become an authority. I wanted to make sure to be ten steps ahead [of my peers] in a meeting.”

She said women should put in a little more work. “Ask questions in a meeting. If you go to an event, don’t just take the business cards and forget it in your handbag. Follow up with a note.

“Remember it does not only take one engagement to get what you want,” she said.

rashmee ragaven manufacturing women south africa
Rashmee Ragaven from the Department of Trade and Industry says when applying for funding it is important to read through the guidelines thoroughly. “It’s important to know in what stage of development your business is when following guidelines of a grant.”

Ragaven spoke about the importance of strategic networking. “Through engagement you learn from people within your industry on how to do things efficiently and how to stay ahead of developing trends.

“You also get a lot of information out of forums about business,” she said.

She added: “In these types of engagements you might meet someone who knows the person you have been trying to get hold of.”

Her advice on forming strategic relationships: “Think through what it is that you want to achieve for yourself and your company.”


noma nibe manufacturing women south africa
Noma Nibe is part of the Black Business Council. She says when she graduated she approached a white-owned company and told the management why she would add value to them. She later implemented transformation within the company.

Noma Nibe, business executive director of Steloy Casting, shared Ragaven’s sentiments. She was promoted from a human resources manager to a human resources director within six months. “When I was offered the promotion I said I wanted shares of the company,” she said.

After buying shares, she said she wanted to be more operationally involved. Her advice to women: “Learn and know the industry. Know how money comes into the company. That’s how they the men respect you.

“They see there is knowledge coming from a woman.”

She added: “You are not there to be a face – you’re there to add value.”

Nibe also said that women in the industry should be active leaders and role models. “When you have integrity and values, no one can shake you – because business will shake you up.”

She also said that women should support each other. “We as leaders need to start engaging women in decision-making. Don’t have the mentally of ‘I am above you as a manager and you are below me.'”

Nibe advised employers to continuously train their staff. “You need to train them so that they will be better people in your company and the economy. Train for your needs and the industry at large.”

Other topics at the event included Manufacturing model for women in Africa and Leadership and skills development in the foundry industry.
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