While the mining, construction, manufacturing, and health and safety sectors were once male-dominated, the women heading global solutions company SafetySA’s business units have upended the stereotypes, proving that South Africa’s women need nothing more than a level playing field to forge ahead.
With all three of the company’s business units headed by women, SafetySA is growing strongly across South Africa, Africa and the Middle East.
The company – part of multinational company Carlyle Group – delivers key safety, assurance and risk management services to sectors ranging from oil and gas, mining, and logistics, to construction, hospitality and retail, as well as the public sector.
The company stands out as an equal opportunity employer, says SafetySA group CIO and MD of its MetrixCloud business unit Palesa Gaasenwe.
She has been entrusted with the task of growing the health and safety solutions business, as well as serving as an executive committee member. She has also been earmarked as a possible successor to 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 stresses, adding that it is “very clear” from the moment you start working in the company that you will have equal opportunities.
Gaasenwe notes that the culture is not patronising, as Campbell is very supportive, and there is good visibility of women across all levels of decision-making.
Further, she notes that while sectors such as mining, construction and manufacturing may have initially had reservations about young women training their mainly male staff, for example, those reservations are not as prevalent today, especially at SafetySA.
SafetySA fosters not only an equal opportunity environment but also a supportive environment for employees who are parents.
Gaasenwe highlights the updates to SafetySA’s policies to ensure it caters for support in attaining a work-life balance, such as enabling work from home.
“All staff have been enabled to work remotely for the past year or two, which allows for some flexibility for parents,” she says.
Further, NOSA safety training business unit MD Chantal Gray 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”.
Gray entered the company through the phased acquisition of her logistics training company in 2012.
Initially, she had to think “long and hard” about whether she wanted to shift from being a business owner to 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 multimillion-rand business I built myself to heading up the larger R100-million business.”
SafetySA’s AssureCloud business unit MD Venisha Bachulal believes that South Africa’s young women are entering laboratories in fast growing numbers.
She sees evidence of this in AssureCloud’s testing laboratories, where five of the seven laboratory 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 [women] than [men] entering these fields.”
She welcomes this development, and expects to see growing numbers of young women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics 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, a technical director and an operational director before her appointment as MD of the business in 2017.
In this role, she has spearheaded the business’s growth, which includes two acquisitions, to become the largest environmental health practitioners in the private sector in South Africa. The staff complement increased from 100 to 200 in a year, with the business turnover now exceeding more than R250-million.
She highlights that women do not require special treatment to help them “rise to the top” – a level playing field is all they 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,” Bachulal says.
Further, SafetySA also makes a special effort to address gender-based challenges in the country.
Owing to NOSA having numerous training facilities in South Africa, 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.